The first was Mark Ingram’s fumble that led to a cheap Seattle touchdown. The second was Shayne Graham’s first missed field goal. A little hindsight math coulda given the Saints an 18-16 win, that woulda sent them to San Francisco next week, but it was not to be. Rob Ryan’s defense held the Seahawks in check, although even Ryan woulda re-directed Malcolm Jenkins’ inside rush when Marshawn Lynch was juking outside on that dagger-in-the-heart fourth-quarter touchdown.
The good news is that everything bad that happened on Saturday can be fixed. Here are five observations and suggestions for the Who Dat future that shoulda put the team back in the right direction for 2014:
Suggestion No. 1: Sign Jimmy Graham. The Pro Bowl tight end is a unique weapon, although he can be defensed as New England and Seattle proved. After Saturday’s game, the Seahawks players even said that Graham can’t block and he contributes nothing to the run game. I'll still take him over the rest! "I have to figure out what's going to happen. We'll see," Graham said after the game. "Obviously this is a great city, a great team. I love Drew Brees. I told them I would like to retire with him.” That would be a neat trick with the seven-year age difference, but he is still the team’s off-season priority. Of the other unrestricted free agents, Malcolm Jenkins would be a good re-sign at the right price, but Kenny Vaccaro’s emergence makes him expendable. C Brian De La Puente is adequate, but not essential.
Suggestion No. 2: Draft a kicker. This needs no explanation nor elaboration!
Suggestion No. 3: Draft some run-blocking linemen. You can’t give up on Ingram, until you see what he can do behind a run-blocking line. With Khiry Robinson, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, the Saints have the hosses to keep defenses honest for the passing game. They just need more holes to run through, especially from right tackle. Zach Strief is a high character guy but is a lean 320-pound pass blocker. Their first round draft pick should be a right tackle, and the woods are full of them this year. Terron Armstead could be the answer at left tackle, but at least the Charles Brown experiment is over. Give him an apple and a roadmap to free agency.
Suggestion No. 4: Give Rob Ryan a raise. I was never a fan of his father, who I always thought was a petulant bully, and his brother lost me when the HBO cameras revealed his shenanigans during 2011 training camp. But Rob injected a new attitude into basically the same personnel grouping that finished the 2012 season as the most generous NFL defense of all time. Despite a plague of injuries, Ryan had them in every game, often bailing out Brees and the offense with little more than a patched-up unit held together with bubble gum and bailing twine.
Ryan has to like what he sees for 2014. The young secondary received valuable on-the-job training and will be better next year. Vaccaro could be a star in his second year while Keenan Lewis and a healthy Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson are solid. The young defensive line of Cam Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks provided adequate run defense with a solid pass rush and only will get better. Curtis Lofton provided leadership and fierce tackling, and David Hawthorne was solid, but the linebacking corps needs a couple of young pups to add depth and eventually take over. A healthy Victor Butler will help.
Observation No. 5: Focus the draft on young offensive linemen and linebackers and a kicker. The team can find some useful backup bargains in free agency, such as they did with Parys Haralson.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, it was a helluva production. The Saints had their moments and coulda done better. But all things considered, the Little Team that Coulda gave Who Dats some thrilling moments and encouragement that the 2014 version shoulda be a major contender.