I, like many Saints fans, underestimated the influence of Sean Payton’s presence in the locker room and to the overall the success of the team. I predicted the Saints would go 10-6, or possibly 11-5. Why not, they still have Sean’s experienced and loyal coaching staff, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL who is also an outstanding leader, a team that has had a .771 regular season winning percentage over the last 3 years and a Super Bowl Championship, and a consistently stable roster – regardless of the absence of Jonathon Vilma and Will Smith for a few games this season. Every Sunday morning I agonize over which shirt to wear while watching the Saints game, my Drew Brees jersey or my “Free Sean Payton” t-shirt.
The talent on the team is far superior to ugly years past; at least on offense anyway. Entering Week 9 the Saints are 5th in the league in Total Offense averaging 388.6 yards and 27.1 points a game. This is what we’d expect. OK, actually we expect to always be 1st or 2nd. Conversely though, the defense is ranked 32nd , or dead last in the league, giving up 474.7 yards per game and 30.9 points per game. This is not quite what we expected, but we’re not openly surprised either. The basic issue with the team is this….you can’t win games when giving up more points than you score!
Adding insult to injury, the Saints have been consistent in their shortcomings week after week so far. Drew Brees has been hot and cold – not the same consistently great playmaker he’s always been, the running game has been anemic at best with only Pierre Thomas running well at times and always puts forth the effort, we’ve seen poor blocking and poor play execution, and the defense - do I really need to go there? OK, they’re unable to stop the run due to being manhandled at the line and poor tackling, and unable to stop the pass due to not getting pressure on the passer and a porous secondary.
The same three questions remain with me as the season progresses and I watch games. #1 - When are we going to trade for, obtain through free agency, or draft 1st round quality secondary talent. #2 - Did we really let Terry Porter go to Denver and keep Roman Harper? #3 - Did Mark Ingram really win the Heisman a few years ago? Be angry with me, but tell me these questions aren’t valid.
Despite all this, the good news is that all isn’t lost yet. The Saints can turn the season around with a strong second half under Joe Vitt. If you look at their final nine games, they play four games against 3-4 teams (Philadelphia, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Dallas), two against undefeated 7-0 Atlanta, two against the 6-2 New York Giants and 49ers, and one against 1-6 Carolina. It doesn’t matter that some of these games are against divisional rivals or out of conference games, they just need to win as many games as they can. As a minimum, if they win 5 out of 6 games against the below .500 teams, split with Atlanta, and split with the Giants and 49ers, they’d wind up the disappointing year at 8-8.
As a loyal Saints fan, I remain optimistic that they can run off a string of wins and wind up at 9-7. I know, I should be put in intensive therapy for this viewpoint. But remember this, when the Saints offense is in sync it’s the best in the NFL and can score points at will. And, the offense hasn’t really played up to its potential yet; except for glimpses against Tampa Bay two weeks ago. So, 9-7 is possible.
If my scenario plays out with the best case wins, the Saints could wind up with a winning season.
So, don’t take those paper bags out of storage and dust them off just yet!
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