The New Orleans Saints are 0-2. The fans are panicking on twitter, the media is dropping them in their NFL power rankings, and the players are in damage control mode. Pro Player Insiders has all of the answers to the questions about the bad dream that is the Saints season and what to expect in the upcoming weeks.
Q: Why are the Saints 0-2?
A: The Saints are 0-2 after losses to the Atlanta Falcons and the Cleveland Browns. After two weeks, the Saints defense ranks 30th (21st against the rush, 32nd against the pass) and is 31st in points allowed. The Saints signed Jairus Byrd in the offseason to create more turnovers and emphasized the need to do so in practices all spring and summer. So far, the Saints have forced only one turnover (a forced fumble against the Falcons). Also, the Saints defense allowed points at the end of the first and second halves of the Falcons game and at the end of the second half against the Browns.
Q: So, we should just blame the defense?
A: No. The offense should take some of the blame as well. Drew Brees has been intercepted in both games, once time in the end zone, and the other ended up being returned to his end zone. Marques Colston may have fumbled the game away against the Falcons and didn’t catch a pass against the Browns. Also, the offense failed to pick up a critical 3rd and 5 with less than 3 minutes left against the Browns. To make it worse, Brees was sacked on the play and the Saints had to punt instead of attempting a field goal that would have put them up four.
Q: What about the coaches?
A: Sean Payton has admitted that communication between the coaches and the players has been an issue on the road in past seasons and continues to be so this year. Rob Ryan’s defense has been so bad that Payton and Ryan got into an embarrassing shouting altercation on the sideline late in the fourth quarter against the Browns. Against the Falcons, the Saints took a 20-10 lead into the locker room but were outscored 27-14 in the second half and overtime. The Falcons seemed to make adjustments that led to their rally and the Saints didn’t do anything in response. Against the Browns, the Saints fell behind 16-3 in the second quarter and seemed to be the less prepared team at the start of the game.
Q: This all seems terrible. Has anything gone right for the Saints so far?
A: Absolutely, especially on offense. The Saints have the 3rd ranked offense in the league (5th in rushing, 6th in passing) and have scored the second most points in the league. The offense has been more balanced this season than they have been since 2009 and Mark Ingram has finally showed the speed and power that made him a first round pick. Jimmy Graham is still a beast, Brandin Cooks is electric, and Drew Brees has already led the team down the field twice in the fourth quarter to score go ahead touchdowns.
Q: Before I get too excited, is there any other bad news?
A: Unfortunately, yes. Mark Ingram broke his hand against the Browns and will be out for at least a month. To say that Patrick Robinson has struggled as the team’s starting cornerback is putting it lightly. Against the Browns, the Saints committed five penalties and Robinson was responsible for 3 of them (two were accepted and one was declined). Robinson was flagged for defensive pass interference on 3rd and 7 before giving up the Browns first touchdown. He was then called for offsides on a field goal attempt that the Browns missed. A few plays later, the Browns made a shorter field goal. The declined penalty was a holding on the busted play that led to the Browns game winning field goal. It also appeared that Robinson was the player who blew the coverage. Robinson was demoted to nickel during the Browns game, but the Saints don’t have much depth at corner. If Keenan Lewis was to go down with an injury, well, it could get ugly.
Q: So the Saints are going to go 0-16?
A: No. I know that much of the hard truth in this column has been grim for Saints fans, but there are still a lot of reasons for the team to be optimistic. First, Drew Brees. Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and with him in the game the Saints will always have a shot. Second, the balance on offense mentioned earlier is similar to the balance that led the team to Super Bowl in the 2009-10 season. Ingram (when healthy), Pierre Thomas, and Khiry Robinson all offer a unique skill set that makes the Saints offense really difficult to defend. Third, Brees has a much better set of weapons in the passing game than he did last year. Graham is a monster, Colston is healthy, Cooks has a similar skill set to Reggie Bush, and Kenny Stills appears to be a better overall receiver than he was as a rookie. Fourth, the Saints still have eight home games. Last season, the Saints were undefeated at home and in 2011 (Payton didn’t coach the team in 2012 so I am throwing that season out) the Saints were 8-1 at home including a playoff win against the Detroit Lions. Last, the only team left on the Saints road schedule that played in the playoffs last season is the Carolina Panthers.
Q: That all sounds great, but has any NFC South team won the division after starting 0-2?
A: Actually the Panthers were 0-2 and 1-3 last season before finishing 12-4 and winning the division. The Saints started 5-0 last season before losing 5 of the last 11 games and finishing one game behind the Panthers in the standings.
Q: So what is the bottom line? Are the Saints as good as we all thought in the offseason, as bad as they look so far, or in the middle?
A: The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but I still think the Saints are a Super Bowl contender. The numbers on 0-2 teams making the playoffs are bad (only 12% of 0-2 teams make the playoffs) but FootballPerspecitve.com has three stats that will cheer up Saints fans. 24% of 0-2 teams with a points differential of -8 or better (like the Saints) have made the playoffs. Even better, 32% of teams that start 0-2 following two road games still made the playoffs. And even better still, 63% of all playoff teams lost two straight road games at some point during the season. Also, most 0-2 teams don’t have as much talent as the Saints do. 2-0 isn’t always as good as it seems either. Consider the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have started 2-0 six times since 2000 and haven’t made the playoffs in any of those seasons.
Q: That all sounds great, but before you go, how about one more thing to make me optimistic about the Saints?
A: Alright, if nothing else, I do work tirelessly to please those who read my work. For much of the Sean Payton era, the Saints started Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper at safety. Jenkins has seven career interceptions (including his pick of Andrew Luck last night) and Harper has eight (including his first pick with the Panthers against the Buccaneers). This season, Byrd and last year’s first round pick Kenny Vaccaro will start for the Saints at safety. Byrd has 22 career interceptions and Vaccaro got one last year in limited action. The Saints defense should start forcing more turnovers and when they do the offense is going to get more possessions. So far this season the Saints offense has scored points on 10 of their 20 drives or 50% of the time. More points and wins are coming, make sure you are still on the bandwagon WhoDat Nation.
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