Can The Saints Still Make The Playoffs in 2012? Yes, and Here's How.

It’s been a long and frustrating early season for the Saints, but they finally got that elusive first win under their belt Sunday night.  And while they should enjoy it, they had better realize that there’s a lot more work left to go.  The 0-4 start leaves them with virtually no margin for error if they still want a shot at the playoffs.  They have a bye this weekend, which may be coming at the perfect time for them, as it allows them ample time to regroup for the rest of the season, without an ongoing losing streak to worry about.  With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for the team to consider going forward:

1. Defense, Defense, Defense. If there’s one area that’s been the Saints’ biggest downfall this year, it’s their defense.  In spite of occasional struggles and miscues, the offense has generally done its job, only to be done in by a defense that’s allowed Robert Griffin III to begin his Hall of Fame campaign in his very first game, and Matt Cassel to look like Joe Montana directing a 21-point comeback.  And while the defense as a whole has been poor, this falls primarily on the secondary, which very well could have allowed San Diego to come back and tie the game Sunday had it not been for multiple (admittedly questionable) penalties called on the offense that negated big plays on the final drive.

It’s tougher to figure out what to do in this area, as it’s so broad and there aren’t any real impact free agents out there to be had at this point, but if guys aren’t pulling their weight, give someone else a shot.  Things might not get better, but they can’t get much worse.

2. If Mark Ingram can’t earn his spot, sit him. As exciting as it was when the Saints traded back up into the first round to draft the Heisman winner last year, he’s been little more than a disappointment since then.  Yet for whatever reason, be it his first-round-pick status or something else, the Saints continue to insist on giving him a significant role in the offense.  His 2.7 yards per carry average this year isn’t even close to Pierre Thomas (4.9) or Darren Sproles (5.4), and while those two also offer value as receivers out of the backfield, Ingram has one catch for minus-one yard.

[caption id="attachment_459" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="This picture still represents the high point of Mark Ingram's tenure with the Saints."][/caption]

Making this even more frustrating is that the Saints have two more solid options that have yet to see the field this year: Chris Ivory (active vs. San Diego, but did not play), who led the team in rushing two years ago and has an impressive 5.0 YPC for his career, and Travaris Cadet, the undrafted rookie who has yet to suit up for an NFL game, but showed impressive versatility as a runner, receiver, and returner in the preseason.  There’s no reason not to give Ivory a shot, as he’s already shown he can fill Ingram’s role better than Ingram himself, and while Cadet is unproven in regular-season action, I’d certainly give him a chance to show what he’s got before I’d waste more time and carries on Ingram.

3. Finally, do not dwell on the bounty suspensions. The suspensions were re-issued this week, and while Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith have already appealed (as they should), leave that to them.  Every game has just become much more important, and player needs to be 100% focused on doing their part.  Vilma wasn’t playing anyway, and if Smith has to sit for a month, then it’s time for someone like Junior Galette or Martez Wilson (who sealed the win over San Diego with his strip-sack-fumble recovery Sunday night) to step up and prove that they’re capable of being starters in the NFL.  This also goes for you, Drew Brees: no more smug interviews about how dissatisfied you are with the whole process.  Just shut up and focus on the game.

So there you have it: three key areas for the Saints to think about going forward.  There’s a long way to go to turn this season around, but it can be done.  They have another whole week to get ready.  Bring on the Bucs.

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