For the Saints, Payton's Injury Should be the Least of the Team's Concerns

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There appears to be a lot of buzz surrounding the New Orleans Saints following their Week Six contest.  Heading into this past weekend’s game against the Buccaneers, many Saints fans had high hopes for an encouraging performance against a banged up Bucs squad.  Without two of the team’s primary players, Gerald McCoy on the defensive line and LeGarrette Blount in the backfield, many writers and analysts (me included) expected a blowout in the Saints’ favor.  Now looking back at the performance by the Black and Gold on Sunday, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

By now, anyone who reads my work here at Chat Saints knows that I’m not big on game recaps, so we’re going to take a look at New Orleans’ Week Six game from a different angle.  One of the primary storylines following the team’s loss to the Bucs was the injury to head coach Sean Payton (Payton suffered a left tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscal tear after colliding with tight end Jimmy Graham on the sidelines on Sunday afternoon.) and how his injury would ultimately affect the team.  Some tend to believe that Payton’s injury played an important role in the team’s embarrassing performance.  This belief is ultimately a false one.

Sure, the idea of the head coach/offensive play caller not being on the sidelines and interacting with the squad seems like one that could ultimately hurt a team.  If you look at the numbers, though, this simply was not the case.  The Saints had similar offensive production in both halves of Sunday’s contest, as they scored ten points in each half.  In the first half, they totaled 228 yards of offense.  In the second, the offense accumulated 216.  Long story short, the offense did not seem to be affected by the loss of its head coach on the field.

Now many fans seem to be sharing the same concern with regards to Payton’s injury:  will it affect the team if he has to call the plays from the coaches’ booth?  In order to help calm the nerves of all those worried fans out there, I’m going to provide a few statistics.  According to Aaron Wilson at National Football Post, in 2010, five teams called their offensive plays from the booth.  One of those teams, the rival Atlanta Falcons, was able to finish in the top ten scoring offenses in the entire NFL last season.  They were able to accomplish that with third-year QB Matt Ryan on the field.  If any Saints fan believes that QB Drew Brees cannot find similar, if not better, results, then I honestly do not know what else to say.  The Saints’ offense will be fine.

In fact, one of the best general observations that I’ve read over the last two days was actually made by a random fan in the “comments” section of an article.  All this person needed was six simple words that put the entire Payton situation into perspective:  “Sean Payton doesn’t coach the defense.”  Oh, how true this is.

In my preview of this past weekend’s contest, I admitted to being confident about the defense’s chances of shutting down Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay’s inconsistent QB.  Little did I know that Freeman would throw for 303 yards and two TDs.  Oh, and remember how I believed an injured Blount would cripple the Bucs’ offense?  Wrong again.  Who would’ve thought that the backup RB, a seemingly rejuvenated Earnest Graham, would average 6.4 yds/carry and total 109 on the day?  All in all, the Buccaneers were perfect in their red zone opportunities (1 for 1 with a TD), and they had the Saints in a hole for the entire contest.

Scott Shanle

When looking back at the tapes, there are two trends that continue to disturb me.  The first is the inconsistency of the linebacker corp.  When watching several of Graham’s runs, a couple of problems could be identified.  The Saints’ LBs were constantly being pushed backwards by the Buccaneers’ offensive line.  There seemed to be no anticipation or readiness by the likes of Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle, and ultimately Graham had decently-sized holes to plow through.  Also, the cover skills of this LB corp are almost disheartening.  When re-examining Arrelious Benn’s 65-yard TD reception, one glaring mistake made by Shanle ultimately hurt the Saints.  Once the ball was snapped, Benn bolted directly past Shanle, who failed to interrupt the young WR’s route.  The result?  Benn was able to run untouched down the field, and Freeman found him wide open with ease.

The second disturbing trend is one that many fans seem to overlook.  Over the past few years, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has established himself as a gutsy, aggressive play caller who loves to bring the blitz.  The problem?  If the pass rush isn’t getting to the QB, then the blitz is ultimately hurting the defense.  There were few times against the Bucs that the Saints’ defenders were actually able to penetrate the offensive line, something that is discouraging due to the team’s offseason acquisitions.  The drafting of DE Cameron Jordan and the signings of Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers were supposed to help a poor New Orleans pass rush; that simply has not been the case.  There’s one fact in the NFL:  a defense with a good pass rush tends to perform at a higher level.  A good pass rush ultimately radiates to the rest of the defense (see the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens), and even mediocre DBs are able to capitalize on key mistakes made by rattled or uneasy QBs.  The Saints have mediocre DBs; and they will continue to look mediocre as long as the opposing QB is allowed to scan the field comfortably from the pocket. 

In conclusion, there are a few issues that are still left to be knocked out of the New Orleans Saints.  For now, though, it all starts with the defense.  Because at the moment, that’s the only thing holding back the Black and Gold.

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