Saints Must Adjust Without Payton

Zero. The grand total of wins for the New Orleans Saints after three games is astonishing. With nearly a quarter of the season gone, the defending NFC South Champs look up and find themselves being discussed as perhaps the worst team in the NFL. Considering the lofty expectations for the season, the Saints are teetering on the edge of complete disaster.

[caption id="attachment_449" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Saints cornerback Corey White walks away as Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop celebrates his game-winning field goal against New Orleans."][/caption]

There is no sugarcoating it. The Saints look to be an awful football team. They gave up 40 points at home to a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut. They fell to 0-2 on the road, giving up 35 more points to a middling Carolina squad. And then, as they blew a 24-6 home lead to winless Kansas City, the Saints officially hit rock bottom.

Any true evaluation should start with the $100 million man himself, Drew Brees. While a three-game sample size is small, the Saints' one and only Super Bowl-winning quarterback is not hitting on all cylinders. By Brees' standards, many passes appear forced, and it's obvious that he is trying to do too much. He understands that with such a weak defense, his offense must outscore every opponent, and that sometimes 40 points may not even be good enough to win. After all, the Saints have put up a respectable 32, 27, and 24 points, and have lost all three games.

While Brees has been off his usual high mark, the team's porous defensive unit has reduced Saints fans, as well as local and national media, to dumbfounded head scratching. The entire unit has looked utterly worthless, and their numbers are too hideous to even mention. Considering the talent the Saints brought in this offseason, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has to shoulder some of the criticism for these embarrassing performances.

But there is still something missing from this team as a whole. Every successful football team, from professional to high school, must have a key cog - a glue that holds the squad together and enables them to function as a single unit. Suspended head coach Sean Payton was that glue for the Saints.

Before the season, the Saints' staff plastered a gigantic picture of Payton's scowling face upon the high walls of the practice facility, featuring the words, "Do Your Job." As NFL analyst Cris Carter said of the Saints, "If you can win without a head coach, then I know zero about football." A poster on the wall is no substitute for the real thing. Brees may be like a coach on the field, but he's not the head coach. And after serving a six-game suspension himself, preseason head coach Joe Vitt's eventual return may be too little, too late.

When things are taken away, adjustments must be made. Plainly and simply, New Orleans must adjust to Payton's absence. No one doubts that Brees & Co. are working hard, but they must discover a way to make it all go, to make the pieces of the puzzle fit together cohesively. Whether it's timing, play calling, locker room bravado, preparation, or all the above, these Saints have to find that perfect medium, and learn to win football games without Sean Payton.

And with a critical trip to Green Bay looming this weekend, they must do it very quickly.

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