When you write things, like the piece that occupies your attention right now, you try to plan ahead in order to give your readers additional insight on things they already know something about. In order to do that, you have to plan your column, like the itinerary on a two-week road trip, so you don’t miss out on any unique attractions along the way. And that’s not always easy because you can’t plan what you don’t expect. But you plow along anyway, hoping to find a theme, a pithy opening to grab the reader’s attention and an ending that ties up the above thoughts in a red ribbon. (Parents, feel free to use that last sentence as a guide for your students facing terms papers or book reports!) But this morning as I sat down at my laptop, the theme of today’s lesson came out loud and clear: the Saints stink.
Like the final score, Who Dats already are thinking the same thing, that their local heroes were never in it Sunday in descending to 0-2 in this early NFL season. So it is my task to bore in beneath the final score to illuminate the “why” or the “how” they can turn it around. So let me borrow an ancient response that the ancient wizard Karnak – aka Johnny Carson - once presented to his flock when asked the meaning of life: HellifIknow! That, by the way, is translatable into most modern languages.
The Saints’ descent is really unexpected, because, like you, I bought the line that the offense was going to maintain its high level of competence, as measured by 29.3 points per game in 2016, which would stand up nicely to an improved defense that surely would cut a touchdown or two from last season’s generosity of 28.4 points per game. Maintain one, improve the other sounded like a surefire return to the playoffs in 2017. But it hasn’t yet worked out that way. The most disappointing thing is that both units seems to have gotten worse!
The defensive problems are legion and all combine to make pass patterns look like flight patterns for opposing receivers. The 65 total points given up in two games are understandable when opposing quarterbacks complete 57 passes in 71 attempts for a resounding 11.2 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 141.4. You can halfway expect those kind of stats from a future Hall of Famer like Tom Brady, but when Sam Bradford looks even better, that means you have absolutely no pass rush.
Former Executive VP, Jim Miller says, after losing badly to New England Patriots and the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints stink--agree or disagree? Tell us below
No pressure on the passer leaves your young secondary chasing their tails and your linebackers on an island when trying to cover the likes of Rob Gronkowski or various running backs sliding out of the backfield and into the pattern. It might be time for Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen to play six defensive backs more because Saints’ linebackers can’t cover very well.
Injuries, particularly to starting tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief, have not helped the offensive effort, but I’m going to raise another point. Who Dats choose to ignore it, and it might seem like heresy, but Drew Brees’ decline is inevitable, and it might have started. Brees missed too many passes Sundaythat either sailed over or beyond open receivers. I know the Saints have young receivers, and you can expect some mistakes, but I am not sure things will improve even when Willie Snead returns in another week. I’m not saying Brees is done by any means, but it just doesn’t look like he is as sharp as he has been.
Jim Miller's greatest hits: Read more from former Exec VP of Saints, Bears, Bills and NFL executive
I’m not expecting much more next week when the Saints visit 2-0 Carolina. By the way, the Panthers have outscored their first two opponents by 32-6 and look like they are returning to their 2015 form.
My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.