The New Orleans Saints are a bad football team, at least for now


There may be no more difficult thing in all of sports than looking at your favorite team and acknowledging the truth about it. That goes in both directions. I know plenty of Oakland Raiders fans who still believe the team will go 2-14 because they have been so bad, and New Orleans Saints fans who think this year’s team can make the playoffs are in the same boat. When you get used to something, it’s difficult to acknowledge that it has changed, and no matter how much you want something to be otherwise, the reality is what it is. The reality for the 2015 New Orleans Saints is that they are a BAD football team. Period. Is it technically possible for them to win out? Sure. But calling that a realistic possibility is like buying lottery tickets and calling it a retirement plan — good luck with that.

Now, I know there will be a lot of you (assuming you didn’t already tune me out) who are raging at me at this point, but please do yourself a favor and read to the end, because there is a lot of good to see as well. I am NOT going to go doom and gloom on you for this piece, I am not going to lambaste the team or call for anyone to be fired. I’m only going to try to give you the context in which this team as currently constructed fits.

The Saints are, as they stand today, a BAD football TEAM. They have some very good coaches (and some not so good), some great players, and some guys who are showing a ton of upside. However, a TEAM is more than just a list of names on a roster sheet. The Saints defense is full of a combination of players past their prime, young kids adjusting to the league, and valuable veterans who aren’t on the field. That is a recipe for disaster. There is no unit on the Saints, and maybe in all of football, as bad as the Saints defensive line. Take away Cam Jordan, who is an upper to upper-mid level DE and the only player who even makes someone else’s roster right now is maybe Bobby Richardson, and only as a developmental prospect.

Football is a beautiful and complex game, but certain truths always reign supreme and one of them is that you win up front. The team that wins in the trenches wins the vast majority of the time. You don’t have to be dominant, but you do have to be competent, and the New Orleans Saints are not that on the defensive line. The offensive line is still a work in progress, but at least they have shown flashes (more on that later), but up to this point the defensive line has been horrendous. That isn’t a formula to winning football games and is a large part of why the Saints managed to make Cam Newton look like a really good thrower of the football on Sunday (spoiler alert…he’s really not).

The defensive line play being a weakness has fully exacerbated another issue this team is struggling with — injuries. There are three key guys missing from the defense right now and their absence can be clearly seen on the film the team is putting out there. Cornerback Brandon Browner is good for about 20 yards of coverage, but he’s a liability deep. Until (unless) the team gets Jairus Byrd back, Browner will continue to get beat deep by receivers who are quicker than he is. He simply must have safety help over the top. He also is a bit of a specialist and the emergence of Delvin Breaux as a passable corner (more on him as well) makes the absence of Keenan Lewis even more painful.

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If the Saints were able to deploy Browner against players who required his physicality while protecting him with safety help, while also leaving Lewis and Breaux on islands, this defense would likely look totally different. However and unfortunately, that is not the reality we are dealing with. Lewis is still hurt, Byrd isn’t back yet, and Browner isn’t able to do what he does best. Browner has struggled with the zone looks the Saints have been running, but they’ve been running them out of necessity (ask @revdeucewindham of for clarification on this…he knows WAY more than me about this….which is why he will be a guest on my podcast this week on

The David Hawthorne experiment has run its course and the results are in, he’s just not very good. You can argue with me on this one if you like, but the guy constantly misses tackles and he might actually be worse in coverage than Curtis Lofton was. The team desperately needs Dannell Ellerbe to return, and not just the name, they need the guy that played in Baltimore. If the Saints can get that player, or even the player he was in Miami, the defense will take a major step forward. He brings speed, athleticism, and fluidity — three components that, sadly, David Hawthorne simply lacks and that the team needs.

Until, and if, those three players return and play well this defense is only going to get worse, not better. The good news is that supposedly, the Saints should be getting them back within the next week or two and that will hopefully at least somewhat improve the defense’s play. The big issue is that there is nothing that can be done this year to improve the defensive line. What you see is what you get. If some of the young kids develop and become rotational guys who are at least productive that’s great, but don’t hold your breath.

That’s the end of the bad news right?

Sorry, at least for this one day, I’m not Mr. Sunshine.

The Saints defense is still the Achilles heel, but the offense has done it no favors. The tight end position is a disaster with supposed superstar to be Josh Hill getting less than half the reps of the tattered remains of what used to be Ben Watson. The wide receivers up to this point have shown us that we have two guys who belong in the league (Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead), one guy who may someday be passable (Brandon Coleman), and the depressingly broken remains of the greatest receiver in the history of the New Orleans Saints, Marques Colston. Colston is done folks. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Done. This is his final year and there might not be any sentence I could write about this year’s Saints team that could make me sadder. I think it’s a combination of physical decline as well as the yips with his hands issues, but he has potentially cost the team in each of the first three games of the season. Time to play the young guys and see what they have.

Are you done yet?!

Yes. I’m now done pointing out all the bad with this team (there’s more, but enough is enough). If you made it this far without throwing your phone, punching your monitor, or calling me anyone of a number of less than complimentary names, I thank you. Your reward is the part of this season that actually makes me happy. Yes, you read that right, there is an upside so far this year. It’s the youth. The young players on this team are developing, and almost all of them have shown flashes of the players they could become.

We can start with undrafted rookie Bobby Richardson, who has shown both a good motor and an actual ability to produce in games. Richardson was a mostly unheralded signing during the offseason, and I say mostly because Barry Hirstius, who manages our sister site Big Easy Believer, saw him first. Richardson will likely never be a household name or a starter, but he certainly looks like he could provide some real quality depth at the position.

Perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise so far has been the play of rookie cornerback Damian Swann. Swann flashed strong cover skills and a real fiery demeanor (which you have to love) during the preseason, but he also was highly penalized. Swann hasn’t been flagged much if at all through three games, and still shows the same skills and mentality that won him a roster spot in the first place. I really hope he continues to develop, because the kid just looks like he is a flat out gamer.

He isn’t the only one in the secondary making some noise though. Kenny Vacarro has quietly played very well through three games and the emergence of Delvin Breaux has been a pleasant (almost) surprise. Breaux has had a couple of mistakes, but really if it wasn’t for one unfortunate “gif”, Saints fans would all be talking about how well he has played. Breaux has all the physical tools to be a shutdown corner in this league. That isn’t a guarantee or anything, but as a fan you have to be encouraged both by his abilities and his steady improvement week by week.

The defense as a whole is struggling, and it should as a unit, but another bright spot has been the play of rookie middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, who continues to improve and show flashes of the player he might someday be. Anthony is explosive enough to recover on his mistakes and still make a positive play, something the Saints have lacked for who knows how long (hint: it’s a long time). He still makes rookie mistakes and needs to continue improving on his play recognition and what angles he takes, but at this point, I’m comfortable saying that his floor is being an above average linebacker in this league…HALLELUJAH!

I like Anthony a lot, and I think he’s going to figure things out sooner rather than later, but the player who has me most excited with this young team is second-round pick Hau’oli Kikaha. Kikaha hasn’t been the dominant pass rusher he was in college, but he still leads the team in sacks (2), forced fumbles (2), and has been far better than expected in run support. I wouldn’t necessarily call Kikaha a ‘surprise’, but the level of production when combined with how early in the season he’s producing is very nice to see. Kikaha would likely look even better if he were playing alongside an actually competent defensive line that could create gaps for him to shoot through, but that is something that can be fixed in the future, so I hope. The bottom line is that his motor never stops, he has a nose for the ball, and he’s just making plays. There is never a time when that description doesn’t mean a player was a good pick.

Now, while I have mostly covered bright spots on the defense to this point, and negative ones too, the offense isn’t without its share of good news. Sadly, the production hasn’t been what we expected/hoped it would be, but it’s not hopeless…yet.

Training camp and preseason superstar Willie Snead has continued right where he left off in the offseason by continuing to run good routes, getting open, and demonstrating both great hands and toughness. Yes, he dropped what was a crucial pass in Sunday’s game, but to be fair that ball was just the tiniest of bits overthrown (still, you have to catch that), but for the most part, he’s picked up first downs and has been the type of possession receiver we thought he would be.

Another player who I’m high on is Brandin Cooks. While he has yet to become the star receiver he was projected to be in the offseason, that is as much a result of the team’s struggles as it is his own. I’ve seen him get open deep a number of times, he just hasn’t been hit yet. He also beat an excellent corner in Josh Norman, but Norman made a heck of a play to intercept the ball which was simply not a perfect throw. The ball needed to be placed to the back of the end zone, or just a little bit higher and it wasn’t (McCown was pressured), but really the credit goes to Norman for a heck of a play. That does mark the second week in a row where Cooks did his job and had a shot to win the game, but instead it was an int. That doesn’t mean he has been perfect, but he’s played better than his stat lines say.

Cooks has also been the sole focus of opposing defenses as he’s the only player on the Saints offense that they respect right now, but I think head coach Sean Payton has finally made the needed adjustment and is going to use him more in the short-intermediate game. That is actually the area which I believe Cooks to be most dangerous in, so it could mean that he will finally be used ‘correctly’ ( at least from the perspective of my biased Oregon State graduate mind).

The End:

If you made it all the way to the end of my word vomit/wall of text, then you have my thanks. Here’s the bottom line of what I was trying to convey: the Saints are NOT a good team, they aren’t a team that’s going to catch fire and surprise anyone…not this year. However, the moves that were made this offseason could very well pay dividends into the future, and I FIRMLY believe that the Saints window is far from closed. This team isn’t rebuilding just yet, they are just retooling. It will take a little luck, a little patience, and another good offseason, but early indications are that the Saints future will still be bright.

Next: Saints have decisions to make when Keenan Lewis returns