Taking stock of the Saints: My take on the team
By Ty Anania
They sky is not falling. Yes, I admit, on the surface things look pretty bad. The season is starting to feel like 2015 all over again. We’re 0-3, and our defense is yet again swiss cheese. And losing to the Falcons at home hurts. Special Teams blunders have cost us games, which is just oh-so-depressing. And what’s worst, without a doubt, is that the team seemed to have real potential coming into the season. But through four preseason games and three weeks of the regular season, the Saints are now 0-7 and in desperate search of a win.
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Still, there’s a fair amount of overreaction going on. The truth is, no matter how bad 0-3 feels, this team does have potential. There’s talent on the roster and on the coaching staff. And while there is no denying that the front office makes egregious mistakes in free agency, the arrow is pointing up even there.
Injuries at cornerback
First and foremost, this team would not be 0-3, if it had sustained anywhere close to a typical amount of injuries. Especially on defense, injuries have ruined the first quarter of this season. It’s not like last year, where we lose one starter and start picking players up off the street. We have depth. But our secondary, starters and depth both, has been completely decimated by injuries.
And even then, whether against Oakland, New York, or Atlanta, that same crippled secondary has held its own.
Those are some of the best QB-receiver combos in the league. Yet without our top 3, maybe 4 corners, we’ve held them in check. That’s good depth; that’s good coaching.
It’s been the injuries to our lines, linebackers, and elsewhere that have most hurt us. We’ve defended the run abysmally, especially against Atlanta.
Ellerbe, Vaccaro, Rankins, Kikaha, and Davison would have all made a world of difference there. Breaux and Williams are both more solid in run support than Harris and Crawley.
And we could easily have made up for these losses by selling out on the run, but we couldn’t afford to do that with the injuries at cornerback.
Talent on roster
Granted, teams deal with injuries every year, and nobody wants to make excuses for poor play. But if you take an honest look at the roster, you’ll see talent. Even on defense. At corner, the team is obviously young, deep and talented. At safety, Vaccaro is an excellent player, and Bell and Harris are both emerging talents. Those three are a great core moving forward. At linebacker, Robertson and Ellerbe are both rangey, instinctive, and strong. At tackle we’ve got Fairley, Rankins, and Davison. And Cam Jordan is one of the best players at his position.
As I see it, the defense has three key personnel issues: Byrd, Laurinaitis, and at left end opposite Jordan. With the exception of the LE, those are correctable within the season.
Coaching talent and the rebuild.
There’s no reason to call for Sean Payton’s head. His offense continues to dominant teams, despite the injuries across the o-line and the youth at the skill positions. Yes, he’s struggled to bring in defensive coaching talent. But Dennis Allen has had success as a coordinator around the league, and has had too much to compensate for injury wise to hold him responsible for the yards we’ve given up.
Nor, really is there any sense in calling for a full-scale rebuilt. Payton has built a young core of talented, high character guys. With the exception of the long-term QB and the right side of the line, this team has talent at every position for the future. What would a rebuild even look like with this team?
I’d go as far as to say that this team is entirely capable of righting the ship and getting Brees another ring before he retires. On a good day, our offense can be the most dominant in the league. On defense, even with all of the injuries we’ve sustained, once Breaux returns and can play along some combination of Moore, Harris, and Crawley, we’ll have a dominant secondary. And I’d love to see the Saints start Robertson at MLB once Ellerbe comes back.
And to be clear, I’m not trying to excuse this team. Consistency has been the most grave issue for this team, and there’s no excuse for inconsistency. The execution has been straight up horrible. It’s just the pessimism that I’ve heard and the fatalism. This year isn’t over, and this team isn’t a wash. Payton and company have done a good job at keeping together a strong core of talent. And we’ve seen flashes of brilliance when it’s all come together. But we’re a young, injured team. I for one, am going to try to be patient.