There’s been a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the Who Dat Nation this week with the Saints off to a 0-2 start for the season. Many are already writing off the entire season and blaming everyone whose name they can think of for the perceived implosion of the team. But is the situation really as hopeless as it seems to some? Sure, the Saints have their issues so far this season but many of them actually can be fixed. Taking a closer look at the issues of this past Sunday give a lot of insight into the various sources of the team’s issues as well as which ones can be fixed and which ones just have to be dealt with.
Perhaps the most significant problem faced by the Saints in their home opener was the result of age. Of the four sacks Drew Brees took on Sunday afternoon, three of them can be directly attributed to Zach Strief. On all three sacks, the right tackle who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Wednesday got burned by 25-year-old defensive end Jacquies Smith. Strief was also beaten by Smith on another play late in the 4th quarter that resulted in another hit on Brees and a roughing the passer call. While Strief is still quite capable of holding up against opponents who attempt to go through him, his showing on Sunday suggests he’s no longer capable of defending against speed rushers going around him. If Strief wants to continue his career it may be time for him to consider a move to guard. As for the Saints, if they want their starting quarterback to survive the season they may need to speed up their development of Andrus Peat.
Some of the team’s issues are the result of youth and inexperience. Wide receiver Willie Snead appears to be a very talented player with a promising future, but he still has some work to do on his technique. His fumble late in the 3rd quarter was the result of cornerback Sterling Moore being able to easily reach between his body and arm to punch the ball from his grip. As he gains experience Snead will learn to carry the ball tighter into his body. Fellow receiver Brandon Coleman didn’t have an issue holding onto the ball once he caught it, but he did have several passes skip off of his hands.
Along the offensive line, the one sack of Brees that Strief wasn’t responsible for came when Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy blew past Tim Lelito. With Sunday’s game being only Lelito’s sixth career start it’s not surprising that McCoy, a six year veteran and one of Tampa’s best pass rushers, would eventually find his way to Brees. While it was the only sack allowed, it certainly wasn’t the only time he allowed pressure on Brees. Unfortunately, it’s a problem where the only solution is more time and experience for Lelito.
Injuries have been hampering the team’s pass coverage with Keenan Lewis still recovering from surgery and Jairus Byrd coming out hiding less than 24 hours ago. With a replacement safety who hasn’t played since 2012 and a cornerback in only his second game in the NFL, Kenny Phillips and Delvin Breaux are struggled to live up to their starting duties. The one play that sums the situation up best was a deep pass to Tampa receiver Louis Murphy where Breaux was still looking up trying to locate the pass while Murphy was already on the ground being tackled following the completion. While Breaux’s explanation of losing the ball in the lights is reasonable from a player used to playing outdoors, it’s still not an issue Lewis would typically have. At this point, all Saints fans can do is wait the remaining 1-3 weeks for Lewis to return from injury and hope Byrd starts contributing more than just some stretching on the practice field.
While issues such as age, inexperience and injuries can all be addressed in some way or another, the one thing no team has any real control over is luck. The Mark Ingram fumble was simply a matter of timing and bad luck. While it looks like simple carelessness or sloppy play at actual speed, when slowed down it’s easy to see the series of events that led to the fumble. As the play started, Ingram took off from the backfield. As he approached the 40 yard line he rotated counterclockwise to face Brees with a momentary hesitation in his spin as the pass came in. He then continued turning counterclockwise while running forward. Less than a second after the reception and just as his body was fully facing forward again, Bucs safety Chris Conte dove into Ingram’s right leg. The hit immediately reversed Ingram’s spin from counterclockwise to clockwise. Such a sudden reversal could easily draw the arms out from the body enough to loosen a player’s grip and throw the ball outward from the body in the process. Sometimes a play is just bad luck. If something as simple as Ingram getting hit in the other leg had gone differently, it likely would have ended up as just another tackle.
While the beginning of this season has understandably given fans reason for concern, many have been taking the team’s situation to the darkest possible place. The Saints are facing a variety of issues right now. Fortunately it’s still early in the season and most of them can be fixed either through taking action or showing patience. Injuries heal, lineups can be tinkered with and young players learn through experience. As for luck, some years it’s with you and some years it’s against you. Above all, fans should take a deep breath and realize that while things may be rough right now, there is very little going wrong at this point that can’t be corrected with a little time and effort.
The season is far from over and the Saints aren’t dead yet.
The Saints Are Not Dead Yet The Saints Are Not Dead Yet