To say that the Saints’ 2015 season has gotten off to an underwhelming start wouldn’t exactly be a reach. Their loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday dropped them to 0-3 which gives New Orleans about a 2% chance of making the playoffs according to multiple reports this past week. Despite the fact that it isn’t even October yet, some are calling for Tom Benson to clean house from Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton on down. The less reactionary segment of the Who Dat Nation though sees Sunday’s loss as a positive sign of progress and keeps in mind that the Saints have overcome the odds before.
While the black & gold have yet to claim their first victory, they have been growing ever closer to it with a continually shrinking margin of victory by their opponents. What started out as a 12 point loss on the road against the Cardinals shrunk to a 7 point margin in the dome against the Buccaneers. That margin shrunk again to less than a possession following Sunday’s 5 point game at Charlotte. Making the continuation of the trend even more remarkable is that it was accomplished by backup quarterback Luke McCown against a divisional opponent with one of the top ranked defenses in the league so far this season.
Point production isn’t the only offensive trend that survived the quarterback change by New Orleans. Regardless of if it was Drew Brees or McCown under center, the team’s completion percentage has actually increased each week this season. McCown also had a personally noteworthy accomplishment Sunday against Carolina. Despite having not started a game since 2011, he held his own against the Panthers defense and threw for nearly the exact same yardage as Cam Newton at just over 300 yards.
Along with the quarterbacks, wide receiver Brandin Cooks has also been showing improvement. As each week has gone by, the second-year standout has shown a steady increase in his yardage, receptions and reception percentage. Cooks is also the only member of the wide receiving corps with at least one target and no drops. Saints running backs have also proven to be highly reliable in the passing game. Of the 29 passes thrown there way this season, the trio has hauled in all but two. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson also lead the team in yards after the catch with 142 and 71 yards respectively. That’s an average of 8.9 yac.
The passing game isn’t the only part of the offense showing improvement though. Lead running back Mark Ingram has also shown steady improvement in his yards per carry average. Since the game in Glendale, Ingram’s average has climbed by almost a full yard to 3.6 ypc.
On the defensive side of the ball there are several encouraging aspects as well. It’s no surprise that the Saints are struggling to get interceptions with three key members of the defensive backfield missing due to injuries. However, their handling of fumbles so far this season has been quite impressive. So far New Orleans’ defense has managed to force three fumbles this season and they have managed to recover every one of them. Even more remarkable is that it puts the defense only two recoveries short of tying the team’s total from a year ago when they recovered only five of a dozen forced fumbles.
As for the Saints’ pass rush, there hasn’t been much to speak of so far this season. While the defense hasn’t gotten to the quarterback much, the interesting part is where that little bit has been coming from. Three of the Saints’ four sacks this season have come from outside linebackers Kasim Edebali and rookie Hau’oli Kikaha. With a pair of sacks and nearly double digit hurries already this season, Kikaha may be the most effective addition to the Saints’ linebacking corps since Jonathan Vilma. Edebali showed promise last season during his rookie year as a pass rusher, learning his craft from Junior Galette. Thankfully Edebali only studied Galette’s on-field habits. If Edebali and Kikaha can manage to learn from and feed off of each other, they have the potential to be a highly effective pair against the pass.
As much as the Saints have struggled so far this year, they do have some key pieces in place to right the ship. While some spend their time thinking that the season is already over and trying to decide who to blame for the team’s supposed collapse, the fact is that the season isn’t even a quarter of the way over. This coming Sunday night the black & gold welcome the Romo-less, Dez-less Cowboys to the Superdome with a shot at Brees being back on the field. It’s a golden opportunity for them to turn their season around while calming panicked Who Dats. Hopefully the Saints can continue the good things they have going this season while adding one more to the list: winning. Winless Saints Showing Positive Signs