At what point is Sean Payton at risk of losing his job? This was probably a rhetorical question till not so long ago, but not anymore. The winless start this year, on the back of a mediocre 2014 season, doesn’t give that much confidence that this team is going to turn it around any time soon. While the key pieces, or at least what is left of them, are in still place this seems a team that is looking for a new identity. Some say this often happens during a phase of rebuilding. I say that even before we get to that, this soul search most likely has to start from the top – from its Head Coach.
Sean Payton looks a different man from the one we got to know since 2006. Gone is the bold, self-assured, gutsy play-caller that called Ambush six years ago, and whose offensive genius broke all the offensive records only four years ago. We don’t know whether the league has finally caught up with him – very possible – and if that has made him cautious or, worse, unsure. It is food for thought I think that his coaching tree in Chicago and Detroit is not doing that well too this season.
Payton also seems in a constant state of agitation recently, at least from what we can tell from his frequent chewing of his coaching staff and players in front of a national audience, some of which have been bordering on complete un-professionalism. He seems confused at things which should have been under his control to begin with – like ignoring players during games, or getting predictable calling plays to point of self-destruction, or realizing after a month that they are thin at TE and ending up dumping a decent, albeit not-motivated player who happened to have been in the dog-house over the last couple of weeks.
He also seems prone to lose patience fairly easily these days, whose worrying signs were clearly there during the pre-season. I don’t know if he is a worried man for reasons outside of football, or if he gets his agitation from the current state of affairs of his team. So far this 2015 campaign has been one where Payton has been forced to react and has been unable to be proactive in dealing with things. Some of the issues have been clearly outside of his control – but still. Right now he seems a man who is not in control. That this team needed a scorched earth approach was over-due, but I am not that sure that constantly using an AK to regain that control is the correct answer.
Recent drafts, apart from this year’s, have left the cupboard pretty bare. So while the “culprit” is already out of the building – if supposedly was only Reiprish’s fault– the fact is that this team has been dangerously short of young talent for a while now, which has led to an over-reliance to free agency and has created cap tightness year in, year out. Which is fine in the short run, but it gives little room for mistakes if one or two of these contracts go wrong at the same time and you are forced to dump them. Ultimately Payton is the Head Coach and is responsible for the players’ decision on this team, so this is also on him.
The margin of error is already dangerously thin this season, due to a stronger NFC South. While these three losses have been “honest” so far, the reality is that the record ultimately tells who you are. You don’t get bonus points for losing “well”. At the moment I struggle to imagine how suddenly all the pieces are going to click together – maybe it is the injured backfield getting back to full strength, or Drew’s scare that will force Payton to throw less, especially if his receivers are not getting their mojo. Or simply the team will just keep struggling making each new opponent look stronger than it is, and unable to execute when it matters most.
I think this team is overdue a win, starting from this Sunday, but I have really no idea how this game will pan out. You could easily expect this to be a blowout but as well as another loss. What will the sparkle be – if there is one – to take it home? Your guess is as good as mine. But you can take it to the bank that a 0-4 start means that statistically – and realistically – this team will not be a playoff contender. Not this year and quite possibly, sadly, no longer under Payton, who’s under contract only until 2017. His future at this point seems intertwined to Drew’s – whenever he goes I suspect Payton will follow. If he is suddenly no better than a 8-8 coach he is a lame duck sooner or later, ring or not.
So this Sunday the team is already a cross-road – the first of a few over the next month or so. Lose, get into a hole and probably much more than a season is lost.
At the end of the day it is matter of keeping realistic expectations so to avoid disappointments. At the moment, so far, we don’t have that much to go by this season. This team can be a good story going forward, the youth movement and all, but at the moment it seems to be rather flat and in need of a spark. In a hurry.
Saints at a Crossroad