Ever heard the old adage, “he was just too smart for his own good? Well after turning on MNF with high hopes, it did not take long to understand our beloved Saints were out of sync. The offensive line looked as though they were playing their first time together. The running backs appeared to run through their blockers. The receivers ran patterns like the first day at camp. Drew’s timing with the receivers looked as though they were playing a pick-up game on South Claiborne. The defense that looked so capable during pre-season, appeared as though they had never spoken to each other. A secondary that looked like an improvement looked lost in coverage.
As you look back at the four-pre-season games, you can quickly draw a conclusion on how this happened. In most cases it was the first time for any of our first team players to play together. Yes, injuries during camp change the depth chart, but playing the pre-season to not get hurt is costly. Under the guise of “evaluating talent” Coach Payton and staff determined to minimize the 1st team snaps throughout all four-pre-season games. When the 1st team offense had five possessions in the 3rd pre-season game and came away with 3 points and four punts, he still chose to sit most of the starters for the final pre-season game.
“Oh, the offense will be ok” they said. “We need to evaluate for the roster cuts”, they said. The result – we played our first regular season game, like it was a pre-season game. The team was flat, the execution sloppy, timing horrible, communication not existent. The coaching staff appeared to be calling their first game. Offense was too predictable .. run, run, pass … defense appeared to put players in the worst-case scenario to make a play. In our desire to be cautious during pre-season, we extended the pre-season. In our desire to stay healthy with key players, we look like first-timers. Staying healthy was a miss, as we were not complete with the first half before Strief goes down with an injury.
Sometimes we try to be smart and we play cautious. Playing cautious is against everything that made the Saints winners early in the Payton era. Sometimes we are “too smart for our own good”.
Keys to the game
- Can defense prove last week was a fluke? After a pre-season of installing new personel and new strategies, the defense played four pre-season games that appeared they had made significant improvements. We get to the Minnesota and the ghost of bad defense returned. There were good signs; Jordan is still the best athlete on the field, AJ is active and may be the answer to linebacker leadership, and Anzalone may be the real deal. Communication breakdowns and inability to get off the field haunted us – if this does not clean up this week, this will be a long season.
- Will the coaches choose to be aggressive to win, not be cautious not to lose? I despise when Payton plays “not to lose”. It appears when he is trying to prove he is the smartest coach in the league, he plays conservative and predictable. We are opening up the home season at the Dome as underdogs against a pissed off Super Bowl Champion. Get vertical, man to man on defense – nothing to lose, all to win!
- Which team has the most productive next man up? We maybe catching an angry Patriots team, but they were clearly a different team on defense when they lost Hightower. In fact, without Hightower, the Patriot linebacking corp looked average. Amendola leaves the receiving corp limited to Cooks, Gronk, and somebody else. The Saints will play without their two starting offensive tackles and the defense is down one starting cornerback. Which substitute will deliver? The difference in this game may come down to which non-starter plays well.
Call me nuts, but always see me as optimistic. The Patriots are angry, but they are suffering from key injuries. The Saints have always played better when they play to win. If Kenny V isolates on Gronk, safeties keep Cooks in check, and the defense uses more blitzes, you hit Tom and his game suffers. If on offense we quit worrying about balance and worry about points (1 out 5 in the red zone will not work), keep our defense fresh and keep Brady off the field ………..this could be a track meet ….. Saints 41 – Patriots 38!