Five surefire ways to fix the Saints
By Mike Florio – SportingNews
So what’s wrong with the New Orleans Saints? Funny you should ask that. Because I was just getting ready to tell you. (What a strange coincidence.)
But, hey, I’ll take this a little farther than simply identifying the problem. I’m also going to offer up a solution or two. Or five. (And because the Saints have a bye this weekend, they undoubtedly are scouring the web in search of ideas for reversing that 0-3 start.)
There are, as I see it, three glaring problems that have contributed to the Saints’ six-game swing to start the ’06 and ’07 seasons.
First, the league office saddled the Saints with a much more difficult early-season schedule this year. In ’06, the Saints opened at Cleveland and Green Bay, scoring narrow wins. Then came the epic re-christening of the Superdome against Atlanta, pushing the Saints to 3-0. The rest of the way, the Saints went a mere 7-6 — and 0-3 against AFC teams.
This year, the schedule-makers parked a flaming bag of poo on the Saints’ porch, rang the bell and ran.
In Week 1, the Saints got a prime-time trip to the RCA Dome for the coronation of the Super Bowl champion Colts. Should we have expected anything other than a blowout? The Saints presumably didn’t.
The 41-10 beatdown surely forced the team to start asking itself tough questions when it should have been focusing on getting ready to go to Tampa Bay. So much for that. 0-2.
Then came the home opener against Tennessee, which many presumed (erroneously) would be a repeat of last year’s coming-out party. The Saints, however, were 0-2 at home against AFC teams a year ago and they continued that trend against the Titans.
Really, if the Saints had opened at Cleveland and then headed home to face the Bills and 49ers, New Orleans might be 3-0, too. Just like the Steelers.
Second, the only expectations placed on the ’06 Saints were to show up and play in 16 regular-season games. Winning any of them would have been viewed as a bonus. This year, the words “Saints” and “Super Bowl” began to appear in the same sentence. That’s a lot of pressure (just ask the Chargers) and helps motivate the opponents, too.
The ’07 Saints often appear desperate, causing them to depart from the game plan as they go for the quick score. Case in point: On fourth-and-short early Monday night, Saints coach Sean Payton called for a downfield pass. The receiver was covered, the pass was off the mark and the Saints were on their way to a 0-3 record.
Third, some league insiders say defensive coordinators have figured out the tendencies of Payton’s offense, forcing quarterback Drew Brees to attempt throws he lacks the arm strength to complete. One common criticism is the play of the offensive line, but I don’t buy that. Brees had plenty of time to throw on a key third-down play Monday night after Tennessee had jumped to 10-0 lead. Brees tried to get it to receiver Lance Moore, who was open. By the time the ball arrived, however, Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck — a linebacker! — was able to get in position to intercept the pass.
So how can the Saints turn around their season? Here are five suggestions:
1. Relax. Everyone needs to take a deep breath. And another. And a few more. The Saints have placed way too much pressure on themselves to build on the successes of ’06. That pressure is suffocating the team. However, it’s one thing to realize a team is pressing and quite another to find a solution for the constant sense of urgency. The bye will keep the team winless for another weekend, potentially creating more anxiety. The Oct. 7 game is against Carolina, a team that swept New Orleans last season. The Saints should assume a loose, nothin’-to-lose mindset.
2. Mix it up. If, as some believe, that Payton’s play-calling has become predictable, the coach must break out the ’06 game film and adjust his game plan. Payton then must stick to the blueprint, taking what the defenses give without trying to nail a video game-style play to send the fans to their feet.
3. Don’t use Reggie Bush as a decoy. Last season, opponents feared Bush and the Saints used that to their advantage. Payton made him a high-priced diversion to create space for the rest of the offense. This year, Bushophobia has been cured and opponents are not consumed by the notion they’ll end up on the wrong end of a highlight-reel play. The only way to restore that respect is to command it. Payton must get Bush the ball in the open field and create mismatches.
4. Trade for a veteran receiver. Last year, long-time Saint Joe Horn was valuable, despite playing in only 10 games. His presence as the No. 1 wide receiver helped then-rookie Marques Colston blossom and ultimately make Horn expendable. Colston, however, now is struggling as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver, the target of opponents’ game plans, averaging only 58.5 yards receiving per game. Veteran Derrick Mason isn’t happy with his role in Baltimore, and the Saints should take a shot (longshot?) at trading for him. Mason, 33, could mentor Colston — and draw some safety attention away from Colston. If Mason can’t be had, there are other options — Washington’s Brandon Lloyd and Miami’s Chris Chambers, to name two.
5. Sign Corey Dillon. With Deuce McAllister (knee) out for the season, many league observers assume Bush will inherit the bulk of McAllister’s carries. Bush, however, is not — and likely never will be — a between-the-tackles runner. So why not offer the job to Dillon? Dillon, who turns 33 on Oct. 24, was phased out by the Patriots last year, and no team offered him the starting job in free agency. He’s still on the street. In New Orleans, Dillon could get all the carries his aging body can handle.
Another option is to trade for Minnesota’s Chester Taylor, who is about to be eclipsed by rookie Adrian Peterson. Or how about a reunion with Ricky Williams, if he is reinstated? Such a deal would result in a rare, if not unprecedented, situation in which the same general manager (Randy Mueller) who traded the guy from his original team then trades the player back to it. For that reason alone, I’m all for it.
So heed this advice, Saints. It might not deliver that Super Bowl you dreamed of this offseason, but it certainly won’t make the team any worse.