NFL Handicapping: Can 0-3 Saints Save Their Season?
by Trevor Whenham - 9/28/2012
What a mess. The New Orleans Saints came into this season with high expectations. The NFC is very deep, but the Saints were seen by many as a very legitimate Super Bowl contender — an elite squad.
Just three games into the season, though, the season is spinning out of control, and it’s on the verge of being lost.
There are only two winless teams in the entire league, and New Orleans, improbably, is one of them. Things have been very bleak, and the story has been getting a whole lot of public attention. When the public is dialed in to a story, it’s very important for bettors to have an accurate sense of what is likely to happen. The public will likely bet strongly against the Saints until they win. That means that there could be real value to be found if you aren’t as pessimistic about the situation as the public is. If you share their pessimism, though, then you need to be careful that the odds aren’t too depressed before you bet on them.
Here’s a look at five factors that will help determine how the rest of the season turns out for the Saints — and for bettors:
Brees personifies his team as much as any player in the league. His struggles, then, are a key part of the problems with this team — or at least a key indicator of how deep these problems run.
He sits just 25th in the league in passer rating, and outside of the Top 25 in completion percentage and yards per attempt. For a guy who has been laser-accurate for so many years, this is a sign of real issues.
Of more concern that that, though, is how one of the most clutch players in the league has been playing when the pressure was on. He made Washington look quite good defensively while both Cincinnati and St. Louis had far fewer troubles moving the ball against the Redskins. When he was fighting to win against Carolina he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown so easy it was as if Brees had tried to score against himself. Against the Chiefs he was silent late in the game when the Chiefs were storming back.
It’s not like Brees has suddenly forgotten how to play, so the issues are deeper than that. We’ll look at some of those in turn — protection, running, coaching. Whatever the issues, though, he needs to get back on track before this team can be trusted.
The Saints haven’t had to worry about their offensive line for several years, and that is a big part of the reason why their offense has been so potent. This year, though, they can’t run consistently, and Brees is often left to scramble for his life. That’s having an obvious effect on production, and it gets worse as the game advances and players get battered and worn down.
There isn’t one clear reason for the struggles, but they are real and concerning. Last week, for example, KC linebacker Justin Houston, hardly a superstar, sacked Brees three times, and he “turnstiled” right tackle Zach Strief on his way to the QB each time.
The good news is that the talent that was so strong last year is still in place this year, and their play has been down from where it needs to be but not completely disastrous. Like so much else with this team, it seems like focus and execution are the issues as opposed to a lack of talent. That can change quickly if the team gets back into a good place.
It obviously doesn’t help, though, that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who has been mentoring the line since 2009, is serving as interim-interim coach for the first six games.
With Green Bay, which leads the league in sacks, on tap next week, the pressure will be on for the line to get on track quickly.
We don’t need to go too deep into this one — the running backs are struggling largely because the line in front of them is struggling. Outside of two big runs, their production has been weak, and Mark Ingram in particular has struggled.
What stands out, though, is that everyone isn’t particularly happy. Chris Ivory, the leading rusher for the team in 2010, has been inactive for all three games despite the issues, and he’s not very happy about it. By itself that doesn’t mean much, but the more discord that festers around the team — especially given the bizarre coaching situation — the harder it will be for the team to get back on track.
We knew coming into the season that the coaching situation was unprecedented, but it seems like few assumed it would have the impact it seems to have had.
Some people have argued that Sean Payton should be Coach of the Year because his impact is so obvious and significant. While they are joking, there is a hint of truth to it.
Besides the loss of Payton, the replacement situation seems more and more like a mistake every day. Joe Vitt was named interim coach, but he was also suspended for six games. That leaves Aaron Kromer to fill the gap. Vitt was largely running the show heading into the season, though, so Kromer not only lacks experience in his role, but he is viewed by everyone as what he is — a short term stop-gap.
When Vitt returns there will be another awkward transition to deal with, and given how well they handled the first transition it’s hard to be optimistic.
Beyond the head coaching turmoil, you can’t ignore that Kromer and Vitt are removed from their usual roles as well. It’s hard to believe that things are going to improve on this front in a hurry — at least not until Vitt takes over and can establish himself, at the earliest. I respect that Vitt was the obvious choice to take over, but shouldn’t his suspension have changed that? It seems so at this point.
New Orleans Saints Schedule
With a favorable schedule, the Saints could get back on track in a hurry. The problem is, though, that their schedule is far from favorable. In fact, their easiest stretch is behind them and they are 0-3.
Three of their next four are on the road against potential playoff teams in Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Denver. At home they face the Chargers, Eagles, and Falcons. After a potentially easier game at Oakland they face the 49ers, Falcons, Giants, Bucs, and Cowboys down the stretch before closing against the Panthers.
Very, very tough.
If they keep playing like they have then there are a whole lot more losses to come.
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