Four weeks into this NFL season, the New Orleans Saints stand at a 1-3 record, a spot fans have been unfamiliar with in recent years (Bountygate not withstanding). The team’s poor start has left many of us wondering what exactly is wrong with them and if there is hope for them to turn it around.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The Saints have dealt with a number of problems on both sides of the ball. What is most worrisome is all of the issues that plagued them on the road in the second half of last season are still present. In their last two road games against the Browns and Cowboys, the offense has been getting off to very slow starts and allowing their opponents to build up early leads and dictate the tempo of the game. Though they did score on their first three possessions against the Falcons in week one, they went into a massive lull in the third quarter and allowed the Falcons to climb back into the game. Notably in the Browns game, they had trouble communicating the play calls and had to burn timeouts to avoid delay of game penalties.
Then there are the much-highlighted problems the Saints have on defense. Rob Ryan looks like he has been uncharacteristically passive in his play calling, save for the first half against Cleveland. Ryan has demonstrated in the past he likes to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks with frequent blitzing. That has not been the case this season as the Saints have relied on their defensive line to create pressure and dropping the linebackers into coverage. It has not worked at all so far, and the Saints have only five sacks and one takeaway through the first four games – well off the pace from last season when they had 49 and 19, respectively.
Jairus Byrd, their big free agent pickup in the offseason, has not paid off at this point. He has 17 tackles and just two passes defensed on the year and no interceptions. Adding insult to injury, Malcolm Jenkins, who the Saints let go to bring in Byrd, has an interception in each of the last three games for the Philadelphia Eagles. It is possible that the defensive struggles could be the result of having to play from behind for most of their games. They might yield better results if they played with the lead more often and could afford to be more aggressive, as seen in their only win against the Vikings.
On the bright side, the Saints do have a realistic chance to turn their season around. The NFC South is not very good right now. Despite their bad start, the Saints are still just one game behind the Falcons and Panthers for the division lead. Atlanta has had similar struggles in their away games while Carolina’s injuries to their running backs coupled with their lack of legitimate threats at the wide receiver position and Cam Newton being banged up make it a wonder if they can keep their season afloat. A record of 9-7 or even 8-8 might be enough to win the division title. The Saints have played just one home game this year, we all know how much of a different team they are at home. So they may just have to win two of their remaining five road games to earn a playoff spot.
So while the season has not gone our way, the Saints can still salvage it. It is not yet time to give up hope. If they lose to Tampa Bay this week, though…I’d rather not think about that.