It feels like just yesterday the New Orleans Saints were 9-2 and gaining momentum after hard fought wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons. Now the season has taken a nightmarish turn as they have dropped three of their last four, going from being in contention for the one seed to having to win just to get a wild card spot.
So what went wrong? Believe it or not, the finger must be pointed largely at Sean Payton.
Payton, a large reason for the fast start, has chosen the wrong time for some the worst coaching performances in his tenure. Whether it is being stubborn, arrogant, or just plain stupid, Payton, who is widely regarded as one of best coaches in the league, has gotten away from what made him successful earlier in the season–balance.
Against the St. Louis Rams and his second meeting with the Carolina Panthers, his play calling was beyond awful, especially early. Balance is the key to a successful offense and team. This old adage is what got the Saints to that 9-2 record. Against the Panthers and Rams, his blatant disregard of and trust in the run game was embarrassing.
Against the Rams, he was facing a front four that has had success against Drew Brees in the past, sacking him five times in their previous meeting. Instead of trying to slow down the pass rush with a couple of rushing attempts, he threw the ball a whopping 56 times! His lack of variety early led to turnovers and an early deficit. In addition, on two third-and-shorts he opted to go shotgun and four receivers instead of just trying to pound the ball for that one yard.
Fast forward to the Panthers game. The biggest storyline was starting rookie Terron Armstead for the first time all season against the best defensive line in the league. Payton did him no favors as he ran THREE run plays in the 1st quarter. Brees was getting sacked or pressure seemingly every pass play, but it wasn’t until the middle of the third quarter when a monsoon came pouring down for Payton decide to actually run it a few times.
Even with the pouring rain he attempted a few pass plays, one leading to an interception and eventually a Panthers touchdown. And just like the Rams game, he tried to get cute and ran two reverses in short yardage situations when there was success to be had on the ground.
The sad thing about both of those losses, especially the loss to the Panthers, is that there was production to be had. Mark Ingram has run like the first rounder the Saints drafted. Against the Rams, he only got one carry, but on the two catches he had he ran well and gained 39 yards. Against the Panthers he ran like a beast, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. However, it seemed like Payton just didn’t want to give him the ball. He would give a good run and get taken out immediately. For as close as the game was and how well Ingram was running, he should have gotten more than 13 carries.
I don’t know what it is with Payton, but he just seems to be ignoring past success and mistakes. Against the Patriots, though there were attempts, there were barely any in the first half and barely any in the fourth quarter when the clock needed to be run out. Against the Jets, there were only 13 attempts in a one-score game. Meanwhile, in the wins against the 49ers, Falcons, and Cowboys, efforts were made to play ball control offense with the running game.
Whether this is Sean trying to show the greatness of his passing offense and his toy Drew Brees or just plain stupidity, his hubris and perceived “genius” is about to cost the Saints a playoff berth that was all but a given 4 weeks ago. Who knows what he does next, but it better be something different than before, because if not, the Saints will be sitting at home instead playing in January.
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