On the night of February 7, 2010, the city of New Orleans was enjoying what was arguably the biggest celebration in the history of the city. A city whose NFL team was the laughing stock of the league for decades was now the reigning Super Bowl champion. The city was out of control because not only did this team have the Lombardi trophy, but it also had all the look of a team that was going to be good for years to come. It had a quarterback that was becoming one of the faces of the NFL. The team had feel-good stories as well. Marques Colston was not only a seventh round pick, but he was picked at the bottom of the final round in the NFL draft. In that position, you usually don’t even make the team and here he was the lead receiver on the Superbowl champs. You had Anthony Hargrove, a player that battled back from substance abuse issues and ultimately out of the NFL to become a major contributor on a team of destiny. The New Orleans Saints were Super Bowl champions and everything was super!
Today, we are still talking about the Saints, but for far different reasons. The Saints this season have lost games to the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals and thus far have only had one impressive win. After a 30 – 17 slashing by the Browns, the questions are now being asked. What happened to this team? How is it that a team that went into the week with a top ten ranked defense and offense can slide to the point of experts now wondering if the team can even make the playoffs. Here are a few reasons why the Super Bowl champs are no longer super…
Running Game or the lack thereof
Last year the Saints had a dominant running game. Pierre Thomas started the year off with an injury in 2009, but came on strong when he returned. Reggie Bush has been considered as a bust by many, but I hardly think the Saints coaches or Drew Brees think that. Reggie’s ability to change the coverage of defenses is a vital cog in Sean Payton’s offense. With Thomas and Bush injured the Saints have struggled. Last year, Mike Bell was able to shoulder a large portion of the load admirably, but this year he’s in Cleveland. Chris Ivory and Ladell Betts are too new to the system and can’t fill the gaps left by Thomas, Bell and Bush.
Last year, the Saints defense was able to terrify offenses with now only its ability to create turnovers, but also its ability to turn those turnovers into points. Darren Sharper was a major player in the turnover game and he has been on the PUP list all season. Tracy Porter was also a major contributor in the big play game and he is currently on the injured list. While Malcolm Jenkins has played well for Sharper, the Saints are looking for an option to fill the void left by Porter.
Drew Brees has 10 interceptions going into week 8 and that doesn’t include a bunch of fumbles both by Brees and other players. Brees has been seemingly reckless with the ball and not nearly as precise as he was in 2009 when he set a single season league record for passing accuracy. Brees needs to be more precise with his decision making and not force the issue as much, but it isn’t completely his fault.
Lack of Playmakers
The Saints while known for having an explosive passing game have no playmakers on the offensive side of the ball with Bush and Thomas injured. Shockey’s coverage is too tight for Drew to make passes to him and the receivers are incapable of getting open on their own. Colston’s precise route running make him a target, but none of the other receivers show any ability to separate which leaves Brees holding the ball too long.
The Bottom Line
Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis may want to go back to acquiring offensive player and leave the defense alone. This is a different team and Drew Brees is a different quarterback without Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas in the line-up. Chris Ivory may be able to fill in for Thomas in time, but Bush’s skills are hard if not impossible to duplicate. A playmaking receiver to line-up next to Colston may be an answer, but with the trade deadline passed it won’t help 2010. The Saints although talented and still capable of becoming a dynasty may have to settle for a near .500 record this season and the city of New Orleans may have to go back to celebrating Mardi Gras for awhile.