Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
The New Orleans Saints won a football game scoring 16 points a year after having a defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history, and it wasn’t even the most crazy thing to happen in Tampa. It was that kind of Sunday in Who Dat Land.
Maybe the Saints dogged a bullet? Maybe they showed the heart of a champion? Maybe they were lucky enough to escape a burning building in which they set the drapes on fire and Tampa was playing with matches by the furnace?
Before we analyze all the crazy in this football game, and there was plenty, remember in two months the only thing we will remember is the Saints won. They are 2-0 with both victories in the division, the offense is running with a flat tire, and the defense has fought through an insane number of injuries. In December, when the Saints are battling for a playoff spot, you’ll be thankful the details of this game have drifted from your memory.
The Saints getting to 2-0 was like watching two starving men have a food fight for nearly five hours; it was at times ridiculous beyond words.
As much as a mess as the Saints were for most of the day, they were up 13-7 and driving in the fourth quarter for what appeared to be the game clinching score. Even a field goal to make it 16-7 seemed like enough of a nail to bury the hapless Buccaneers in their coffin. The Saints had successfully managed up to that point to follow the No. 1 rule when your opponent sets himself on fire; watch him burn and keep a safe distance from the flames. Then Drew Brees did what he seems to do about twice a year by capping a horrible game with a soul crushing interception that Tampa returned for a score.
When Brees wasn’t looking confused by the Bucs defense, he was getting crushed by a very tough Tampa defensive line. For most of the day, the Saints offense appeared to consist solely of throwing to Jimmy Graham.
The Bucs in spite of 10 penalties and two turnovers had control of the game and were a third-down conversion away from a win. The Saints defense makes one last stop, Tampa misses a 47-yard field goal, Drew Brees remembers he’s Drew Brees, and three passes later all's well that ends well. Or something.
Playoff teams win a couple games they have no business winning and teams like the 2012 Saints lose at home to the winless Chiefs after being up two touchdowns. You never return road victories. You love them no matter how ugly they are.
The Saints have two issues they need to fix and unfortunately they only control one of them.
First, if the offensive line doesn’t get better Drew Brees might not last the entire season. If you think I’m exaggerating watch the second quarter play again where Adrian Clayborn attempts to break Brees in half. No quarterback can handle even one of those kind of shots regularly.
Last week, the offensive line struggled to run the football and this week they struggled to run the ball and protect Brees. We are seeing a trend here that is not good. It’s definitely fixable, but maybe the Saints miss former offensive line coach Aaron Kromer more than we would have ever guessed. While the Saints offensive line is struggling, Kromer’s new team, the Bears, have what looks like their best offensive line in years. Doubt that’s a coincidence. There are worse problems to have but it needs to get better and quickly.
You shouldn’t have been surprised when Drew Brees talked Sean Payton to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the end of the first half. In spite of no evidence up to that point indicating the Saints could run Mark Ingram off tackle for a yard, the Saints did it anyway. Why? Because that’s who the Saints are. They are hyper-aggressive and maybe even reckless at times. Son, Evel Knievel didn’t get the girls, money and fame by not jumping over those 50 school buses. Broken bones are the cover charge into the dance club called ‘Fame and Fortune.’
Payton and Brees saw the chance to bury Tampa and they took it. The aggressive play burnt them there, but being aggressive served them really well at the end of the game.
Drew Brees wasn’t looking for the safe check down play even when the Saints had reached the Tampa 40 yard line on their final possession. He was pushing the ball into tight spots. The deep pass to Marques Colston to set up the game winner was anything but the safe play. I’d rather Sean Payton err on the side of aggression than be happy to have Garrett Hartley line up for a 49-yard kick to win a game on a wet field.
It wasn’t the aggressive move at the end of the half that bothered me, it was involving Mark Ingram which drove me to the liquor cabinet. Ingram is an average running back at best and only gets good yardage when the line blocks well, and at this point they can’t do that consistently at all. My Sundays would be much more pleasant if Mark Ingram got less carries or even no carries at all.
The second problem that the Saints have is the injuries on defense are nearly at critical mass. They probably lost Patrick Robinson for the year and Tom Johnson exited the game, which left the Saints without four defensive linemen (Tyrunn Walker, Brodrick Bunkley and Glenn Foster were inactive) and don’t forget the Saints already lost defensive end Kenyon Coleman before the season even started. The Saints are getting really close to having to play defensive linemen who aren’t even worthy of being on an NFL roster or calling up Wayne Martin and Jim Wilks.
Rob Ryan so far has exceeded even the most optimistic Saints fan’s dream of how good the defense could be two weeks into the year but injuries might ruin what he’s doing. There is nothing to be done except hope Saints defenders stop dropping like flies. But make no mistake the Saints have reached the limit to injuries they can absorb and still be a solid NFL defense. We could pray to whatever higher power of choice each of us prefers. That sounds like a great idea. Definitely pray.
The Saints are 2-0 in a loaded NFC, and if they can fix their offensive line and stop losing defensive players they’ll be in the hunt all year long. Take it, smile and appreciate that you aren’t Tampa Bay.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.