The New Orleans Saints offense isn't elite right now and it's a big problem. You can call me ridiculous and shout me down like callers did on my podcast Sunday after the game. You can say, 'The Saints have shown their offense can score a lot of points quickly. They will be fine.' The key words there are have and will be. I'm not talking about the past or the future. I'm talking about right now and today the Saints offense is just slightly above average.
They rank in the middle of the pack in points per game and are dead last in rushing yards per game. The 2010 Saints are starting to look a lot like the 2008 version more and more with each passing week. You remember that team don't you? Drew Brees threw the 5,000 yards, the Saints had serious kicking issues most of the season, and the defense was atrocious on 3rd down.
What made the Saints special in 2009 among other things was their ability to run the football. It took the offense to a whole different level. The Saints finished sixth in rushing offense in 2009 and used the power running of Mike Bell to finish off teams especially through the first half of last season. Through three games in 2010 the Saints aren't even averaging 60 yards a game on the ground. The foundation for winning the Super Bowl last year was the offense. The Saints scored 500 points and were a level above everyone else. During the regular season last year the offense would get a lead, the defense could take chances, turnovers were created, Saints would pound the ball on the ground, scoreboard says 45-10, and everyone parties. Repeat as needed.
Besides the running game being stuck in neutral, the Saints big play receivers are either MIA (Robert Meachem) or are dropping the ball (Devery Henderson). After three games the Saints are averaging 21 points a game which is 14th in the NFL. If they are going to be a playoff team they better get that ranking in the top five.
There were signs in training camp something was off on the offensive side of the ball. Sean Payton shuffled the offense line around in the preseason when he demoted Carl Nicks to second team during camp. Everyone sort of brushed it off as Payton sending a message but maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was trying to fix a problem. Through three games the Saints offensive line was been far from dominant. Brees is under more pressure, especially right up the middle which causes him even more problems because of his height. The Saints guard tandem of Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans last year was the best in football. Right now they are far from it and Sean Payton gave Nicks an earful during Sunday's game.
While everyone in the New Orleans media might point to the defense as the issue, they delivered what they usually do. They gave up 200 yards rushing and were bad on third down (Atlanta was 9-18) but they made the key stop to start overtime and gave the Saints a chance to win the game.
The Saints defense has no pass rush, is below average at defensive tackle, and besides Jonathan Vilma is average at best at linebacker. They are what they are and if the Saints aren't playing with the lead the defense is going to get pushed around just like it did Sunday.
The loss to Atlanta was huge. If the Saints had won they'd be two games ahead plus have the tiebreaker over the Falcons. Now they are tied and Atlanta holds the tiebreaker. Garrett Hartley's miss kept the Saints from grabbing the NFC South by the throat before the calendar turned to October.
After listening to Sean Payton on Sirius satellite radio I really got the sense he doesn't want to change kickers. He talked of getting Hartley right and have him get 'back on the horse'. Besides, John Carney isn't the solution at kicker. With all the Super Bowl celebrations you may have forgotten he was pretty awful last year before the Saints switched to Hartley. My guess is Hartley gets a stay of execution but one more short field goal miss that costs the Saints a game and Hartley will force Payton to make a move.
It's the first gloomy Monday around these parts since December 28th, 2009. You might say I'm over reacting and wouldn't be writing this if Hartley had made the field goal. Except he didn't, and I can't deal in the hypothetical. I can only deal in the right now.
The Saints are showing us who they are in 2010 whether you believe what you see is up to you. I said in my season preview, 'Saints will barely make the playoffs.' Right now the Saints have two wins over teams that have combined for one victory and look nothing like they did last year. Maybe things will change but I'm guessing not. 2010 is shaping up as the long wait for the arrival of the magic from 2009 that never quite returns.