Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Watching the Saints misfire on offense as they did in the first half against Tampa is sort of like biting into a piece of pizza and then spitting it out. You just never expect a piece of pizza to be so bad you literally won't eat it because even bad pizza is still pretty good. We've come expect the same of the Saints offense.
On Sunday Tampa had Drew Brees and the Saints struggling badly for three quarters. Through 45 minutes the Saints had 13 points, three turnovers, and were in the middle of their worst offensive performance of 2011. Then Drew Brees marched the Saints down inside the Tampa 10-yard line and had the Saints one fourth down conversion away from another last minute win. He couldn't pull it off two weeks in a row as he threw his third interception and the Saints are now in 2nd place in the NFC South.
Go ahead and blame the Saints defense for making critical mistakes allowing two touchdown throws, or the offense's complete inability to run the ball all you want but Tampa deserves most of the credit.
Through the first five games no one has slowed the Saints offense like the Bucs did on Sunday. While they didn't get a sack Tampa created confusion all around Brees as he never seemed comfortable in the pocket all game. The Saints running game was so awful Brees was the team's second leading rusher with 21 yards. I'm guessing Brees has been the Saints second leading rusher exactly no times.
And now I'm going to say something I never thought was even possible; I wonder how much of a difference a healthy Sean Payton makes in the game. Payton broke his tibia and tore his MCL early in the first quarter. He wasn't able to call plays in the second half and had to watch the game from the locker room.
I'm no doctor or pain expert but I'm guessing Payton wasn't at his best trying to run the Saints offense with A BROKEN FREAKING LEG. Maybe if Payton is fine he figures out what the Bucs are doing and makes the adjustments and the Saints offense gets back in gear. Payton is maybe the best play caller in the NFL and not having your head coach for most of the game has to matter. If it didn't they wouldn't make millions.
The only bigger issue for the Saints than missing Payton was the offensive line getting completely pushed around. I'm beginning to wonder if Olin Kreutz is the weak link on the line. His level of play had begun to dip tremendously in Chicago and they let him leave. Did the Saints sign him thinking, 'Yeah he struggled with the Bears but Chicago's line stinks. If we put him between Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks he will be fine.' A very reasonable theory but what if they were wrong and he's not any good? Kreutz is huge question mark going forward.
The defense gave up over 400 yards again, didn't have a sack, and failed to create a turnover. Gregg Williams continues to dial up blitzes, which don't quite reach the quarterback, and after six weeks the only thing that can really fix this defense is the Saints scoring 30 every week.
Want some good news after the Saints lost an opportunity to take command in the NFC South and will probably have their head coach running the team from the press box for a couple weeks? The Saints next two opponents have yet to win a game.
Tampa Bay didn't unlock any unknown secrets to shutting down the Saints offense unless mangling Sean Payton's leg and having Drew Brees throw three interceptions was Raheem Morris' master plan. I'll call that unlikely. I'll boil this one down to if you turn the ball over four more times than the team you are playing you will lose 99% of the time.
Sean Payton summed up best after the game, 'I think this after the game, I thought we played with energy and effort, and yet the turnovers become almost insurmountable.'
Everything else is just details.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.