Why New Orleans Saints Will Overcome 'Bountygate,' Week 1 Loss
It seemed the New Orleans Saints were given one break by the NFL through the whole "Bountygate" scandal thingamajigger. That supposed break: facing the Washington Redskins at home in Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season.
It was all set up for the perfect beginning to the 2012 NFL season, with a rookie quarterback playing in his first game in the loudest stadium in the league against a team that was 8-0 at home (9-0 if you count its home playoff win versus Detroit) a year ago.
The script was written. The battle-tested and wounded Jonathan Vilma was even allowed to be on the field with the team, as he led them out on to the field as their honorary captain/hero—the wounded soldier there to motivate his fellow troops for battle.
In fact, the team even gained one of its supposedly lost soldiers, Will Smith, in time to go into battle. And he was one of the team's most passionate and dominating fighters Sunday.
Yet with all that said, everything seemingly going for the New Orleans Saints Sunday, the team came out and laid an egg. It wasn't just any ol' egg. It was the kind that was quickly cracked open, yolk running into the worst crevices of the turf. It was the kind of egg that leaves a stench for days, perhaps even weeks.
If you know anything about that lasting stench left from rotten eggs, you know it is far from pleasant. It is hard to take. It makes you want hurl up anything you may have taken into your body. And it isn't easy to get that horrible odor out of your palate or the disaster area.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is now an odor-infested battleground. But it isn't only the Dome where this odor permeates. It is the team's meeting and practice facilities in Metairie. And because the team's profile has grown, due mostly to the "Bounty" scandals, that odor really permeates throughout the entire NFL.
Only some of the nostrils who receive a whiff of that "odor" take it as a pleasant aroma. They are excited the egg cracked open in an almost ungodly fashion.
Never mind them, though; they really aren't the issue at stake here.
For the New Orleans Saints, that stench will be difficult to rid themselves of. The remnants of that stink could creep up at any moment with almost no notice. A performance like the one the Saints put forward Sunday is hard to overcome as a football team.
But there is great promise this particular team can overcome and rid itself of that stench. In fact, if any team could do it, it's this Saints team.
Of course, everyone wants to point to the coaching situation. The suspended Sean Payton is a tremendous coach—one of the three best in the game as we speak. He's not around to help resurrect this team from the grave.
But look at Sunday's game. Coaching, especially the head coaching position, was far from the problem. In fact, Aaron Kromer was beyond poised and composed in making the unpopular, yet wise, game-management decisions.
His decision to kick a field goal facing 4th-and-goal at the two, down multiple scores, as well as his decision not to try the onside kick with over two minutes to play and two timeouts down eight, were veteran coach moves.
In fact, they were the primary reason the team even possessed the chance to tie the game with Drew Brees' beat the buzzer, Hail Mary pass as the game ended. Clearly, game management is not the problem for this team.
The team's overall discipline, 12 penalties for 107 yards, was a huge issue Sunday. It was quite uncharacteristic of this Saints squad. Perhaps the replacement officials based some of their calls on the team's new reputation.
Perhaps that is the biggest issue with the loss of Sean Payton and Joe Vitt. Maybe discipline will be the issue that crumbles this team and keeps the stench alive wherever the team goes.
But that seems unlikely.
Some of the issues are correctable. Some of them simply require greater attention to detail. Aaron Kromer may not be Sean Payton, but he and the rest of the Saints staff are good enough coaches to correct these issues in one week.
As for the defense, remember the team was missing its best defensive back, Jabari Greer, who practiced all week and seemed likely to play against Washington. When he is healthy, which he should be for Carolina, the secondary is upgraded significantly.
Without him, rookie Corey White was forced to play early and often. He struggled mightily, especially in man coverage situations. Greer's presence in the lineup will allow the Saints to play more base defense and keep White off the field.
And it may seem like an excuse, but the Saints really could not have known what to expect from the Redskins offense Sunday. Common sense said they'd run essentially the same offense as from a year ago, only highlighting little elements that Robert Griffin III does well.
Can the Saints overcome the Bounties and week one loss to make the playoffs?
No one could have expected offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to completely tailor the offense to Griffin. No one could have expected the Redskins to pretty much throw a college offense out there, only with a freakishly talented (by NFL standards) athlete playing quarterback.
The Redskins' Week 2 opponent, St. Louis, has a better chance to slow down RG3 simply because it's now seen a regular-season sampling of the Redskins' revamped offense. Steve Spagnuolo and Co. did not have that opportunity.
Remember, this was Spagnuolo's initial full-game run with his starting unit. He made the adjustments throughout the course of the game. In some cases circumstances prevented those from having their full effect (i.e. Washington getting the ball 1st-and-goal at the 3-yard line nearing the end of the fourth quarter). In other cases, the Saints simply forgot to wrap up.
Tackling is correctable, to some degree. Circumstances won't always screw the defense.
Offensively, issues arose that were almost unknown under Sean Payton. Namely, Drew Brees was wildly inaccurate early and throughout the game. A closer look at many of his poor throws, though, reveals that Brees had hands, arms, legs and probably a couple armpits in his face as he attempted to sling the ball down the field.
Pass protection was an issue in the Saints' last meaningful game in the divisional round of the playoffs in January against the 49ers. The common thread? Both teams had amazing front sevens who play base 3-4 schemes.
The Saints knew coming into this game that pass pro would be quite the challenge. Considering that, the unit actually did a decent job (a completely relative statement, please understand).
Yet Brees was still amazing. Many times he escaped pressure like he was Batman running from the authorities, only to fling the ball down the field accurately and have it dropped.
Dropped passes are not the fault of the quarterback, ever. That is part of the reason completion percentage tends to be such a misleading measurement tool for judging a quarterback.
Brees really was accurate on approximately 32 of his 54 throws. That would be good for 59.25 percent, still not a wonderful accuracy percentage, but much easier to look at Monday morning.
More disconcerting even than the dropped passes, somewhat poor accuracy of Brees and even lack of running the ball (which there's really no reason to cover here—just know it will not happen again unless the team falls behind like in this game) is the lack of energy as an entire offense. Especially in the Dome, that was odd to see.
But as many commented during and after the game, the Saints have had stinkers like this before. Each were games where a win seemed automatic. Many have come at home in the Dome.
The team has always responded the following week with a focused effort. Even without Sean Payton, there is little reason to believe Week 2 of the 2012 season will be any different.
This is still the same team, led by the same quarterback, with the same offense, with a capable leader making game-management decisions.
The defense needs to step up. It will. Steve Spagnuolo is too good a coach to not see his defense improve.
Fans need not stress too much over one game. Nothing we saw Sunday was impossible to correct. That stench lingering over the Saints right now can quickly be removed.
A win Sunday will do that. Watch out, Carolina—the Saints are about to come marching in on a mission.
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