The New Orleans Saints have gradually gotten better each week throughout the season, but after Sunday’s 28-27 loss in Green Bay, they are still 0-4.
The overriding theme is still bad. All four games were losses. But when a team is 0-4, it’s necessary to grasp for something.
"From Week 1 to Week 4 we have improved," Saints defensive end Will Smith told the Times-Picayune. "We knew it was going to be a process. We didn't think it would take this long. But we've got to keep battling and battling, and by the end of the season I think we'll be where we need to be."
By the end of the season? Do the Saints have that long?
At 0-4, the Saints would need a 10-2 finish to have a fighting chance at the playoffs. But there doesn’t seem to be any way to go 10-2 if the Saints aren’t going to be where they need to be until the end of the season.
Interim head coach Aaron Kromer told the Times-Picayune that the team was much closer on Sunday, even closer than the one-point margin showed.
“We looked like the Saints again,” said Kromer.
A 35-of-54 performance by quarterback Drew Brees with 446 yards passing and three touchdown passes sure sounds like a typical Saints performance. But something is still amiss, and it’s not just the problems on defense.
Yet again the Saints were abused by an opponent in the run game. Cedric Benson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and he likely could have hurt the Saints more if Aaron Rodgers hadn’t had to have saved the day with his arm.
It was the Saints’ inability to run Sunday that slowed down the offense at times.
New Orleans rushed the ball 19 times and averaged 2.4 yards per carry. The 45 yards on the ground was the Saints lowest regular-season rushing total since Week 10 last year when New Orleans only rushed for 41 yards in Atlanta, but won in overtime.
The Saints carried five running backs on their roster, and Sproles and Thomas had been doing very well prior to Sunday. Neither had been used much—Thomas had 19 carries and Sproles seven—but their yards per carry average was high.
Thomas gained 14 yards on nine carries Sunday. Mark Ingram had 11 yards on five carries. Sproles led the way with 20 yards on five carries. The Saints weren’t successful with the run Sunday and the offense had to abandon the strategy late.
Since Kromer said these guys looked like the Saints again, it made sense to look up their won-loss record last year in games where the offense rushed poorly.
In four regular-season and one postseason games, the Saints were 1-4 last year when the team rushed for 100 yards or less. Their sole win was an overtime win in Atlanta.
Maybe this is the real Saints.
Maybe the passing attack is back to normal—446 yards from Brees and a 153-yard game from Marques Colston sure alludes to that—and all that needs fixing is the run game.
There’s some truth to that, for sure, but let’s not forget about the porous defense.
If the New Orleans offense is working, its defense doesn’t have to be stellar. Last year’s defense ranked 24th in the league and gave up 5,895 yards to opposing offenses. The Saints still went 13-3.
This season the defense ranks 30th in the league (prior to Sunday’s game) and needs some help opposing the run and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But it’s starting to look like the defense isn’t the entire issue.
It’s time for the rushing attack in New Orleans to step up.