The New Orleans Saints roll into their bye week after finally finding a way to escape defeat in Week 5. At 1-4, a week off will certainly be welcome, with several key players in need of rest.
After dropping four straight games to kick off 2012, Drew Brees and the gang managed to muster up some magic with Sean Payton in the house on Monday night. There is still light at the end of the tunnel.
While the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here, the Saints have some momentum to build off of now. Let’s take a look at the state of the franchise heading into Week 6.
Drew Brees still looks like the same old Brees. His first two games of the season didn’t look great, but he’s settled down nicely in the absence of his (real) head coach.
In the past three weeks, Brees has thrown for 1,056 yards, 10 touchdowns and only two picks. Riding on the success of the passing game, New Orleans ranks fifth overall in yards per game and seventh in points scored.
Marques Colston has been dealing with a foot injury, but he’s caught fire in recent weeks. In the past two games, he has 18 receptions for 284 yards and four touchdowns, three of which came in his dominant performance against the San Diego Chargers.
Lance Moore is proving he can step up with Robert Meachem gone. If he can stay healthy, Moore is a solid No. 2 receiver in this offense.
The Saints continue to take hits in the receiving corps, but Brees finds a way to make it work. Moore was out for Week 5, and Jimmy Graham basically became a non-factor with an ankle injury. Yet they still managed to put up 31 points.
Trust in Brees.
We could probably just list the entire defense here and move on. The Saints are hemorrhaging yards through the air and on the ground. Opponents are averaging a ridiculous 456 yards per game against New Orleans, which is good enough to rank dead last in the NFL in this category.
Even in their lone win, the Saints allowed 6.5 yards per carry and 354 total passing yards. Steve Spagnuolo is trying to do the best with what he’s been handed, but his side of the ball hasn’t come around at all.
The aforementioned injuries are taking their toll. Graham’s injury is fortunately only a sprained ankle, and the hope is he will return in Week 7 to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Running the ball hasn’t been easy, either. The stats are a bit inflated after facing the porous Carolina Panthers run defense. Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles continue to form a committee that isn’t seeing enough work and isn’t quite getting the job done when called upon.
Oh, and the Saints are 1-4. That’s the worst part, of course.
Joe Vitt is returning soon, and he’ll take over a Saints team that should have a more positive outlook going forward. They know they can win games. They know Brees is a superstar. This team does have the ability to start stringing some wins together.
Brees leads the league in passing touchdowns, yards and completions. He’s been sacked 12 times in five games. Jermon Bushrod has allowed 20 hurries so far, but for the most part the offensive line is allowing Brees enough time to make his reads and move down the field.
If the run game can find a little more traction, things can really take off. We know Brees is capable of shouldering the load on offense, but this offense needs more balance. The Saints averaged 132.9 yards per game on the ground last year, ranking sixth in the league. That needs to be a priority again.
Sproles is also an underutilized playmaker. Keep the screen game going, open up some room for Thomas running the ball, and this offense will be extremely dangerous.
The Saints have been outscored 154-141 in five weeks. Thirteen points equate to four losses. Every game has been close. If the defense can come away with a few opportunistic turnovers here and there, that win/loss record won’t look so bad.
Unfortunately, the defense isn’t improving. It’s easy to sit here and say they need just a few adjustments here and there, but every week has been a struggle, and the schedule isn’t going to make things better.
The Saints play Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta twice, San Francisco, New York (Giants) and Dallas going forward. The remaining slate of opponents collectively holds a 28-23 overall record. Spagnuolo’s defense will be tested week after week, and with the way it’s looking right now, they aren’t ready for that challenge.
Along with the road ahead lies an uphill battle to even think about making the playoffs. We know the offense can put up points. We don’t know if the defense can really stop anyone.
With 11 games left on the schedule and the Saints needing (in my opinion) 10 wins to even have a shot at the playoffs, New Orleans must go 9-2 through the rest of the year. Then they’re probably going to have to get some help.
Last year between Weeks 7 and 17 (the bye week was later, in Week 11) the Saints went 9-2 to finish the season. In 2009, New Orleans won its first 13 games of the year before a Week 15 loss sent the starters into coast mode for the playoffs.
Stringing together a lot of wins over a span of time isn’t anything new for the Saints—they’re in fact quite good at it. However, doing so as a matter of life and death is a new feeling. And doing so without Sean Payton—well, that’s not been tried.
So don’t be surprised if the Saints make that necessary run toward playoff admittance. But don’t be surprised if they fall flat, either.