Sleep Walk in Seattle: Loss Must Inspire Saints To Address These Four Areas
There will be no Super Bowl repeat for the New Orleans Saints.
While the loss to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks may be shocking in itself, the fact that the Black and Gold won't be representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLV doesn't come much as a surprise.
It just so happens that most, if not all, of the Saints' weaknesses reared their ugly heads all in one game.
Anyone who watched even a handful of Saints games this season realized that this team was decent, but not as good as the 2009 edition.
If you know anything about NFL history and sports history in general, it's that a defending champion must be better than the year before in order to repeat.
He may be known as a savior to the Who Dat Nation, but quarterback Drew Brees cannot be expected to overcome poor pass protection, a nonexistent running game, an off and on defense and poor field position on every play of every game.
Throw in what was possibly the worst team tackling effort on one play in a postseason game, and you've got the recipe for a five-point loss to a 10-point home underdog.
Here is what the New Orleans Saints need to do this offseason to get back to the Super Bowl:
1) Fix the protection issues.
Brees has about as much protection as I did on the playground as an elementary school quarterback facing an unblocked three-Mississippi rush.
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod is a free agent, and the Saints would be wise to let him go. If they want to re-sign him to the veteran minimum as backup, I'm okay with that.
Jon Stinchcomb is equally inept as a quarterback protector, but the Saints are likely stuck with him and his holding penalties until for three more seasons.
The good news is that Charles Brown is in the fold. By the time he's starting next season, the technically sound left tackle will have put in two offseasons in an NFL strength and conditioning program to add much-needed bulk.
Despite Brown's presence, the Saints would be wise to select a tackle in the draft for a second straight year.
2) Get some healthy running backs.
I believe that Pierre Thomas' injury-plagued season was an anomaly. He played in 38 games in college and missed just a few games due to injury during his previous three seasons in the NFL.
Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory are each a different story.
Bush hasn't played a full season since his rookie season in 2006, and running backs who undergo microfracture surgery on their knee usually don't become more durable. Bush is due $11 million next season, but you can bet that management will ask him to take a drastic pay cut or be released.
My guess is that Bush refuses and will sign with a team desperate for offensive playmakers.
As much as I like Ivory and his fearless running style, I'm afraid he'll never last through a whole season with his history of injuries. On three separate occasions this season, Ivory missed games with either hamstring or foot injuries.
3) Draft some defensive playmakers.
I give Gregg Williams all the credit for improving the defense significantly over the past two years with his attitude, blitz packages and emphasis on forcing turnovers.
However, you can scheme your way only so far. Eventually, you have to have talent, and the Saints don't have much of it in the front seven, aside from Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis.
A dominant edge rusher would reduce Williams' need to blitz so often and free up Ellis and Will Smith. Alex Brown is a nice player, but doesn't possess the speed necessary to harass opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis.
I think we've seen the last of 31-year-old Scott Shanle as a Saint. Shanle is usually a solid tackler, but he's not a playmaker. Even with Williams' emphasis on stripping the football, Shanle has just one forced fumble in the past two seasons. His sack against the Seahawks was his first in over two years.
4) Improve the return game.
The Saints were in the middle of the pack in kick return yard average and were among the worst in returning punts. New Orleans was one of three teams to fail to record a 40-yard kickoff return.
Courtney Roby was nothing special, even before his neck injury in Week 14 ended his season.
Bush's tendency to fumble and run laterally has driven fans crazy and worn on the coaching staff. Lance Moore is sure-handed, but calls for a fair catch more than he decides to make a return.
Against Seattle, the Saints started eight possessions inside the 30-yard line, half of which were inside the 20-yard line.
Obviously, no Saints fan wanted New Orleans to lose to Seattle and be on the wrong end of one of the defining runs in playoff history, but hopefully this embarrassment will inspire the front office to invest more than two draft picks in the defense and to fix the other glaring weaknesses on the team.
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