"Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house."- Proverbs 24:27 (NIV)
It may seem odd to start a sports column with a verse from the Bible, but the team I am writing about is the Saints. And frankly, I think the team needs to get back to its roots a little more.
I had a little extra time last night, so I put on the recorded NFL Replay broadcast of the Saints home loss on Monday night to the Vikings from October 6. This single game was a painful reminder of just why the Saints struggled to an 8-8 record a season ago, despite being one of the most talented teams in the entire league.
They didn't finish.
Not only did they not finish games, they didn't finish drives (or enough of them), heck they didn't even finish plays.
In the Vikings game, Robert Meachem ran a perfect fade route on a third down, Brees threw a perfect pass, and Meachem dropped the football.
The Saints had to attempt a long field goal which was blocked and returned for a touchdown.
There were countless instances in this game, and others, that the corner or safety would have perfect coverage, but allow the receiver to make the catch. I'm not asking for an interception, just knock the ball away. Do NOT let your guy catch the ball.
Following are a few suggestions I have for Sean Payton and his staff for the remainder of the off season to make sure the team finishes games in 2009, and beyond.
Finish your outdoor work...
Basically, I am saying, it is necessary that the players work as hard as they possibly can in the offseason conditioning program, and do so with the vision of finishing games. They need to finish that extra rep on the squat rack, or push out that extra rep on the bench.
When your running, do it with the idea that the extra burst you put in will get that extra yard on third down, or will allow you to finish off the sack, or will allow you to be able to gather and explode down the field to either make a play on the ball (for a DB) or make the catch for a receiver.
It will pay off in November and December, and hopefully January.
Get your fields ready...
This applies more to the mental side of the game. Make sure the schemes and techniques being taught and learned are those that will allow you to succeed on third down and pressure situations.
Also, make sure the way you run training camp and OTAs are conducive to early season success. The Saints struggles at the beginning of the season the past two years have been the reason they've missed the playoffs.
If they had won more games at the beginning of the year, they would have been in better shape at the end of the year, and they could have played more relaxed.
But this is all in vain, lest we forget to finish.
Build your house.
I could go many different directions on this one. And I'd like to address them all briefly.
1. Now that the guys have put in the work in the offseason and in training camp, they must finish the job on Sundays (or Mondays or Saturdays).
2. Find an identity quickly. Most of us see the Saints as a pass-oriented offense with a conservative defense, which generally fails.
Sean Payton has talked about being more of a physical football team next season. While I don't disagree with that philosophy, I'm not sure how well it fits the personnel on the roster.
Use training camp and the early part of the season to find out if you're capable of being this physical team. If not, abandon it immediately and go back to being the team you've been.
It's better to have a true identity than trying to be something you're not. Once you've established this, you can make other teams try to play your game. That's how the Saints will win football games this season.
3. Protect your home turf. Last season, the Saints went 6-2 at home. Not bad, but they did have two crushing losses, which both essentially ended on game-winning field goals.
Once again, finish. You can't have the opposing team come in and beat you on a last second field goal. Winning teams don't let that happen.
4. While chronologically this fits more with the two up top, it really fits here better, or at least I think it does, and that is build for the coming years through the draft.
Find football players in the draft who know how to finish. While I'm not really in favor of drafting a running back in the first round, at least Knowshon Moreno knows how to finish. In fact, he may be the best in this category of any player in the entire draft.
In other words look for players like Moreno who know how to finish.
This is a reason Malcolm Jenkins would be a great pick. He knows how to finish plays. He almost always finishes plays.
There's a defensive tackle from Cincinnati named Terrill Byrd who is a likely late-round pick who knows how to finish plays. There are several other guys like this that I like, but many of them play positions the Saints don't really need to build at.
This is also the main reason I do not like Chris "Beanie" Wells. Wells doesn't finish runs. People say he is the big powerful back the Saints offense needs, but his conversion percentage was not very good. He doesn't show the competitiveness to be a finisher.
And there are other guys out there who know how to finish who I am not as familiar with or just haven't seen. Either way, I think when drafting, the Saints need to look at player's ability to finish.
Because if the Saints want to be among the league's elite teams, they need to finish.