Are Sean Payton's Offensive Game Plans Slowing Down the New Orleans Saints?

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09:  Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints looks on against the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are 2-0, and that's all that really matters.

However, it's the way they won that has this member of the Who Dat Nation a bit concerned.

Don't get me wrong-I'm glad that the Saints can win on the road when the opponent gives them its best shot.

But even the casual observers note that something appears to be off.

Drew Brees and the offense look like they're playing the first preseason game.

On the surface, Brees' stats look fine. He's completing an eye-popping 74 percent of his passes, for three touchdowns, no turnovers, and a blistering quarterback rating of 105.2.

Dig deeper and watch the tape and there's a different story.

Brees' 6.6 yards per attempt is his lowest since 2003 and is currently behind the likes of Josh Freeman, Seneca Wallace, and Dennis Dixon. Against the 49ers, he missed badly on two deep crossing routes to open receivers and threw the ball two yards over the head ofย  6'4" Marques Colston inside the five yard line.

The problem is more than just Brees.

Running back Pierre Thomas, who has a career rushing average of 4.9 yards per carry, is gaining a paltry 3.2 yards per attempt this year.

If you would have told me before the season that the Saints would average 4.7 yards per play after two games, I would have called you crazy.

So why do the Saints look so disheveled?

I think you've got to look no further than the Juicy Fruit-chomping, visor-wearing coach of the black and gold.

I give Sean Payton full credit for turning the Saints into winners and designing an offensive scheme that rivals any in the NFL over the past four years.

With adulation and praise, however, also goes blame and criticism.

In Week One against the Vikings, 2008 Payton, the one who showed no restraint in his play calling, showed up.

He decided that the Minnesota defensive backs weren't good enough to defend the pass, so he called 24 passes on 27 first half snaps.

The result: a 9-7 halftime deficit and no points first half points after the opening drive.

In the second half, the wise 2009 Payton found his way to the dome. Even though they only scored seven more points, the Saints would have scored several more if not for key drops.

The play calling and game management in Monday's game against San Francisco left much to be desired.

First, there was the unbalanced line.

The Baltimore Ravens run the unbalanced line with a lot of success, but they run it every week. They have a lot of experience with it.

The Saints, on the other hand, never run the unbalanced line and yet decide to try it out against one of the league's best run defenses.

This formation was called on several occasions in the first half and with no success.

Why is he all of a sudden deviating from what went right for them all of last year?

There's also the case of wasting two timeouts with less than 35 seconds left in the first quarter in an apparent attempt to force the 49ers to punt the ball into the wind.

Of course, San Francisco never punted and scored a touchdown on the drive.

New Orleans actually got their big punt return in the third quarter when the Niners had the wind a their backs and out-kicked the coverage.

Drew Brees used the Saints' third timeout with seven minutes left in the quarter because of confusion on a third and five play.

Frank Gore and the 49ers proceeded to bleed five and a half minutes off the clock before Delanie Walker fumbled the ball away.

If New Orleans had not used those timeouts in the first quarter, they could have used them to stop the clock in the second quarter to give the offense a chance to tack on at least a late field goal on the half's final drive.

Is it possible that the Saints are getting out-coached so far this year and winning on pure talent?

Last year, New Orleans was among the best in making in-game adjustments and closing out its opponents.

In 2009, they out-scored the opponent 183-86 in the second quarter and 139-48 in the fourth quarter. Seven times they scored at least two touchdowns in the second quarter and on nine occasions shut out the other team in the fourth.

This young season has been a different story. Now it's the other coach making the adjustments.

New Orleans has yet to score in the second quarter and has averaged just four minutes and fifteen seconds of possession.

They failed to score in the fourth quarter against the Vikings and allowed a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion in the fourth quarter against San Francisco.

Sure, I blame some of the offensive woes on Brees, who has been up and down in critical situations with inaccurate passes into the wind, but Payton has to also call plays that puts the team in the best place to be successful.

New Orleans faces Atlanta on Sunday, its toughest and most important opponent thus far. The winner of this game will take control of the NFC South.

I believe that Coach Payton will correct these problems, and the Saints will be back to their normal ways.

The question, though, is when?


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