2012 New Orleans Saints woes: Who's to blame?

After watching the first two games of the NFL 2012 regular season, one can conclude the New Orleans Saints have some major issues. Whether those issues relate to the absence of Sean Payton (and Joe Vitt) no one really knows, but you can surmise the loss of the Head Coach and assistant did have some affect. Certainly the Offense seems rattled and not firing on all pistons, but much of the commentary I’ve viewed on the net argue the biggest problem looming for the Saints is their inability to stop their opponents from scoring points, but that’s been a knock against the Saints for some time now.

 If you examine the NFL statistics; however, it becomes a little more muddled. In the 2009 regular season the Saints Defense was ranked 25th overall. Post-season the Defense ranked 9th out of the 12 teams that made the play-offs. This was the year that the Saints pulled off the Miracle in Miami and defeated Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts 31 to 17. In 2010, the Saints Defense was ranked 4th overall during the regular season while in post season the Defense ranked 10th. The Saints were quickly dispatched by the Seahawks in the 1st round of the post season. So with a formidable Defense what the hell happened? In 2011, the Defense was ranked 24th in the regular season and the Defense ranked 6th out of the 12 teams that made post season.  Currently, after the first two regular season games of 2012 the Saints Defense is ranked 32nd in the league while surprisingly the Offense is 5th overall. Do you see a pattern? In the past, it seems the Saints Offense was able to do enough one year to win the big prize only to be hurriedly ushered out of the play-offs the next, while its Defense was one of the strongest in the league.

When you examine the Offensive and Defensive statistics, you’ll see the 2009 Offense scored an average of 31.9 points per game while the Defense only allowed 21.3. In 2010, those stats were much closer with the Offense gaining only 24 points per game and the Defense allowing only 19.2.  In 2011 the Offense averaged 31.4 while the Defense only allowed 21.2. Post season the Saints Offense ranked 3rd overall even ahead of the 49ers who ended the Saints hopes of another Superbowl bid after an incredible shoot-out in Candlestick where neither teams Defense did much in the way of stopping their opponent. Although it is noteworthy that during post season the 49ers Defense only allowed 26 points per game, ranking 9th, whereas the Saints allowed 32 points ranking 11th.

So what’s really going on right now in 2012? Is it a lack of personnel due to injury? With the losses of Lofton, Hawthorne (and Vilma) the Saints do appear to be a little light at linebacker, but this is the same argument levied at the 2010 Offense when Bell was gone Thomas was out for the season and the Saints were relying on as far down as their 3rd string running back. That year; however, the Defense was ranked 4th during the regular season, but finished up ranking 10th out of 12 post season teams.

 It would seem the 2012 Defense is still learning a new system. Changing from a blitz every down man on man system to zone can’t be easy and it shows. Yet, others argue that the Saints Defense has no outstanding players and no real speed at corner or safety. Perhaps that's why they blitzed all the time.

 More importantly, in its first two games the Offense has gotten down so quickly, sometimes due to its own mistakes, that it had to stop its game of “keep away” from the opposition’s offense. Make no mistake, the longer the Saints Offense stays on the field, the less time the other team has to score.

What I’ve concluded from all these statistics is that, in truth, this is very much a “team” game. You may not need an explosive offense, but one that can be explosive when it needs to be or that can churn away, piling up yardage and first downs, while eating up the clock. You may not need the fiercest defense, but one that can be fierce when it has to be, to be able to stop the opposition when it counts and turn the ball over to its own offense. You need both sides to do their jobs, something that a large poster of Coach Payton reminds the Saints players every day at their indoor practice facility. 

The Defense has to make enough plays to get the other guys off the field so the Saints Offense can do what it does best. When people get desperate they make mistakes. What the Saints don’t need to do, right now, is get desperate. To quote Kipling: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs."