Dismal. Disappointing. Disastrous.
These words roll off the tongue across the nation when describing the early weeks of the New Orleans Saints’ football season. Blame has been spread across the board; whether it be a luxurious training camp, poor calls on offense by Head Coach Sean Payton, or a lack of production by top-dollar safety Jairus Byrd and the rest of the Saints defense, excuses have run the gamut. Yet, in the clouded rage of Saints fans everywhere, many fail to see that the road to the playoffs is far clearer than it may seem.
The NFC South has underwhelmed this season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently made the Atlanta Falcons look like the redux of the “Greatest Show On Turf” upon being routed 56-14. Eight injuries to Atlanta’s team led to their demise versus the Minnesota Vikings, a team playing with its third-string quarterback and a gaping hole left by Adrian Peterson, proving that they might not be as great as Matt Ryan is making people think they are. A slew of injuries to the Carolina Panthers’ stable of running backs have depleted an already porous offense.
Cowboys game aside, the Saints have lost their games this season by a combined five points. Had Shayne Graham kicked another field goal in each of the first two games, the Saints would be 3-1, and national sports analysts would be raving about how the Saints have met preseason expectations. Considering that the NFC South leaders are tied at 2-2, they would be leading the division, keeping them squarely in the playoff picture.
That’s not to say this team has been perfect, by any means. The Saints currently have the 29th-ranked defense in the NFL. Along with a poor start to star wide receiver Marques Colston and a tough schedule impending against the likes of Green Bay, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, detractors have legitimate reason to fear that the Saints can’t right the ship.
Yet, upon closer examination of the problems, they appear to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. All three of those teams have to survive the wrath of 70,000 Saints fans within the confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a stadium as tough for a road team as CenturyLink in Seattle. Seven home games remain on the schedule, so the team’s best days lie ahead.
While this team has suffered tremendously on the defensive side of the ball, a rough stretch in the beginning was to be expected. An injury to Jairus Byrd cost a gleaming opportunity in training camp for the secondary to get used to each other’s tendencies and gel together as a unit. Now that the team has gotten to take the field together for the equivalent of a preseason, the verdict is yet to be made on the defense.
Marques Colston’s struggles have been noted throughout the season, including a crucial fumble in overtime at Atlanta. However, this appears to be a rough stretch bound to be broken. Colston has been a model of consistency during his time in New Orleans, ranking him sixth among wide receivers between 2009 and 2011.
While this start has been less than ideal, the Saints are in a great position to turn this season around. Keep in mind that we still have the best receiving tight end in the NFL, a top 5 quarterback, and a brand new toy: electric rookie wideout Brandin Cooks. So put your paper bags away, New Orleans. The offense will remain elite, the defense will rekindle the spark that made them so great last season, and the Saints will get their halos back.