With the Indianapolis Colts facing the New Orleans Saints this Sunday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Canal Street Chronicles' JR Ella about the Saints and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then JR's responses follow.
1. The Saints have had a rough start to the season, as they are currently 2-4. They can look awful against the Eagles one week and then look very good against the Falcons the next week - so what do we make of this Saints team? Just how good are they?
I am not going to make my fellow Saints fans happy with this answer but: the Saints are not a good team. They are the epitome of a mediocre squad that is unable to consistently execute its game plan. Against the Eagles, they played a decent game in the first half then they completely fell apart in the second. Against Atlanta, they were helped by the Falcons who fumbled the ball several times in Saints' territory, thus helping New Orleans' defense out. If a good team doesn't beat itself when playing the 2015 Saints, said team will likely win the game.
2. The Saints' defense ranks 32nd in the NFL in yards per game allowed and 28th in points per game allowed - why is that? Is it talent? Coaching? A combination? Or is it not an accurate representation of the unit?
While talent (or lack thereof) and coaching have certainly played a role in The Saints' defense being as bad as it is, the main culprit here is: youth. New Orleans decided to go through a near-complete rebuilding of its defensive side this season. Here are some of the players you'll see line up against Andrew Luck on Sunday: Middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, defensive ends/tackles Tyler Davison and Bobby Richardson, cornerback Damian Swann and Delvin Breaux. What do they all have in common? They're all rookies or playing in their first year in the NFL (in Breaux's case). As crazy as it sounds, I expect this defense to be much better in 2016, as almost all the players I just cited have had growing pains, but have also shown great promise.
3. The Saints once again have one of the top passing offenses in the NFL (Drew Brees helps with that) and are 7th in total yards, yet they are slightly below the league-average in points per game. Is it fair to say that they've been able to move the ball well but have struggled to put the ball in the end zone? And if so, why is that?
Let's not beat around the bush: New Orleans has sorely missed tight end Jimmy Graham, who is now with the Seahawks. Although the Saints have a 59% red zone conversion percentage, which isn't terribly bad, they have had to settle for field goals a lot inside their opponents' 20-yard line, instead of being able to throw jump balls to their former pro-bowl tight end, which more often than not resulted into six points. Brees' health has also been a factor, with his throwing shoulder still not being completely 100%. You will notice that the Saints will throw a lot of short and intermediate passes, but there won't be a lot of the shot plays of the past 4-5 years that often resulted in quick strikes and high-scoring games.
4. I have to ask, as there have been rumors of Sean Payton possibly leaving in the offseason, with the Colts being mentioned as one team that might have interest. From an outsider's perspective, it seems unrealistic that the Saints will let Sean Payton go, but is that a fair assessment? What are Saints' fans thinking in regards to Payton and his future with the team?
That is a great question, especially regarding the uncertain fate of Chuck Pagano in Indy. Let's start with the Saints' front office role in this matter: Payton is still under contract for two years with New Orleans, however we have seen NFL coaches be traded to teams before (John Gruden from Oakland to Tampa for instance). So it's not outside of the realm of possibility that the Saints could decide to trade Payton if he really wants to leave or if the team that wants him offers something New Orleans really cannot pass up.
From the fans point of view, there are two distinct groups: one that thinks that Payton is "the man" forever, since he brought New Orleans its first Super Bowl in 2009-10 (against you guys, sorry for the bad memories). They'd like him to stay in New Orleans as long as he wants to, until he collapses of old age on the sidelines.
The other faction is tired of Payton and of how underachieving the Saints have been since he came back from suspension after the 2012 season. Sure New Orleans made the playoffs in 2013, but for these folks, New Orleans' loss to Seattle in the divisional round was the beginning of a slow descent into mediocrity. People in this group are basically ready to see Payton go and would almost welcome another team offering draft picks for him.
5. Knowing what you do of the Saints, how would you attack them if you were in charge of the Colts' offense and defense?
If I'm Pep Hamilton, I do what every team has done against the Saints: throw and throw some more. Two reasons for that: 1) the youth of the Saints' secondary has them pone to busts in coverage. 2) The old guys in said secondary (Brandon Browner and Keenan Lewis) are either: a penalty-causing machine (browner) or always injured (Lewis). Andrew Luck might just "get right" this Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, New Orleans' running game has been nonexistent, and the team doesn't really have a go-to receiver this year. In an unlikely twist, undrafted free agent receiver Willie Snead is slowly becoming Brees' favorite target, ahead of Brandin Cooks who was in contention for the "Offseason All-Pro Award" but has been completely stifled by teams' number one cornerback so far this year. So when relatively unknown Willie Snead is pretty much the only wide receiver to be remotely worried about, Indy can try to play man-coverage in the back end and send the house at Brees to see how many times the Saints' offensive line can block six or seven guys. That strategy has worked well for Saints' opponents this year, forcing Brees into bad throws and coming up with incompletions or even better, turnovers.
May the best team on Sunday win on Sunday! And here's to an injury-free game!
Thanks again to JR for taking the time to answer these questions, and be sure to check out Canal Street Chronicles for complete coverage from the Saints side of things!