After a surprisingly rocky start to a season that had high expectations, the New Orleans Saints and Who Dat Nation have had the bye week to catch their breath and evaluate the reasons for the sudden tailspin. College football expert and WWL 870 AM radio commentator fielded questions about the primary reason for the Saints’ struggles, the subpar play by a defensive unit that seems to have reverted back to their 2012 historically awful selves and the void on the team left by the departures of running back Darren Sproles and free safety Malcolm Jenkins.
- What is the biggest reason for a team that was projected to go deep into the playoffs by many sportswriters is lucky to have finished 2-3 in what was arguably the easiest part of the 2014 schedule?
That’s a good question, but it boils down to lack of a pass rush and a huge hole on defense at cornerback. Just 6 sacks in 2014 is not going to cut it in this league that is now a pitch and catch game. The team made a huge mistake on thinking Champ Bailey could fill that cornerback spot opposite Keenan Lewis and to be honest we never saw a healthy Jairus Byrd. He was trying to play through that post-back surgery and was never the player we saw with the Buffalo Bills.
On offense they have run the ball well, but like last season there is a lot of leakage from the interior and opposing defenses at times have blown up his Drew Brees’s throwing launch pad.
But what is tough to explain is their lack of a sense of urgency. They played with passion late against the Bucs, but we have seen very little of that “sense of urgency” this season.
- In the summer you said you thought at best Champ Bailey could be a nickel/dime cover guy, but he would never start again in the NFL. How did the Saints’ front office and coaching staff get that so wrong?
I can’t tell you that part, only the Saints can. I just saw his decline, and really Champ was one of the elite cornerbacks of his generation and a future NFL Hall of Famer, but at that position when you lose a step or a step and a half and then sustain injuries, it is all over for you.
Champ was a great player, but he couldn’t beat Father-Time and no one at any profession does. For every Darren Sharper-magical season-there are 20 that can’t do it.
- One of the big differences in terms of its performance from last year is the defense’s inability to get after the quarterback, yet the Saints have the same front 7 from last season. Why the drop off in production by the squad?
Teams spend a lot of time breaking down film on you during the off-season and the Saints top pass rushers are having a hard time getting off blocks. Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette are just not getting off blocks as quick as they did last season. Though he is not a great pass rusher you can’t underestimate the impact John Jenkins had last year. He is a space eater and created some lanes. He is coming off of an injury and he looks much heavier than a year ago.
They say sacks come in bunches, but the inability to have huge plays from Jordan and Galette have affected this team and they just aren’t getting that real push this year and they struggle getting off blocks in a quick manner. Akiem Hicks has been a disappointment this year too. I really thought this might be his year to blow up as a player and that hasn’t happened.
- Running back Mark Ingram had been in “beast mode” until suffering an injury. Do you see him returning to that form once he’s back in the lineup and what future do you see for him beyond this season in light of his sideline temperament?
Mark was playing the best football of his pro career before the hand injury. That’s just part of the game. He was running with great confidence and trusting his instincts and field-vision better. He wants to carry the ball 15 to 18 times a game and that won’t happen under Payton. Sean likes running back committees, something that he’s always believed in. I am not concerned about Ingram being upset on the sidelines, that happens a lot in the league in the heat of the battle.
I know the Saints want him back, but it will come down to money and what the Alabama running back is asking for.
Payton wants and likes him, but it will come down to dollars and possibly Ingram believing he can touch the ball somewhere else more. That is what led to Reggie Bush leaving. He wanted more money than the organization could spare and he wanted to be a bigger part of the offense as a runner and receiver.
Mark will be fine, but he will have to share time with Khiry Robinson-who I really like and Pierre Thomas is just so reliable as a runner, receiver and pass blocker.
- Speaking of running backs, the Who Dat Nation might be the only people more upset over Darren Sproles playing for another team than Mrs. Sproles. Was it a mistake shipping him off at such a bargain and do you think he would have made a difference in the Saints’ won-loss column?
Again it came down to money and they wanted to free up cash for Jairus Byrd. Darren is a super little player in this league and he is a great fit in Philly, like he was in NO. But with running backs it is better to get rid of them a year early than a year too late, but he still has a lot of football life in him. It was a financial decision, plain and simple. The Saints knew he could still play, but they were trying to fill a void on defense with Byrd. For what you got for him it was a mistake, but it came down to dollars.
- Sproles’s fellow Philadelphia Eagle Malcolm Jenkins also seems to be flourishing with his new team. The free safety was regularly criticized by Saints fans, including this one, for having been a a first round bust. Were we wrong and why has he done better in Philly than he did in Nola?
If Jairus Byrd is healthy, then this conversation doesn’t happen, but it is what it is. Malcolm has played the best football of his pro career in Philly. He is back home, he is a Jersey guy and I take nothing away from him. He has played well. He never played that well with the Saints. But he is getting more opportunities for the big play because teams are going in his direction also. He has given up some plays, but made some too. He wasn’t making those big defensive plays in Nola. It looks like the scheme in Philly fits him better too. A lot of times that happens.