If only I had a paper bag handy Sunday afternoon …
Yes, it’s only Week 2. The New Orleans Saints can rebound from an 0-2 hole. A healthy Drew Brees behind center can work miracles. Unfortunately, he can’t play defense.
The problem with the “it’s only Week 2″ thinking this season is that means there are 14 games remaining for opponents to abuse the Saints’ defense.
I am trying to resist typing the words “fire” and “Steve Spagnuolo” next to one another. It’s difficult after back-to-back weeks in which mobile quarterbacks – Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton – torched the Saints for an average of 37.5 points. For comparison’s sake, the Saints’ defense yielded 21.2 points per game in 2011.
Here are five thoughts from the New Orleans’ 35-27 loss to Carolina on Sunday:
1. Aside from a fourth-and-goal stop on Newton the Saints D produced few highlights Sunday. Newton passed for 253 yards and ran for a career-best 71 yards and the Panthers’ 1-2 punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 120 yards on 25 carries. The Panthers gained 219 rushing yards just one week after totaling 10 against Tampa Bay. Pathetic, Saints defense, pathetic. Spagnuolo needs to make adjustments fast or his first season as Saints defensive coordinator will be his last.
2. Perhaps the day’s most misleading stat: The Panthers recorded one sack against Drew Brees. That says more about Brees’ gift for throwing the ball into the ground than anything. The Panthers put Brees under duress – much like the Redskins did in Week 1. Brees threw an ill-advised pick-six while being blitzed in the first quarter. He came up limping in the third quarter, after a play in which he was whistled for grounding. It’s only a matter of time before Brees gets hurt with the pass protection he’s receiving. The Saints’ receivers should shoulder some of the blame too. They are not getting open. Brees gets hurt and this is a four-win season. That might be generous.
3. Pierre Thomas is breakable like a glass vase, yes. But he should be getting the majority of carries over Mark Ingram. Thomas keeps his feet moving after contact. Ingram does not. That’s why Thomas averaged 12.2 yards on nine carries Sunday while Ingram averaged 3.3 on 16. I know Ingram is the hyped guy but he should be the No. 3 back at this point behind Thomas and Darren Sproles, a superior pass-catching threat.
4. Hard to criticize Jimmy Graham, considering he and Sproles are the only factors in the passing game right now, but the 6-foot-6 tight end’s drop near the end zone in the second quarter hurt the team’s chances. Graham took his eyes off a Brees’ pass and the Saints settled for a 22-year-old field goal by Garrett Hartley, who also added a 53-yarder later in the second quarter. The Saints moved the ball effectively in the first half but failed to fully capitalize. Graham’s drop was the difference between a 6-point lead after Garrett Hartley’s second field goal and a 10-point lead – a big difference when your defense sucks, as the Saints’ D does.
5. So much for the belief, which I shared, that the Saints would be OK without suspended head coach Sean Payton. If the Saints fail to beat Kansas City at home in Week 3 they are staring down a freefall akin to Indianapolis in 2011 without Peyton Manning. The Saints play Green Bay on the road and San Diego at home – two pass-happy offenses – before a bye in Week 6. Then the Saints play road games against Tampa Bay and Denver before returning home against Philadelphia and Atlanta. I am not saying the Saints start the season 0-9 if they lose to Kansas City, but there’s no way absent of the Dome Patrol coming out of retirement (and Sam Mills coming back to life) that they make the playoffs.