Everybody who saw Sunday’s game needs nobody to tell you just how bad the Saints looked against a very, very, very weak Tamp Bay Bucs squad.
Even before a point was scored, I was tweeting about how flat the Saints looked (how bad their “vibe” was), based just on body language and energy level.
And it was clear, based on the first game and the first quarter of this one, that even before Drew Brees took the hit that seemed to jar his shoulder, his passes just didn’t have the same zip they once did.
If Brees really does have a strained arm or shoulder, he should sit for a game or two. It’s time to see if Luke McCown can do the job. And, for that matter, it would be good for the team to try to get a win without Brees. If they don’t win — well, no harm done: The season already looks like a goner. But if they do post a win without Brees, thus proving finally that this team isn’t a one-man show, then the confidence boost would be immeasurable, and could result in better play for the rest of the year.
What was a surprise was just how bad part of our offensive line was. Zach Strief and Tim Lelito were awful. Just terrible. Strief has been decent for so long that he merits another shot. Lelito hasn’t. To send a signal that bad performance will not be tolerated, the Saints should start either Senio Kelemete or the very experienced Mike McGlynn, this very week. And they should be giving Andrus Peat plenty of practice reps both at left guard and at right tackle.
Meanwhile, Zach Hocker may be out of his job as a kicker. I still don’t understand why Shayne Graham was let go, when he made such a high percentage of his kicks. But that’s water under the bridge. Payton clearly wanted somebody with a longer range than Graham’s 50 yards. What makes no sense is that if that’s why Payton brought in two rookies (or proto-rookies) to compete for the job — to kick longer field goals, up to at least 55 yards — then he darn well should have allowed Hocker to try a 52-53 yarder on the opening series. If he doesn’t have confidence in Hocker from that distance, then what was the point of getting rid of Graham?
And now that Hocker missed a 42-yarder as well, plus had a VERY low extra point attempt blocked, he should be gone. Hello again to Dustin Hopkins, who has a slightly stronger leg anyway. Or maybe hello again to Garrett Hartley. Who knows? Payton is so mercurial with kickers that he could turn almost any kicker into a nervous basket-case.
But I’ve taken too long to get to my real point. The real point is that the coaching has been horrendous. There is no excuse for a team in its home opener — a home opener of particular importance, coming off a bad year and a bad opening road game, but also one of particular opportunity, considering that the opponent was the NFL version of a patsy — to come out so flat. And then, to come out even more flat to start the second half, after already trailing at half time — well, something is missing, something motivational. The coaches aren’t getting it done.
I also think the biggest message that could be sent would be to fire Rob Ryan. Yeah, yeah, I know the defense finally “stepped up” in the fourth quarter. Big whoop-te-do. This was a defense against a bad offense led by a raw rookie — a defense that allowed the bad offense to dig out of a first-possession hole on its own 4-yard line to create a field position advantage; a defense that allowed a first down on 3rd and 16; that allowed another first down on 3rd and 20 that was called back only due to a penalty for offensive tripping that was unnecessary for the play’s success; that allowed the rookie to successfully conduct a two-minute drill for a TD at the end of the first half right after the Saints offense finally showed some life and provided a lead; that allowed the same poor Bucs offense to drive the length of the field for a touchdown to start the second half; and that would surely have given up even more points had not the Bucs offense been ravaged by penalties.
Anyway, the only way to shake up this team is to “go nuclear,” and firing Ryan would amount to just the nuclear option needed. Dennis Allen waits in the wings. Give him the controls.
Finally, Payton himself cannot be left off the hook. No, I don’t mean he should be fired. But he should bear a huge part of the blame. First, his decision not to try the early field goal was inexplicable and nearly unforgivable. It actually might have jolted Hocker’s confidence, thus contributing to his later misfires.
Second, the play calling was at times bizarre. Consider the late-game attempt at a flea-flicker pass. A flea-flicker usually works when the defense is expected a run, or at least 50-50 on whether to expect a run or pass. But with the Saints trailing badly and time getting somewhat short, the Bucs were expecting pass anyway — so, of course, they didn’t “buy” the run fake. It was a very weird time to try that gadget play, and it predictably failed, it wasted a key down.
Third, his clock management at the end was horrific. When the Bucs had the ball with 2:45 to play, having lost two yards on a first-down run, Payton didn’t call time out. Clearly, the Saints’ only chance would be to stop the Bucs and drive down the field for a touchdown. Every second would count. On the other hand, Tampa Bay could put the game away with a touchdown of its own, so it had at least some incentive not just to run the clock down. It might have tried a pass, stopping the clock again on its own. Anyway, had Payton called a timeout with 2:45 left, and the Bucs then run the ball (which they did, finally anyway, 39 seconds later), gaining only one yard, Payton could have called another timeout with about 2:40 on the clock. The Bucs, faced with third and 11, either would have tried to pass or tried to run the clock down to the 2-minute warning (or force yet the final Saints timeout). Either way, the Saints could have had the ball with one timeout (after an incomplete pass) and more than 2:30 on the clock or no timeouts and 2:30 (after a run and a timeout). Instead, the Saints got the ball with two timeouts and 1:56.
Clearly, the extra 34 seconds on the clock, with either one TO left or none, would have been more important than the extra TO, with a QB of Brees’ experience at the controls — especially when considering that the Saints also would have been able to stop the clock at the 2-minute warning.
As it was, the Saints on their own desperate final drive were forced to throw twice into the end zone from farther out than they wanted, and they ran out of time before they ran out of downs.
They really could have used the extra time.
In all, it was one of the worst coaching performances of the Payton era. He should acknowledge that, run laps in self-punishment in front of his team to show that everybody is accountable — and then go absolutely ape on is team for all its bad play.
What the Saints did on Sunday was unacceptable for a professional franchise. It cannot be repeated.