The mood inside the Saints locker room following Sunday’s 34-14 loss in Denver was one of bewilderment. Once again the team didn't just lose a game but seemed unable to explain why the team played so poorly.
“No. We felt pretty good coming into the game about our game plan. It just didn't go the way we envisioned it,” was wide receiver Marques Colston’s take.
Saints fans were frustrated judging by social media and talk show phone calls by how a team can look so different the past two games and then seem as if they were a team without a clue the next. “I’m not going to say a step back,” is what safety Roman Harper had to say following the loss Sunday night. “At the end of the day we have to be able to get off the field and be able to make some plays defensively. We didn't make enough plays tonight.”
It was such an ugly game that not even the go-to “well if Sean Payton was coaching the team…” excuse could work. Bounty penalties or suspension had nothing to do with the team’s poor play. "It’s not an excuse for the way we played," Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Sunday following the game. "It’s not an excuse for dropped balls, for missed tackles. We’re going to be held accountable, and we’re all in an evaluation process right now, me included. We need to get better. We need to catch more balls and we need better runs after the catch. We need to defend the pass better, we need to defend the run better. We need to go back to work.”
The Saints offense were just one of 12 in third down conversions as Saints quarterback Drew Brees seemed uncomfortable all night as the Black and Gold managed just seven points in each half. “We gave the Broncos a lot more possessions than we should have and I think we’re to blame for that, offensively. We need to play better,” says Brees. “We need to do things that can help our defense.”
Ah yes, the defense. Denver gained 530 yards of total offense with 225 of those yards coming on the ground. “It’s very disappointing,” defensive end Will Smith said. “I think it’s safe to say we struggled across the board. We weren’t able to get points offensively and defensively we weren’t able to get the stops we needed.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was a target of Saints fans ire during the game and on Monday with “Fire Spags!” being the general consensus tweet or post. To that I have this to say, what can a coordinator do when you have players that not only aren't play makers but can’t excel in basic fundamentals?
The Saints defense lacks team speed, are one of the worst tackling teams in the league (consistently allowing yards after contact), can’t shed a block in a one on one battle, and have no impact players. A player that can get a key pass deflection, or pick up a big sack. Heck I’d even take a big hit that changes momentum or simply make a tackle for a loss.
"It's uncharted territory," Spagnuolo said on Monday. "I'm not used to this, because I've been blessed to be at places where we've played pretty good defense and we're not doing that right now. Yet, I can't really put my finger on it. But we will. We'll figure it out.” Saints fans on my radio show today already have figured it out for him as they called for wholesale changes in personnel on defense.
The Saints heading into the Denver game were already facing a daunting task in terms of post season hopes. Every loss makes that task tougher, “We’re not pressing, we’re not overreacting, but the situation is what it is and we do understand the importance of each and every week,” said Brees after the game. With a 2-5 and only nine games to play the playoffs don't seem like a real possibility.
Next up is Monday Night Football as the Saints will take on the Philadelphia Eagles who are going through a rough season themselves. Sunday the Atlanta Falcons beat them pretty badly 30 to 17 in a game that was never competitive. Philly is 3-4 but the turmoil surrounding them makes you think of a team that is 0-7. Head coach Andy Reid fired his defensive coordinator and quarterback Michael Vick talked after the game about the possibility of a quarterback change. Vick was 21 of 35 for just 191 yards to go with a touchdown and for the season has just nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. A lot of the problems have been due to a bad offensive line that has allowed Vick to have been sacked 20 times this season.