There is no question that the New Orleans Saints 0-2 start has everyone around here asking questions, giving their own reason to the team’s play and suggesting what can be done to save the season.
Let me start by saying all is not lost. Yes, the two games played were not the best in recent memory. Sunday’s game in the dome against Kansas City is no doubt bigger than anyone would have guessed for a Week 3 game. At the Saints training facility, the team is taking the winless start very seriously.
“It’s early in the season but there is also a great sense of urgency to get this corrected and start bringing wins for our city,” Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said Monday morning
Monday the Saints didn’t shy away from criticism or tough questions. The theme was “no excuses” are to be made and more importantly the team’s play must improve to finally get that first win of the season.
One question from reporters was straight to the point, asking if it was fair to say that this team is not very good.
Players were trying to stay upbeat while being realistic.”I think that we’re just not quite as sharp as we’ve been in the past," said wide receiver Lance Moore. "I said it last week the good thing about this game is that you learn from your mistakes and you move on and you play another game the next week. We can’t continue to say that though. We got to get this thing going and this week should be the start.”
“We want to win. Our team, our city deserves it,” Greer adds. “That’s all we’re dedicated to. We’re not dedicated to making excuses, to point fingers or anything. We’re going out there to get better, committing ourselves to getting better. Nobody wanted or envisioned this start but this is where we are and this is where we are going to face ourselves and face our shortcomings and the things we have to get better and move forward. No excuses just results. That’s the business that we are in.”
Someone tweeted at me today bringing up a point of hope for the Who-Dats, that by this time next week the NFC South division could have all four teams sitting at 1-2. The Saints can beat Kansas City, Carolina hosts the Giants this Thursday on a short week, Atlanta loses to Denver on Monday Night Football and then has the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday, and Tampa Bay is at Dallas Sunday. See! All is better!
SPAGNUOLO TAKES BLAME
It was a second straight Monday where New Orleans Saints players and coaches were answering questions after a loss. It was the first time however that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo addressed the media on a Monday as his usually day to chat is Fridays.
Spagnuolo’s defense has allowed a total of 922 yards and 75 points in two games. Trying to explain why that is the case isn’t the easiest path to chose but it was one the defensive coordinator thought was the right one, making the choice to answer the questions on the plan ride home. “Really out of respect to you as media, out of respect for the fans, I certainly think it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I’m here today,” Spagnuolo stated to open the Q&A. He then said he would try and explain what is going wrong without trying to give too much away since the Saints do have to play 14 more games and Carolina once again at the end of the season.
Self analysis was another point coach thought needed to be done. “I’m going to look in the mirror with you and I’m going to tell you what I came up with when I looked in the mirror myself,” Spagnuolo said. “I firmly believe in this that in that first half, had I made two better calls, I think the whole half is differently and possibly the game. The two third and longs, third and 15, third and ten, I’m not going to get specific about it, but I just think I could have put the guys in a better call there, which I think would have had a better result. We would have been off the field on both of them in that way and those were the two drives that they scored on in the first half, the 14 points and it was a third and 15 in one of them and a third and ten in the other. I just think I need to have a better call there and that’s really the first half.”
Callers on my radio show today “The Sports Hangover” wondered if the scheme fit the players on the Saints defensive side of the ball. In the locker room, there doesn’t seem to be that kind of doubt. “Unless I’m way off here, I do feel that the players do believe in that,” Spagnuolo answered when asked if he thought the players trusted his system.
The 0-2 start is a bit of déjà vu for Spaguolo as in 2007 the New York Giants began the season 0-2 and many were questioning the defense. New York went on to win the Super Bowl that season. “People are talking about that a lot and I get it. I would say that I don’t have a magic wand,” Spagnulo said. “There were no secrets to that when it happened and I’ve tried to go back in my memory because you do call back to your experiences when you are in a situation to try to help your team out.”
Spagnuolo continued, “I’ve been in the notebook already. I went back. I keep a lot of notes. I keep notes of every meeting. I’ve looked at them and I’ve tried to present that to my guys and Aaron (Kromer) and I have talked. But there’s nothing magical. We didn’t say anything magical. It just came together. I do know one thing. I came together because nobody, nobody pointed fingers. Everybody stuck together and (you) just grind your way out of it. That doesn’t mean because it happened in ’07 and I’m here now that it will happen again. It’s certainly the hope. But I do know this; If we stick together, there’s enough character and enough good men in that locker room and certainly on the defensive side of the ball that we’ll get everything right.”
Well it didn’t take long Monday to get to what many Saints fans are thinking, that being that is the absence of Sean Payton affecting this team and is the job to big for offensive line coach and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer. It was the first question after Kromer’s opening statement.
The question was if the job of interim coach was tougher than he thought it would be. “Well, I would have never expected to be 0-2,” responded Kromer. “Obviously, it is a challenge that I am up for and I know the staff and the team are up for.”
To be fair Kromer is an unenviable spot. Anything that doesn’t go smoothly will be compared to what it would be like if Payton was around. Kromer isn’t Payton and he is not Joe Vitt. The three of those man honestly can influence a locker room and prepare a team for game day, but once the ball is snapped the players have to make the plays.
Kromer still is the one that has to answer the questions however and people want to know why the Saints defense has struggled in the first two games of the season. “We played faster than we did last week. Was it fast enough? Obviously not,” Kromer said. “We have played two unorthodox offenses as I said last night. That’s no excuse but it is something different. Obviously, they don’t see Drew Brees running the read option during training camp and practice it all training camp. They practice against a traditional NFL offense throughout the preseason and during the preseason games. Did that have an effect on it? Probably, when you are putting in a new defense and learning new things I am sure that had some effect on it. I think these guys are putting their priorities in line and they are doing the right things. We just need to continue to progress. We are going to keep getting better and better and better. We need to focus on this week and what we need to do to win.”
The Saints offense managed to put up 27 points Sunday, 13 in the first half and 14 in the second. Still the offense failed to convert on one drive where they had to settle for a FG instead of a touchdown thanks to dropped passes. Also missing is the signature big pass play that seems to have become a staple of the Saints offense in recent seasons.
So what gives? “It’s a combination of a lot of things. We are still calling those shots. They are staying deeper obviously when we check the ball down,” explains Kromer. “Teams don’t want to have those plays against them. Maybe that allowed us to run the ball for 163 yards against them because they are backing their safeties up deep enough not to allow us to get the ball over their heads. That’s what defenses do. We just have to continue to keep coming up with things to get over their heads.”
Saints players will enjoy their customary day off from practice on Tuesday and return to work on Wednesday. Sunday they host the 0-2 Kansas City Chiefs at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.