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Sean Payton Appears to Struggle in New Orleans

Sean Payton has given about 1,000 great things to the New Orleans Saints since started in 2006, but recently he hasn't looked like the same coach. Some say it happened around the time of his suspension, others think it was later on, but the aggressive coach hasn't attained success for the Saints in recent season. During the last 3 years, the Saints have suffered a divisional playoff loss, a failure to make the postseason, and 2015 seems to be going the same way. How can Payton restore the winning culture back to New Orleans?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

An article like this needs to be loaded with qualifiers, because it's going to come off as very "what have you done for me lately?"  Recently, however, Saints fans have been looking at head coach Sean Payton and asking: "What have you done for me lately?"

Payton has been getting a lot of flak recently for his performance, so no one is accusing him of being above scrutiny.  However, the most common complaints being levied against Payton aren't so much with his in game decisions (although these deserve some criticism at times), but rather his circle of friends.  A common question among Saints fans is how Joe Vitt still has a job in New Orleans, even though he hasn't successfully developed a linebacker in years.  It may not be fair to say Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha are good because they're freakish athletes, but it just seems like players stagnate under Vitt.

Saints' defenses get a great deal of criticism, but the offense has underperformed multiple weeks in a row as well.  Three weeks ago, Drew Brees went 19-28 for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns, but that muddling performance was lost in the fiasco that was the Saints' defense.  Last week, against the Houston Texans, the Saints didn't score a touchdown as Brees went 25-44 with 228 yards and no TDs.

It's exacerbated this year because of how winnable the NFC Wild Card should be this year.  The NFC East is in shambles, there's likely to be a team coming out of the North, whether it's the Vikings or the Packers, and the previous Wild Card spot holder, the Falcons, are in a free fall and were just surpassed by the Seahawks, who have proven to be very beatable this year.  The fact is, in a season this bad, the Saints should be playing for something.  And even though they aren't out of the race just yet, it doesn't feel like they're really playing for anything but a draft pick.

The Saints have always been a flawed team under Payton.  Pre Super Bowl, they were an impressive 38-26 under Payton in the regular season.  These numbers are inflated by the remarkable 13-3 Super Bowl season, but win inflation isn't necessarily indicative of a problem.  In the years between their Conference Championship and Super Bowl appearances, the Saints went 7-9 and 8-8.  Post Super Bowl (and excluding the 2012 season in which Payton didn't coach), the Saints are 46-29.  Since 2012, Payton is 22-21 as Saints' head coach.  People will remember the magical 2013 season in which Payton returned with Rob Ryan and the Saints had the league's 4th ranked defense.

The most notable difference post Super Bowl is in the playoffs.  The Saints are 2-3 in playoff games since the Super Bowl, and were 4-1 before and during it.  Obviously a Super Bowl run will grossly inflate a teams statistics in terms of playoff wins/losses, but the Saints haven't made anything of their playoff opportunities.

The problem with evaluating a head coach is that a lot of is conjecture.  There have been several alarming things to happen this year, however.  The first thing that stands out was in the Washington game, in which Drew Brees overruled Payton to keep the offense on the field on a 4th & Intermediate in New Orleans' own territory.  The Saints failed to convert, leaving a visibly shaken Payton on the sidelines.

In terms of overarching stats, the Saints are performing well offensively.  This year they're 3rd in total offense, last year they were 1st, and in 2013 they were 4th.  The problem is that they aren't getting wins out of these great offenses.  The defense has struggled, but a head coach should have some accountability over the defense as well, and the fact that he keeps struggling position coaches employed could also hurt his DCs.

Payton is an amazing coach, and he's done a lot of great things for the Saints.  However, he shouldn't be above criticism.  Lately the tide has been moving more in this direction, as people are realizing just how difficult it is to sustain success in the NFL.  Saints fans just recently got a taste of success, which makes it that much harder to speculate on the people that brought them that success.  Unless something turns around soon, the Saints may need to stop revamping their organization from the middle down, and start to look at the top as well.