1) Something is Wrong with Sean Payton
It's hard to argue how much Sean Payton has meant to the New Orleans Saints franchise and to New Orleans as a city. But since his hiatus in 2012, Payton has been, simply put, mediocre as an offensive play-caller. On Sunday against Arizona, that poor play-calling was on full display once again, in a painful way: trailing 19-24 with 1:58 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Saints were faced with a 4th and 6 play at their own seven yard line. Armed with only two timeouts, Payton elected to punt, deciding to rely on his inexperienced defense to stop Carson Palmer and a Cardinals attack that had already amassed well over 300 yards of offense rather than trust Drew Brees to get him six measly yards.
Of course, on the ensuing possession, the Cardinals only never gave the ball back to the Saints; instead they actually scored another touchdown to seal their victory. There was a time when Payton was known as a risk-taking coach, bold and borderline reckless. He would run crazy reverse plays on fourth down, go for it when we least expected it and sometimes pass the ball when the whole stadium expected a run to milk the clock. That bold nature brought him plenty of wins since 2006. Now he just looks like a scared head coach on the sidelines, one who looks much more animated when he is unprofessionally berating his defensive coordinator (Rob Ryan) in front of the whole nation. Given how ineffective Payton's offense has been dating to last season, if I were Ryan I would actually be inclined to quit rather than take the unfair abuse that Payton seems to routinely subject him to. The Saints have now lost four or their last five season openers and something has to change. But for change to be effective, it has to start at the top. I'm looking at you, coach Payton.
2) Brandin Cooks is Not Ready to be a Number One Receiver
Brandin Cooks is about to shock the world! That is all we heard during the offseason. Every question about the Saints' offense revolved around the talented second year wide receiver. Then on Sunday, Cooks was blanketed by all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson and Cooks had three catches for 19 yards until a 30-yard reception made his stat line look slightly better (4 recs for 49 yards and no TDs). Cooks was the second-most targeted receiver for the Saints on Sunday (8 targets to Ingram's 9) yet he barely made any impact in the game. Cooks is probably realizing something right about now: it isn't as easy to thrive when the opponent puts its best cover corner on you as it was when you were facing number two cornerbacks or nickel and dime CBs. Cooks will have to step up his game on the field if he wants to live up to his offseason hype and, as he himself proclaimed, shock the world. Yesterday, we were mostly shocked by his conspicuous absence.
3) The Saints' Defense is Going to Get Better
Yes, New Orleans gave up 31 points and 427 yards of total offense, but there were encouraging signs on Sunday: a) despite missing most of his starting secondary (Keenan Lewis, Jairus Byrd, Rafael bush during the game), New Orleans' defensive backs like Damiann Swann and Delvin Breaux showed enough promises for the future. The eventual return of Lewis and Byrd should just make this secondary better. b) Rookie middle linebacker started his first ever NFL game calling defensive signals. Anthony, who acquitter himself quite well, is bound to get better and already showed flashes of great play recognition and quick reaction to the ball. Rookie linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha was another defensive player who showed great burst while rushing the passer. A bit more discipline should make Kikaha a very good complement to the pass-rushing ability of Cam Jordan.
4) Running Backs Will Have An Outstanding Season Catching the Ball
Because of the inexperience of the Saints' current wide receiving corps, Drew Brees has clearly gone into this season with the mindset that he is going to spread the ball around. On Sunday, eight receivers caught a pass from Brees, and of his 48 passes, 15 were to Ingram and Robinson for a combined 149 yards. Can you imagine how much fun C.J. Spiller is going to have once he is healthy and gets back on the field? What is encouraging is that defense cannot immediately guess whether it'll be pass or run depending on who is on the field between Ingram and Robinson. That sort of versatility will pay great dividends later in the season.
5) This Might be it for Marques
Is it the end for Colston? I surely hope not, but it's not looking good. The Saints' franchise leader in touchdowns and receptions was targeted seven times yet had only three catches for 29 yards. Colston was the target when a low pass bounced off his hands and was intercepted for what turned out to be a crucial drive-killing play after the Saints had recovered a fumble. Last season, his fumble in overtime at Atlanta led to the Saints starting 0-1 as well. Look, I'm rooting for Colston, but something is off. Maybe it's just Father Time that has come to collect his due, but the once "old reliable" receiver now just looks old, without the reliable. Here's to hoping that the young pups like Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman grow up fast or that there's some kind of fountain of youth in Marques' backyard. Otherwise, I think the end of the line is near.