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Situational Football Still Saints Biggest Flaw

The margin between 7-9 and 10-6 is razor thin. For the Saints it’s a couple of missed plays.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

According to Rotoworld, the New Orleans Saints have the ninth-best quarterback situation in the NFL going into the upcoming NFL season. Since 2015, Rotoworld’s Pat Daugherty has ranked the 32 QB situations in the league, based on several factors such as - and I quote: “Age, injury history, past success, future potential, retirement rumors, etc.”

While last year the Saints had the seventh ranking on this list, they’ve dropped two spots, which makes sense considering Brees is slightly older and is an impending free agent after the 2017-18 season. But ninth-best out of 32 is pretty damn good and you don’t need me to tell you that. I can also imagine what many of you are thinking: “the eight quarterbacks ahead of Brees probably all had much better defenses, which would explain why they’re ranked ahead of him.” Amazingly, it’s not as lopsided as you’d think. Below are the top 10 best QB situations in the NFL for the coming NFL year according to Rotoworld; To make it a bit more compelling, I added the teams’ corresponding defensive rankings (based on Football Outsiders’ DVOA) from the past season:

There are a few very interesting nuggets here when we look at the defensive rankings:

Of the 10 best QB situations in the NFL in 2016, only one team had a defense ranked in single digit: Seattle, 5th. Only three were ranked 16th - middle of the pack - or higher: Panthers 10th, Bucs 12th and eventual Super Bowl champion Pats, 16th. The remaining five teams were all ranked 20th or lower. This confirms what we all knew already: the age of needing a soul-crushing, suffocating defense to win the Super Bowl is all but gone.

The Saints don’t need a shutdown defense to get into the playoffs in 2017. They need to make plays defensively when it counts. That’s exactly how the 2016 Atlanta Falcons found their way into the postseason and eventually the Super Bowl despite a defense that was ranked 27th out of 32 NFL teams: Even though they were nearly as porous as the Saints, they caused turnovers and made stops when it counted.

Well then if the Saints have such a great QB situation and aren’t that much worse off than the other contenders in terms of their defensive rankings, what gives? Why have they now lived in the miserable 7-9 purgatory for three straight years? Bad situational football, that’s why.

Let’s illustrate this point by looking at how the Saints found their way to crushing losses in 2016 when they either had the lead or were tied late in the game. I’m about to summon up some bad memories, so if you’re faint-hearted, stop reading immediately. If you’re brave continue reading, but please consult your doctor for frustration symptoms lasting more than four hours.

How Not to Start a Season

09/11/2016 – Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints, Mercedes Benz Superdome.

With 8:42 left in the fourth quarter, the Saints have 27-19 lead over the Raiders following a Wil Lutz 20-yard field goal. On the ensuing kick-off, the Raiders starting at their 25-yard line need only two plays totaling 16 seconds to score a touchdown and convert a two-point play to tie the game at 27. A 75-yard touchdown run by Jalen Richard followed by a Derek Carr pass to Amari Cooper and the game was knotted up.

But wait, there’s more heartbreak: The Saints then went on a three-play, 84-yard drive capped by a Travaris Cadet touchdown reception to retake the lead 34-27 after the PAT. At that point, there is 6:03 left in the game. Oakland then goes on an 11-play,75-yard drive and scores a touchdown with 47 seconds left. But the Raiders go for two and get it once again to take a 35-34 lead they would not relinquish.

The Saints are 0-1 after having led twice in the waning moments of the game, but are unable to get a stop when it matters. Even worse, they allow two touchdowns and twice a two-point conversion to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Coffee Is for Closers

09/18/2016 – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, MetLife Stadium.

In what was one of their best defensive performance, the Saints showed that one of their biggest defensive problems in 2016 was closing the deal. With the score tied 13-13 with 2:54 left in the game, New Orleans allows Eli Manning and the Giants to go on an 11-play, 70-yard drive (notice a trend?) that eats all the remaining clock and culminates in a Josh Brown 23-yard field goal. The Giants win 16-13 and the Saints, who bent all day finally broke. Problem is, they broke at the worst possible moment, when there was no more clock for Brees and the offense to save the bacon.

New Orleans is 0-2 and the 7-9 dream is alive and well.

1001 Ways to Break Your Heart

11/13/2016 – Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints, Mercedes Benz Superdome.

You didn’t think I was going to skip this one, did you? Down 23-17 with 2:50 left in the game, Brees and the Saints engineer a masterful 6-play, 75-yard drive in 1:28 to knot the game at 23. Now with an extra point by Wil Lutz, New Orleans will have a 24-23 lead and leave Denver with only 1:22 to try and notch a field goal to win the game. If I’m being fully honest, I don’t think the Saints’ defense would’ve been able to keep Denver from getting into field goal range and attempting a game-winning field goal. But we will never know anyway, because the unthinkable (or the very thinkable) happened: Wil Lutz PAT gets blocked, scooped up by Will Parks who returns it for a two-point conversion the other way. He may or may not have been out of bounds, but regardless, Denver wins 25-23.

The Saints are 4-5 at that point and another terrible execution of a simple situational football play was their undoing. Getting above .500 is as elusive as sightings of the Abominable Snowman in Tangipahoa Parish. Why is he abominable anyway? that dude may be a most gentle giant. What’s abominable is the 1001 ways the Saints have found to repeatedly break your heart.

So, What Are You Saying?

I’m saying that in just those three examples of games that the Saints coulda shoulda woulda won last season, there’s your 10-6 record right there, and a wildcard berth in the playoffs. Remember, the Detroit Lions got into the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record. I can hear some of you saying that the goal here isn’t just to get into the playoffs but to contend. Ahem, let’s leave our pride at the door, this ain’t 2009-2011 anymore. The Saints should be just happy to get in the dance at this point and give themselves a chance from there. We haven’t tasted the playoffs since 2013 and if you’re like me, I’d just like to watch some Saints football in January again, even if it’s on the road with terrible odds.

The problem hasn’t just been that the defense is terrible. At times last year, the Saints defense played admirably well. The issue has been playing well when it matters within games. There were many other games these past three years in which the Saints failed to take advantage of favorable in-game opportunities to either put an opponent away or stop an opponent from getting back into the game and failed to do so. The closer mentality, the killer instinct is what Sean Payton, Dennis Allen and co should be working hard at with this team. There is enough talent on New Orleans’ roster to make a serious run at not only the playoffs but even a division title this upcoming season. The work starts now!


What do the Saints most need to get better at in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Situational Football, duh!
    (69 votes)
  • 45%
    Overall defense
    (135 votes)
  • 14%
    Complementary football, son
    (42 votes)
  • 8%
    Running the damn ball
    (25 votes)
  • 9%
    Not making me regurgitate my burgers
    (28 votes)
299 votes total Vote Now