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Several factors help explain Saints' 0-3 mark

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By LES EAST Special to The Advocate Published: Sep 30, 2007 METAIRIE — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said it repeatedly during the offseason. His team’s success last season guaranteed it nothing this season. No team picks up where ...

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Old 09-30-2007, 09:07 PM   #1
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Cool Several factors help explain Saints' 0-3 mark

Special to The Advocate
Published: Sep 30, 2007

METAIRIE — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said it repeatedly during the offseason.

His team’s success last season guaranteed it nothing this season. No team picks up where it left off the previous season. Each team starts from scratch each season.

To emphasize the point during the summer, Payton arranged for a mock Jazz funeral at which the Saints’ bushel-full of postseason awards were buried underneath the practice field.

The point was obvious: last season’s success — 10-6 record, division title, trip to the NFC Championship — and this year’s expectations, based mostly on last season’s success — numerous predictions of contending for if not reaching the Super Bowl — had no relevance.

“We said it in the beginning. This is a different team from a year ago, with a different roster, different schedule, different season,” Payton said this week. “Obviously there are things you gain year in and year out. You become more confident as a team, but you start from scratch and nobody’s interested in the success you had a year ago.”

Right now, the Saints are 0-3, one of five winless teams in the NFL, and they’re hoping somehow to utilize a bye week to salvage a quickly disintegrating season. How did this happen? Was this team overrated? Is it underachieving? Was last year a fluke? Questions abound. Answers do not.

A suspect offensive line that appeared to overachieve last season has been manhandled this season, disrupting everything that an offense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season has tried to do.

So the struggling offense hasn’t been able to carry a pedestrian defense as it did at times last season.

The special teams haven’t been any better, and neither has the coaching, and now running back Deuce McAllister has been lost to season-ending knee surgery, a year after New Orleans was virtually without major injuries.

Those factors help explain why this team is performing much more poorly than its immediate predecessor. Perhaps another part of the explanation is too much having been read into last season’s success.

The 2006 Saints were the second-best team in the NFC; they earned that on the field. However, upon closer inspection, maybe that performance shouldn’t have been taken as an indication New Orleans had arrived as a consistent member of the NFL’s elite.

Here’s why:

It helps to be in the NFC

The AFC is clearly dominant over the NFC, so being second best in the NFC doesn’t necessarily mean you’re elite.

The Saints, whose only victory in four tries against AFC teams last season came against lowly Cleveland, were arguably no better than the sixth-best team in the NFL, behind at least Indianapolis, Chicago, New England, San Diego and Baltimore. New Orleans already is 0-2 against the AFC this season.

Weak division doesn’t hurt

The NFC South was a weak division last season. The Saints took advantage by winning four of six games against division foes (two against 7-9 Atlanta and two against 4-12 Tampa Bay). The two losses came against 8-8 Carolina, the last coming in the season finale, which New Orleans treated like the final preseason game because it was already locked in as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Saints’ 10 victories came against teams that won an aggregate 43 percent of their games.

Lightning in a bottle

Circumstances conspired to help the Saints bolt to a 3-0 start and they rode that momentum all the way to Chicago for the NFC title game. They opened the season with an uninspiring victory against the lowly Browns (19-14), then had a similarly unimpressive victory at Green Bay (34-27), which, although it finished strongly, played poorly early in the season.

Then came the emotional home opener as the Superdome reopened on Monday Night Football. The emotions of the evening, and the momentum of the 2-0 start, provided a unique homefield advantage that contributed greatly to a 23-3 victory against Atlanta.

From then on, New Orleans was 7-6 in the regular season with only two victories coming against teams with winning records — Philadelphia (10-6) and Dallas (9-7).

A razor-thin margin

The NFL is so balanced that in any given season at least two dozen teams can finish anywhere from four wins to 12 wins based primarily on injuries, strength of schedule, turnovers, momentum, and luck.

Five of the Saints’ 11 wins, counting a 27-24 playoff victory against the Eagles, came by a touchdown or less.

Although it’s difficult to reconcile the Saints’ 0-3 start with last year’s performance and this year’s expectations, where is it written that a team’s performance is supposed to be reconcilable with its previous season or its expectations?

“There are still some parts to this game that can do you in regardless of your intentions or how badly you want to do something and how emotional you are or how ready you are,” said Payton, whose team is last in the NFL in turnover margin [minus-8]. “That’s what we have to correct.

“There’s going to be a time when your team’s tested and for us it happens to be right now at the beginning of the season. There’s a lot of hard work ahead still.”

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