Are the defending Super Bowl champs in panic mode?

Vilma’s defense is too easily the blame in the Big Easy, but is it warranted?

The Saints are entering week six with a surprising 3-2 record. It seems like lightyears ago now that they were a virtual scoring machine, putting up 40+ points per game like it was nothing and humbling some of the best defenses in the league in doing so.  In fact, they’ve gone from being one of the best redzone scoring offenses in the league last season to only being able to produce a meager 25 percent touchdown percentage in the redzone this season. So it stands to reason that fans would be a bit concerned with the offense’s current inability to find the endzone on a consistent basis.

According to Coach Sean Payton, however, there is no panic on the part of the team. As a matter of fact, his direct words were,

“Fortunately I don’t have to categorize it as one of those things. That’s something that you guys (in the media) can categorize it as. It’s a period where it’s a loss.  You know how this league is, it’s week by week. Do I think we can play better? Yes. And that’s the thing that’s encouraging, that’s the thing that gets you here and started on the next plan. And that’s the thing that gets you driven and motivated. So we don’t have to identify it as anything other than this is a setback clearly. Anytime you lose a game, we feel like it’s disappointing. But what’s most important is what you do about it. That’s the real good thing about the jobs we have. We get to come back and take another test this weekend.”

To make a long story short, the coach doesn’t want to come out and say that the team (particularly the offense) is in a slump.  But I don’t know what else you’d call it.  The Saints began the season basically with the same starting offense it did last year;  Mike Bell was the only notable departure there.  All of this was prior to the Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas injuries.  Yet, they didn’t move the ball any better in week 1 than they did in the weeks that followed.  Sure, we attributed the struggles to the stout Vikings defense at first.  But since then, they’ve failed to exploit undermatched defenses in order to get the offensive scheme back on track.  There have been way too many penalties and the turnovers have proven to be fatal in most cases.  So I ask you, if the New Orleans Saints aren’t in a slump right now, where in the world are they?

But being in a slump isn’t the worst thing;  staying there and sinking further into it are far worse.   The Saints have far too much talent to be struggling just to put up points.  It makes no sense that they have had marked success getting into the redzone, but very little getting into the endzone.   I think a lot of it has to do with play calling in the red zone and the rest with execution.  Luckily, Payton and the rest of the coaching staff are smart enough to get it straightened out–whatever it may be.

When I think about how many times I’ve heard sports analysts and commentators say in the last couple of days that the Saints need to change their gameplan, I get angry.  There’s nothing about the way our team is playing right now that indicates it’s duplicating anything from last year, offensively or defensively.  And frankly, I think that’s a big part of the problem.  I think they’ve tried so hard to bury the successes of last year, that they’ve completely abandoned their own identity and are therefore lost without it.  Those successes of 2009 provided the team with a solid foundation at last.  But rather than fortify and build on that foundation, they’ve apparently opted to rip it up and start from scratch.  I don’t think anyone doubts that other teams are going to watch film and prepare for the defending Superbowl champs week after week, but they would’ve done that anyway.  That’s part of football.  All the Saints need to be concerned with is (as one fan put it), forcing their will on other teams.   If they play their game the way they know how, no one–not even those analysts and commentators–are going to know whether the success comes from a page ripped from last year’s playbook or something totally new.  Offensively they need a spark, regardless of where it comes from.

So what are the fans saying?  Well, I’ve read dozens of comments since the game against the Cardinals.  And I can tell you that while the majority of them were extremely positive, there has been an underlying hint of concern in all of them.   For the most part, Saints fans are still very optimistic that the team can get things turned around. They just don’t understand why the offense is not producing or playing up to its potential.  I think the big question on everybody’s mind is, what’s causing this slump?  Fans are becoming anxious, to say the least, but they’re not losing hope.

I can understand why Coach Payton doesn’t like putting a label on the issues the team is facing right now.  But it doesn’t matter whether you put a name to it or not, there’s no denying that something is wrong.  And even though the season is still young, it’s definitely not too soon to be concerned.  Every game counts, so they surely need to win the ones they’re supposed to win and a couple that they aren’t just to be able to think about making the playoffs.  It’s great that there isn’t a sense of panic resonating through the locker room, but there should certainly be a definite concern.  The Saints are so much better than the way they’re playing right now.  Let’s just hope they can soon recapture some of the fire and purpose with which they played last year.

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