After Further Review: Breaking Down the Bye - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

After Further Review: Breaking Down the Bye

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New Orleans, La - At 1-4, the Saints have dug themselves a hole.

Can they dig themselves out?

The answer depends on a lot of factors. AFR breaks down the black and gold at the bye and beyond.

What Gives me Hope

Drew Brees

Brees looks like Brees again. He's dialed in. He's accurate. He has that ultra-confident look in his eye. He did not have it the first three weeks of the season.

He turned the corner vs. Green Bay and continued his excellence against San Diego.

The stat that has always amazed me with Brees was never his passing yards or touchdowns. It was always his completion percentage. Brees is consistently in the top two or three in attempts. But he's also in the top two or three in completion percentage. Last year, he broke his own record finishing at 71.2%.

The first three games he REALLY struggled in this area. Against Washington, Carolina and Kansas City, he completed an average of just 54% of his passes. But in his last two outings, Brees has completed 64%.

The arrow is clearly pointing up for Brees and I still think he will improve in this area.

It's the main reason I still have hope for 2012.

Joe Vitt's return

Having Joe Vitt will undoubtedly provide an emotional lift to the team. He is Sean Payton's most trusted assistant whose fiery demeanor can help produce a spark, particularly in his first few games back.

While that aspect will grab headlines, I think his return will a have a deeper impact in the day-to-day grind.

This is something I think has gotten lost in the first five games. A normal staff has a certain amount of coaches responsible for each portion of the game plan. Take two coaches away and the workload gets shared. That shared responsible can be overwhelming.

It would be no different in any other walk of life where two quality staffers were taken away and others were responsible for producing the same product with less people. It's not so easy and it would likely take some time to find the right flow to make it work more effectively.

I think the current coaching staff struggled with this, especially early on.

Vitt's return will only help in this regard. His presence will help relieve the coaches of the extra workload they've had over the first six games and hopefully help produce a more positive result.

What Makes me Worry

Talent Drain

In the NFL, free agency is a part of life. Players come and players go, year in and year out. The good teams stay one step ahead of the curve and are able to replace key guys that depart.

Since 2006, the Saints have been excellent at this. Before this season, can we really say a departed player has truly hurt the Saints?  

This year is a different story.

Their three biggest losses this off season were Carl Nicks, Tracy Porter and Robert Meachem. All three were core veterans who were instrumental in their success over the years. It's hard to supplant that kind of collective quality and experience.

The Saints have replaced those players with Ben Grubbs, Corey White/Johnny Patrick and Joe Morgan. All three have been a step down, at least through the first five games.

I think they certainly can improve but are not playing at the level of the players that left.

Losing Control of Destiny

At 1-4, the Saints can still turn this season around. But turning their season around and making a fourth straight playoff appearance are two totally different things.

It's a feat proven impossible to accomplish for every team that has ever opened the season with four consecutive losses, short of the 1992 San Diego Chargers.

Of the Saints four losses, three are in the NFC, one of those in the NFC South. Plus, Atlanta is 6-0 and at this pace will have the division crown locked up by November.

Again, the Saints are talented enough to turn their season around. But unless they win out, they'll likely need some help to get in the playoffs.

Encouraging Stat

7 Takeways in 3 games

This is without question the best thing about this Saints defense right now. They've forced seven turnovers in three games.

Takeaways on defense and Brees being Brees, is usually a formula for success for this team.

This defense will never be dominant. They simply don't have the players. But in case we all forgot, this defense has NEVER been dominant. During their 13-win seasons in 2009 and 2011 the Saints were 24th and 25th in total defense respectively.

The difference is timely, opportunistic plays. Takeaways provide those opportunities.

If this trend continues, the Saints will win more games. Period.

Discouraging Stat

96

As in 96 rushing attempts in five games.

That's an average of 19 carries a game. 20 rushes a game is the benchmark for this team; they've only won one game when they don't reach that number in the Payton era.

I know many are concerned with the lack of yardage. I am too. But I say the yardage will slowly come as long as the commitment remains.

While it may seem crazy to say averaging one more carry a game would make much of a difference. I say it would make all the difference in the world.

Look at their losses. Four defeats by a total of twenty points for an average of FIVE points a  game. To me, they're not far off. Wholesale changes at this point are both unrealistic and unnecessary. Small scale adjustments are how they can close this gap.

Averaging just one more carry a game could be that tweak instrumental in the Saints success.

Bold Prediction

I think they get back on track and win eight of their last 11.

The Saints will finish 9-7. They will get things back to respectability but that's as far as I'm going to go.

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