Before the New Orleans Saints broke for their bye week, their leader delivered a message.
Drew Brees has been delivering these messages for years. But the fact that the message came from a familiar leader doesn’t make it any less important.
Instead of heading into the bye week on a surge, New Orleans limped into it, frustrated after a blowout loss at Washington put the Saints’ playoff hopes on life support.
“Take this time, get away and recharge, but every guy, to a man, has to find a way to get better before they come back,” tackle Zach Strief said Brees told the team. “Whatever that is to that guy, but be honest with yourself.”
For some, players like Terron Armstead, Hau’oli Kikaha and Dannell Ellerbe, that’s as simple as getting healthy. Injuries have crippled the Saints, particularly on defense, and New Orleans needs all hands on deck to give new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen a chance to turn around a group headed for historically bad numbers this season.
For others, the message meant correcting recurring mistakes, getting back into the best shape possible or fixing technical mistakes that have set in.
New Orleans may be 4-6, but this team is far from imploding internally the way last year’s squad did.
“The mood in the locker room is we have six weeks to turn this thing around,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “We were hoping to be .500. I mean we came in and lost to Tennessee, which was a complete blunder on our part, and we’ve lost two in a row and are now at 4-6. There is nothing to be happy about and, at the same time, guys know that we have to stick together as a family.”
The Saints remain adamant that the problems that have cost them this season lie on the field, not off it.
A team at 4-6, particularly a team that had every opportunity to erase a dismal 1-4 start and get itself back into the thick of the playoff race, has every reason to be frustrated, and New Orleans was no different after the loss to Washington.
Unlike the 2014 squad, though, the frustration hasn’t boiled over into anything other than the collective disappointment that should come with a loss.
“It’s very easy after a game like that for guys to bicker at each other, for guys to be looking for an answer that is not them looking in the mirror. It has not happened this year,” Strief said. “I haven’t seen any of that. We were honest last year when we did, and we just haven’t. I think the locker room has the right kind of guys in it and the right types of people. We just have to play better.”
The problems New Orleans has on defense have been well-documented, particularly after the Saints’ decision to part ways with Rob Ryan this week. On offense, New Orleans has struggled up front at times, failing to produce a consistent running game despite the best season of Mark Ingram’s career and struggling to protect Brees, who has had a very good season amid reports of his decline.
From a big-picture perspective, though, the frustration has come from the Saints’ inconsistency. New Orleans put together a three-game winning streak over three teams with a combined 15-13 record, but the Saints also have losses to a pair of rookie quarterbacks and a Washington team that entered the matchup with little running game and a struggling defense.
“It is going to be that roller-coaster ride. There are a lot of areas where we have to improve in,” coach Sean Payton said. “The main thing (I told the team) was that it wasn’t going to be the same when they got back. It was going to be different, and it needs to be.”
New Orleans still has a chance to go on a run.
The Saints face one of the NFL’s weaker schedules in the final six games, and if Allen can get the defense into respectable territory and the team can get healthy, New Orleans might be able to recapture the magic of its three-game winning streak.
New Orleans renovated its roster, and the firing of Ryan added another layer of change to a team trying to rebuild on the fly.
“There are a lot of changes this year, and I think that there has been a refocus of what the values are of the organization,” Strief said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight sometimes. It just doesn’t. Sometimes it takes a little bit to get all of the right pieces in place.”
The final six games will show how much further the Saints need to go.