The Saints avoided entering their bye week with feelings of doom by rallying back to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overtime last week.
There might have even be glimmers of hope to find in the uneven performance. The defense showed signs of life, and the offense, outside of a few ill-advised interceptions by Drew Brees, was mostly solid. But a glance at the upcoming schedule quickly makes one realize that signs of life and mostly solid is not going to cut it over the next six weeks.
The Lions, Packers, Panthers, 49ers, Bengals, and Ravens await New Orleans after its bye. It shouldn’t take long to figure out the fate of this team. If this team can’t win on the road, as has been the case dating to last season, it might be time to start looking ahead at the draft if the Saints lose in Week 7 to Detroit and Week 9 at Carolina.
“I said this last week, we could have played the Dallas game here, old Tulane Stadium, and the result would have been the same,” coach Sean Payton said. “The point being is I don’t know that generally when you are playing good football and you are able to reduce turnovers and create them and you are running the ball well, that travels pretty well.
“If you are not, that does not travel well. I think it’s more about our team playing good football and playing well enough to win.”
In other words, the Saints need to figure out how to execute better, and do so quickly. You can get away with throwing a few interceptions against a Tampa Bay team that has struggled on both sides of the ball this season. You can get away with coverage breakdowns against the Cleveland Browns and still have a shot to win entering the final moments.
What you can’t get away with is making mistakes against high-caliber teams. If Lions receiver Calvin Johnson shows up and is healthy next week, coverage breakdowns will quickly turn into points. The same goes for Green Bay, which has multiple weapons and a quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who knows how to spread the ball around.
After that, the Saints come up against a Carolina team that won the division last year, a San Francisco team that ranks second in total defense, and a Cincinnati team looked flawless until losing to the Patriots Monday night. None of these teams will be kind enough to let New Orleans hang around if things go poorly.
That’s why the coaching staff is going to spend a considerable amount of time self scouting this week to figure out what this team does well and what needs to be improved. If they fail, the season could quickly get out of hand.
“Last week we did a bunch coming off the loss in Dallas. We will do the same,” Payton said. “We have the ability now, it used to be where you had to wait, file a report and then wait for a total, and we have the technology now where it is constantly in our lap updated. We will look closely at what has been effective formationally, what are we doing by tendency and same thing defensively and the kicking game.”
The coaching staff will likely see many of the same things that have talked about breathlessly since the start of the season. The pass rush needs to improve, turnovers need to be produced, and the offense needs to figure out how to keep its foot on the gas for 60 minutes.
Other issues, such as why the team can’t connect on deep passes, also need to be answered. And if there are no answers, the offense needs to figure out a way to adjust and live without the 50-yard strikes that once defined this offense.
The situation this team currently finds itself in is somewhat shocking. This is a roster that many considered to be the most talented in the organization’s history. Now, instead of striking fear into the heart of the Lions, the Lions have the Saints cautiously approaching.
No one would have ever guessed this would be the New Orleans’ reality entering the bye. The key is to figure out how to make sure it isn’t the reality of the rest of the season.
Otherwise, it might soon be time to keep a closer eye on what’s happening on Saturdays instead of Sundays.