The Saints have a week to get their act together and make one last stand.
What that stand is for is yet to be seen. Sitting at 4-6 and in last place in the NFC South, New Orleans would have to win the rest of its games to have a shot at making the playoffs. While possible, given what we’ve seen through the first 10 weeks, that seems unlikely.
But don’t expect the Saints to pack it in and play for draft position once they get their next loss. That didn’t happen late last season, and it won’t happen now. This team will still play for pride and, with a new defensive coordinator, seek improved results.
The current reality shouldn’t be shocking. The Saints were a team built with several question marks. As was said before the season, how those questions are answered would determine the outcome of the season.
Some of the questions had positive results, and others did not. Together, those answers created the current reality.
Here’s a look at some of the positives and negatives from the first 10 weeks of the season:
Four Downs: The good
1. Needed Snead
After trading Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, the Saints seemed rather bullish on the futures of wide receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones and tight end Josh Hill. Instead, Snead has stepped up to fill the critical void at receiver.
No one saw this coming back in March. Snead was just a guy who finished the season on the practice squad. Only the most ardent followers of the team even knew his name. But he has stepped up to be one of the most productive receivers on the team.
2. Brees is back
When quarterback Drew Brees injured his shoulder in Week 2 and various reports emerged painting it as a dire situation, it looked like that was going to be the issue that sank New Orleans’ season. It wasn’t, and it didn’t. In fact, Brees is enjoying one of his most productive seasons.
His 330.2 passing yards per game are the second-highest mark of his career, and he’s also averaging an impressive 8 yards per attempt. He also has silenced talk about his arm strength diminishing by completing 23 passes that have traveled 20 or more yards through the air. He completed only 27 such passes last season.
3. Third time’s the charm
Safety Jairus Byrd joked earlier this year when asked why New Orleans is having trouble on defense by remarking that, if the Saints can get you to third down, the offense needs to look out.
He wasn’t wrong. The Saints are on pace to be historically bad in some key areas on defense, but they’ve shown up on third down. With a 34.8 opponent’s conversion rate on third down, New Orleans ranks fifth in the NFL.
There have been reports that new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen had a hand in designing the third-down packages. If he can bring some of that success to other downs, the Saints might be in business.
4. Cam’s big move
Losing Junior Galette’s production on the field was a significant blow for the defense. But getting him off the roster not only helped the culture in the locker room, it also allowed Cameron Jordan to move into his role at 7-technique defensive end.
The move has helped Jordan flourish. With nearly 50 combined hurries and hits this season, as well as six sacks, he has been one of the most productive defensive ends in the NFL.
Playing on the other side of the line, where he might have more responsibilities in the running game, Jordan might be enjoying the same kind of season if Galette had stuck around.
Four downs: The bad
Entering the season, it looked like cornerback was going to be one of the deepest positions on the roster and some good players were going to end up on the outside looking in.
Then rookie P.J. Williams landed on injured reserve, and Keenan Lewis fell victim to a training-camp hip injury that is still lingering. Throw in rookie Damian Swann’s battle with concussions, and things have not gone well.
Delvin Breaux has been a definite bright spot, but Brandon Browner has drawn too many penalties. Some of the other players on the roster have had positive moments, but the group hasn’t lived up to expectations.
2. No rush
For as good as Jordan has been, the rest of the roster has disappointed in this regard. Take out Jordan’s production, and the defense has only 70 combined pressures and hits and 16 sacks.
Rookie Hau’oli Kikaha has been a bright spot within that equation, but the defense has to be better.
Former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did not like to blitz much. Perhaps the more aggressive Allen can get things started during the final six games.
The issues the Saints have faced in run blocking require an extensive study at some point. It’s too simplistic to boil it down to singular players or blame it on the scheme. There have been breakdowns in various areas that have popped up time and again throughout the season.
For the purposes of this list, pointing it out as an issue will have to suffice.
Things look a little more respectable now that New Orleans is averaging 3.9 yards per carry. But take out Mark Ingram’s 70-yard run from last week’s game against Washington, and that figure falls to 3.5.
4. No thriller, no Spiller
Like many others, this publication was expecting big things from Spiller this season — going so far as to predict that he would challenge Mark Ingram for touches. Then Spiller suffered a knee injury in camp and Ingram emerged as a viable option in the passing game. Since then, it has become difficult to take Ingram off the field.
That might be a good thing for the offense, but it doesn’t make the fact that Spiller has failed to claim a meaningful role in the offense any less confusing. The idea behind the hopes and dreams that emerged around Spiller this offseason were fueled by his ability to line up in various spots and make plays. It seemed like he was the perfect player for Sean Payton’s offense.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out like that. And that has been one of the more disappointing aspects of this season. But it’s hard to complain when the offense is still moving the ball.