If this is the blow that is going to end the Saints season, then it was already over before Jairus Byrd tore his lateral meniscus during Thursday’s practice.
It’s no secret the defense has struggled through the first quarter of the season. Finding the solution isn’t about one player raising his game. It needs to be a collective effort, and Byrd was one of a handful of players who badly needed to find a better effort.
It’s fair to say that Byrd underwhelmed after being signed to a six-year, $54 million deal during the offseason. He was supposed to come in and create turnovers for a team that was badly in need of them and serve as the anchor for a defense on the cusp of greatness.
Instead, he missed tackles and looked nothing like the player he was in Buffalo the previous five seasons.
Perhaps it’s because he missed most of training camp after having offseason back surgery, but the fact remains that this Byrd was not the Byrd many expected this season.
Obviously the Saints would be better off with Byrd on the field instead of Rafael Bush if everyone else on the field were performing up to par. But it would not be shocking if New Orleans manages to play better football over the final three legs of the season without Byrd.
If it does, it means the checklist of issues plaguing this defense is getting resolved.
And, yes, it is a long list.
Junior Galette and Cam Jordan need to get after the quarterback. The safeties need to stop missing tackles. The cornerbacks need to provide better coverage. With or without Byrd, this season is going nowhere if those issues are not soon resolved.
The belief here is that things will eventually be sorted out. No, this team won’t play like it did last season, but maybe the defense will become average enough to give their high-powered offense a chance to win games. That’s all that’s needed right now. Maybe Bush helps get this team there.
Though he’s only played limited snaps, Bush is one of the few players on defense who has managed to play up to scratch. It also might help that he has established chemistry with Kenny Vaccaro and the two know how to play with one another.
That’s not a terrible thing for a team routinely struggling with communication issues.
Things will have to change on defense. Unless Marcus Ball gets healthy and surprises, the three-safety sets this team likes to use will likely go to the wayside. And the Saints also have to figure what they’re going to do in dime packages, which require six defensive backs.
But those are minor problems considering the ones this team has faced through the first four weeks of the season.
Make no mistake; losing Byrd is a big disappointment. He has ability and potential others on this team do not possess. But if we’re being honest, the disappointment was already here before Sean Payton delivered Friday’s news.
It was a disappointment to see Byrd missing tackles against the Cowboys and taking bad angles to the ball. And it is a disappointment that this team has only recorded one interception through the first four weeks of the season. This wasn’t the ball hawk who recorded 22 interceptions in five seasons with the Bills.
Perhaps the blame in the latter point shouldn’t be placed on Byrd. A lot goes into creating a turnover. It’s a team effort. But it’s hard not to think back to how the three-time Pro Bowler was hailed as the cure to the turnover woes that have plagued this team when he signed this offseason.
Byrd will be back. Meniscus tears are common. He’ll rest, recover, and have another shot to earn his contract next season. And chances are he’ll become the Byrd everyone expected when he put pen to paper this offseason after getting healthy and having a full offseason in the system.
But the Saints have plenty of issues to sort out to get their house in order. Either they figure it out or they don’t.
If they fail, it won’t be because Byrd wasn’t around to help solve the issues.