METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints are learning how opposing defenses must’ve felt the past few years.
The Saints defense is on pace for a truly historic season, and that’s not a good thing. They have already become the first team since at least 1950 — maybe ever — to give up more than 400 yards in seven straight games. On average, they’ve surrendered 50 yards more per game than the NFL’s next-worst team. If this keeps up, the defending NFC South champions will obliterate the record for most yards allowed in a season.
Not surprisingly, the Saints (2-5) are in a truly desperate state heading into Monday night’s game against Philadelphia (3-4), knowing they must turn things around — and quickly — if they want to have a shot at a fourth straight playoff appearance.
“It’s very frustrating,” linebacker Scott Shanle said Thursday. “Everybody is trying to put their finger on what’s wrong. How can we change it so we’re more effective? You get millions of different people with millions of different suggestions, whether it be teammates, coaches, family, friends. Everybody thinks they have the answer.”
But don’t expect a major overhaul. Interim coach Joe Vitt said there’s only so much the team can do to turn things around, and it’s not exactly eye-catching stuff. Better tackling. Improved fundamentals. More awareness of what the other team is trying to do.
“If you have dramatic change, radical change, that’s when the panic sets in,” Vitt said. “The players can smell the match burning before the match is ever lit. We’ve just got to play better, coach better, execute better.”
Those sort of comments can’t be of much solace to a fan base that already was reeling from the bounty scandal that cost former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams his job and resulted in head coach Sean Payton being suspended for the entire year. Williams was replaced by Steve Spagnuolo, who has caught much of the blame for what’s gone wrong this season.
And boy, have things gone wrong.
In the very first game, rookie Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins ran wild in the Superdome, shredding the Saints for 459 yards in a 40-32 upset that was an ominous sign of what was to come.
The yards just kept on coming. Carolina and Kansas City won their only games against New Orleans, ripping off 463 and 510 respectively. Green Bay put up 421, San Diego 427. Tampa Bay — hardly an offensive juggernaut — tore through the Saints for 513. Last Sunday night, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos looked like they were going against a scout team, piling up 530 yards in 34-14 blowout.
That averages out to 474.7 yards per game, which is 50 yards more than the next-worst team on the list, the Buffalo Bills (424.6). The Saints are on pace to give up 7,595 yards for the season, which would easily take down the record of 6,793 set way back in 1981 by the Colts (when they were still in Baltimore).
STATS LLC, which has records dating back to 1950, says this is worst seven-game stretch that it can verify. Given the limited state of offenses before then, it’s highly likely that no team in NFL history has ever been this bad.
All over the Big Easy, the Saints faithful are grumbling about Spagnuolo’s scheme, which abandoned much of the blitzing that Williams did with such abandon, and berating a group that did its part the last three years in support of Drew Brees and a record-setting offense.
Sure, Brees was the star of the show, running up and down the field with opponents in futile pursuit, but there’s no way the Saints go 37-11 during that span and win a Super Bowl championship without stopping the other team every now and then.
Just look what’s happening now.
Brees and the Saints know they have to put up a bunch of points to have any chance of winning, and when the offense stumbles — as it did in Denver — things can get downright ugly.
“You get what you deserve,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said, referring to the criticism that has reached a fever pitch. “It’s going to keep coming if we don’t improve. We are all are very prideful guys in here. We all want to do better. We don’t want to be playing as bad as we’re playing, both statistically and out there on the field.”
Brees and his offensive teammates are careful not to criticize the defense, always turning those sort of questions to look at their own shortcomings. The offense is certainly not without its faults, most notably an NFL-worst running game.
“Our job on offense is to score one more point than them,” Brees said. “We’ve won games around here 14-9. We’ve won games 40-to-30-something. The way I look at it is we’re a 30-to-40-a-game offense. Regardless of what’s happening on the defensive side of the ball ... we have the attitude on offense that we should score each time we get the ball. If we don’t, it’s not good enough.”
Certainly not the way the defense is playing now.