Shaky first impression by Saints all too similar to recent seasons
There is so much to dislike about the New Orleans Saints’ season-opening performance.
Where shall we start dissecting the 29-19 loss at Minnesota on Monday night?
How about where the analysis of most Saints losses in recent seasons have started? With the defense.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Saints retooled their defensive coaching staff, made several changes in defensive personnel and showed no improvement over last season even though they faced a very limited offense.
The first defensive series was marred by two poor unnecessary-roughness penalties against rookies Marcus Williams and Alex Anzalone. The penalties can be forgiven as a result of excessive exuberance by players performing in their first NFL game. The defense stiffened and forced a field goal and forced a punt on the next possession so overall the start was pretty good.
The rest of the defensive night wasn’t.
The Saints couldn’t pressure Sam Bradford with any consistency, had countless breakdowns in pass coverage and were horrendous on third downs.
If New Orleans’ defense isn’t going to improve appreciably over last season, then the ceiling for this team will probably be a fourth consecutive 7-9 season.
Think that was bad? Well the offensive performance was probably more discouraging.
The Saints played without starting left tackle Terron Armstead and lost starting right tackle Zach Strief in the first half. which contributed to an inability to run the ball consistently well or protect Drew Brees adequately. Armstead probably will miss at least three more games and we’ll have to wait and see on Strief.
Granted the Vikings have a talented defense and a return to health by the line could solve many of the ills we saw Monday night. But if the defense isn’t going to be appreciably better, the offense has virtually no margin for error and certainly can’t afford to settle for field goals four times and not reach the end zone until the outcome already was decided.
As for the coaching, it was no better than the playing.
Starting the season without a backup tackle on the roster proved to be unwise when Strief went down. That will have to be addressed this week.
Head coach Sean Payton, as he is wont to do, used two timeouts on defense late in the first half as though he has an elite defense that was likely to force a three-and-out and gve his two-minute offense a shot. Instead the stoppages merely aided Minnesota on its way to a back-breaking touchdown on a drive that was aided by a third unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty — thisne on five-year veteran Kenny Vaccaro.
As for Dennis Allen’s defense, after the feeling out of the first two possessions, the Vikings looked like they figured out the Saints as they moved lickety split down the field for a touchdown and were virtually unstoppable the rest of the way.
OK. Now for the positives.
Will Lutz made those four field goals in four tries and there were no issues with 11th-hour signee Zach Wood as the long snapper. Also, Thomas Morstead punted like Thomas Morstead, which is always good.
When your list of positive starts with a kicker and a punter, it probably wasn’t a good game. And this was a bad game from a team that lost its eighthconsecutive game in September. Bad starts and losing records have gone hand in hand the last three seasons.
It’s also worth noting that tight end Coby Fleener played well after getting off to a slow start in his first season in New Orleans last year. The offense could use a big season from him.
The biggest storyline heading into the game was the return of running back Adrian Peterson to Minnesota, where he spent 10 years crafting a Hall of Fame resume. Peterson was a non factor. The Saints could have run Peterson more, or perhaps used him as a decoy more, but neither would have made a difference in this one-sided game.
It’s only one game, but it’s a game that gave absolutely no indication that New Orleans will be any better this season than it has been the last three seasons,
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…