Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First Quarter Review: Disappointing Success

Is there such a thing as a bad 3-1 start in the NFL?

After all, the New Orleans Saints have the same record as three other teams at the top of their conference.

The organization has started the first quarter of a season with at least 3 wins on nine other occasions in the 43 years they’ve taken the field.

Yet in those nine quick start seasons, they made the playoffs only three times.

Or put another way, the Saints have had trouble “finishing strong” for most of its history.

And though the Black and Gold has the same record as the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints are staring at red and black tail feathers as the Dirty Birds have temporary ownership of the tiebreaker.

While panning for nuggets of good news, it should be noted that the Saints have managed to win the close ones, the same contests that bedeviled head coach Sean Payton’s squad in the 2008 season.

Unfortunately, they’ve all be close games. Luck has had as much to do with the team’s relative success as their offense, which went from being the league’s most prolific to being as potent as a 90 year old patron of the Chicken Ranch.

The Saints have not beaten the spread in 2010 with their largest margin of victory coming in the NFL kickoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, which was decided by 5 points thanks to kicker Garrett Hartley.

In points scored/allowed, the Saints are a net +7 in which Drew Brees’s offense has scored fewer points than the winless Detroit Lions. The team’s ground game is lacking as well, standing at 30th in rushing yards- in glaring contrast to last season where the team hovered in the neighborhood of the top five in running.

The offense has been bailed out thus far by their stretched-thin defense. The defense has been somewhat stingy in the first four games ranking 13th in points allowed per game (18) and 11th in defending the pass. However, the team continues to struggle against opposing team running backs as the Saints defense has given up an average of 138 per game, ranking them 26th in the NFL.

Those kind of numbers are only going to further encourage opponents to keep the ball on the ground and out of the grasp of the Saints’ ball-thieving secondary.

After a relatively rough start, the Saints will have ample opportunity to finally get the kinks out. The team’s first quarter is amongst the toughest on their schedule until the final quarter; their second quarter is the softest.

Fumbles, dropped passes, missed field goals and subpar pass protection and run blocking need to be addressed and fixed during the second quarter, where the Saints take on the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns before hosting their toughest opponent of the period, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Halloween night.

They say offense wins games and defense wins championships.

Add to that saying, luck wins a wild card berth.

If the defending champions don’t improve their play, the Saints better pack their long johns if they some how make it to the post-season, because they won’t be playing in the rowdy confines of the Louisiana Superdome.

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