4 Posted on December 4th, 2013 by Himself
The Saints couldn't run. They couldn't pass. They couldn't blitz. All they could do well is punt. The following men will remain in the room: Carmichael, Ryan, Brees, and Lofton...
Wow. Just, wow. We can feel ourselves privileged to have been witnesses to history. Seriously, Monday night’s game was like something on the History Channel—you can imagine the grainy film, the stop-action enlargement on the critical frame, the portentous narration: “But right tackle Zach Strief let Cliff Avril slip past him, and Avril stripped the ball from the outstretched hand of quarterback Drew Brees. It was caught in mid-air by Michael Bennett, and returned 22 yards for a Seattle touchdown. At 6:27 in the first quarter, the game was essentially over.”
[Cut to: refugees clogging the roads, children crying without food, old men with their feet wrapped in rags, a plane stranded at the airport…]
The Saints’ loss to the Seahawks was so one-sided, so crushing a defeat, it seemed there must be shell craters on the New Orleans sideline. It wouldn’t have surprised me to hear that Sean Payton had shot himself to avoid capture. But even so, it left behind unanswered questions: were the 2013 Saints nothing but a mirage? Or are the Seahawks really this good?
I’m not going to presume to break down plays or assign grades. (Except one: F.) All I can do is note my own impressions, chief of which is this: Seattle is really, really fucking good. But at this point, I really don’t know how good the Saints are, because Monday night—even though the weather wasn’t as bad as it was feared it might be—represented a sort of perfect storm: the Seahawks’ best game of the year, and the Saints’ worst of the Sean Payton era. If they had played three weeks ago, when Brees and the offense were primed to explode, would they have done so against the Seahawks just as they did against the Cowboys? Or would Seattle have put them in a camel clutch for 60 minutes?
I ask myself this, and the honest impression I get is: Sean Payton’s act is wearing thin. In 2009, it was revolutionary. In 2011, it was running at peak efficiency. In 2013, everyone knows what’s coming. Jon Gruden, who knows Payton as well as anybody, predicted a Pierre Thomas screen pass moments before it actually happened. The Seahawks defense also predicted it, and snuffed it out in a hurry. Here’s the thing: I knew it was coming, too. So, I think, did half of America. It works well against lesser teams. Against potential champions? Not so much.
And if that’s the case, what we witnessed was a systemic failure. No amount of adjusting would have helped. Payton’s offense is predicated upon creating mismatches and taking advantage of them, or creating confusion by flooding zones with too many receivers. It’s a classic strategy: even when outnumbered, if you can create a local superiority of numbers you can break through the enemy’s lines and roll up his flank. It’s what the Wehrmacht used over and over again in order to prolong the inevitable, and it works in football, too.
The wife asked me, if we meet these guys again, will Payton be ready for them? And I wonder: how? Brees didn’t play badly, not really; neither did the receivers. They were simply never open. Despite giving up a sack/fumble for a Seahawks score, the offensive line protected adequately. Yes, Brees was pressured the whole game, but still he had time to throw. The problem was, he had no one to throw to. The Seahawks barricaded the running game, and smothered the pass. Creating mismatches does nothing to correct either of those circumstances, just as ordering an attack with non-existent units does little to slow down Soviet tanks.
What the Saints need to do, and are ill-equipped or trained to do, is man up and win every individual battle on the field. That’s what the Seahawks did. This was old-fashioned, smashmouth football, if you can imagine football being played by a threshing machine. (An incredibly lucky threshing machine…but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. The Saints were incredibly lucky in 2009.) The Saints didn’t lose because they can’t win on the road, can’t win in bad weather, can’t win on grass (the Seahawks’ stadium uses FieldTurf). They lost because they can’t consistently win playing smashmouth against a team that specializes in smashmouth. That bodes ill for two coming contests against Carolina.
On the other hand, they have the perfect training regimen already set up: survive the Panthers, the Rams, and the Bucs, win all those games, and do so by physically outmanning them, and there’s a chance they might be able to stand toe to toe with the Seahawks in January.
Oh well. It was fun while it lasted…and hey, it’s not over yet. There’s still hope. Maybe Steiner’s assault will bring it under control.