14 Posted on November 6th, 2013 by Himself
Nine weeks ago, Sean Payton was going to be the Saints' savior. Today, he's the reason the season is falling apart before our eyes. How the hell did that happen?
Or did it?
Okay, so Sean Payton called a lousy game against the Jets. I get it: there was no commitment to a running game that was actually working when they gave it a try; the passing game was getting Drew Brees beaten to a pulp; and the single worst play call since 2008 wrecked the Saints’ chances late. The team, individually and in the aggregate, must shoulder a lot of the blame for inferior play; but Payton called a mangy dog of a game. In fact, maybe a mangy dog could have done better. We’ll never know.
But Sean Payton is still Sean Payton: the best goddamned playcaller in the entire NF of L. When he’s on, the other guys are a dead team walking. I mean…that’s true, isn’t it?
Right now, a lot of people are wondering what the hell is wrong with the Saints. Well, they’re 6-2, lead the NFC South, hold the #2 playoff seed (so far), and have a defense sufficiently improved to be considered a certified miracle. So I’m not really sure even what the question means, unless it means: what could be improved? Every team has weaknesses, the Saints included. But I’m not yet buying into the idea that Sean Payton is one of them.
That opinion isn’t unanimous by any means.
There is a groundswell of discontent surrounding the Saints’ offensive imbalance that is finally beginning to register on the Richter scale. But perhaps the most focused criticism so far has come from Murf Baldwin at Bleacher Report. Murf agrees with a lot of people (such as Myself) that the Saints need to run the ball more; but he takes it farther than that. The Saints, he says, are falling behind the times, and it’s all because of their coach.
The days of the pass-centric offense are coming to an end. Philadelphia (first), Seattle (second), San Francisco (fourth) and Washington (sixth) are all in the top 10 in rushing. While only San Francisco (20th) sits outside of the top 10 in total offense.
I know what you’re thinking, and we’ve all thought the same thing at one point or another. Why would New Orleans not center its attack on its great QB?
The answer is simple…because that style is no longer conducive to championship football.
In other words: the game has passed Payton by. You can’t win anymore by having the world’s greatest passing game; in fact, that’s only a one-way ticket out of the playoffs. In the modern NFL, you must run the ball to win—and the Saints won’t run for one reason and one alone: Sean Payton doesn’t want to.
“To put it simply,” says Murf, “it’s Payton’s ego that is holding the Saints back.”
Really? I mean, I know 2013 was supposed to be the Sean Payton Revenge Tour, but isn’t it a little harsh to say that Payton’s ego alone is responsible for the Saints’ offensive failures? (And I use “failure” in a very relative way.) It’s obvious that the running game—the same ground attack that Payton, before the season, said was going to be a priority—isn’t working as it should. But mightn’t the fault lie elsewhere than Payton’s ego? Like, maybe, an offensive line that is no longer dominant? Running backs who aren’t getting the job done? Or even an honest conviction that passing the ball is likely to work better given the circumstances?
Is Sean Payton just football’s version of David Simon?
That’s because “anything I’ve ever accomplished as a writer, as somebody doing TV, anything I’ve ever done in life, down to, like, cleaning up my room, has been accomplished because I was going to show people that they were [bleeped] up, wrong, and that I was the [bleeping] center of the universe and the sooner they got hip to that, the happier they would all be.”
Well, here’s an idea: let’s try looking at some recent history. Last year, for instance, when the San Francisco 49ers, the league’s 4th-ranked rushing offense, met the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, outrushed them 182 yards to 93, and lost. (Baltimore’s touchdowns came through the air and in the return game.) Or the fact that the past ten Super Bowl champions have averaged a thoroughly pedestrian 16th rank in rushing. (One of them, the 2011 Giants—and that’s pretty recent—ranked 32nd.) Or how about this: of the teams named by Murf above, how many of them have recently won championships? I believe—and this is just me talking, now—I believe the answer is: none of them.
So where’s the evidence that the league has turned around, that the pass is passé, that running the ball is now the ticket to success that it was in Larry Csonka’s heyday…and that Sean Payton has suddenly become some sort of dinosaur, to mix somewhat my metaphors? I’m sorry…I just don’t see it.
Now, a lot of what Murf says makes sense: like, the Saints need to man up and get more physical. But I fail to see how any alleged softness on the part of either the offense or defense is caused by Sean Payton’s egomaniacal insistence on flinging the ball. Offensive linemen, for instance, are reputed to love run blocking: it allows them to attack, rather than scooting backward and getting pummeled by pass rushers. You’d think that when Payton gives them the rare chance to take revenge on their tormentors, they’d make the most of it, wouldn’t you? And when they don’t wouldn’t it be fair to come to the conclusion that this offensive season’s offensive line is simply not up to the level of previous years, rather than blame their failure on the coach’s attitude problem? Well, I would. In fact, I’d say without hesitation that this is the worst offensive line Sean Payton has ever had. That may be his own fault; but I feel more comfortable leaving it up to him to find a solution to it.
So long, that is, as the solution includes more running.
So, no: I’m not convinced that the Saints are tottering, soon to come crashing to the ground and be covered by the lone and level sands. We still, in the parlance of the times, control our own destiny, an enviable position that every team in the NFL aspires to at the season’s midpoint. There is still not a single team in the NFC that is head and shoulders above New Orleans, provided the Saints play up to their capabilities. And run the ball more. I’m pretty sure Sean Payton knows this, and I feel confident he’ll balance out the offense before season’s end.
If he does, I’m a prophet. If he doesn’t…what the hell, pay no attention, I’m just a blogger. That’s the beauty of this gig.