“Who Are Those Guys?”
3 Posted on September 17th, 2013 by Himself
We wait all preseason to find out what kind of team we'll have. Now, two games into the regular season, it looks like we're getting 2010 all over again. Have we seen enough to know?
After two games, two wins, one satisfying, the other excruciating, Saints fans everywhere are wondering what to make of this team. Are they really as good as they look? Are they really as bad as they look? And have the “real” Saints even shown up yet?
Over at Canal Street Chronicles (and Saints Nation and Podbean and Podbay and God, wherever else), Dave Cariello, Andrew Juge, Ralph Malbrough and Kevin Held touched on this issue in their podcast: how long will it be before we’ve seen the “real” Saints, the ones who will stick around through the season? The consensus seemed to be around four games: let them settle into things first, work the kinks out, find their rhythm, etc. It’s a tempting prospect, because it assumes that the team will get better.
And it may be true. It may even be generally true for most sports teams. But has it been historically true for the Saints under Sean Payton?
Think about it: in 2007, the Saints stumbled out of the gate totally discombobulated; and though they improved enough to get to 7-9, they never really gelled. The same thing, for different reasons, happened in 2012, resulting in the same record. In both seasons, but only in hindsight, it was obvious that the team we saw on opening day was pretty much the team we’d see all year.
In 2009, they roared out of the gate. They looked like champions from the very first game; and from the very first game they displayed the characteristics they continued to show throughout the season: a strong running game, a devastating aerial attack, and a porous but opportunistic defense. They went 13-3 and won a ring. In 2011, they looked much the same, even though they opened with a loss (to the Super Bowl champion Packers). They went 13-3 again, and would have won another championship if Jimmy Graham had run around for forty more seconds before scoring. Again, in hindsight, we can see that the way they ended the season was almost perfectly foreshadowed by the way they began it.
In 2010, they came out of the gate just a little off. Their defense actually looked better—and, statistically, it was much improved. Their offense, though, seemed lethargic, off kilter, as though it were a 12-cylinder engine hitting on 11. And 11 was the number of wins they managed to pull out, before falling to pieces on the road in the playoffs. They began the year as though their hearts weren’t entirely in it; they ended the year phoning in a defeat.
In each of those years there were highs and lows: even in the lost season of 2012, there was the epic beatdown of the invincible Falcons, while in 2011 there was the pratfall in St. Louis. That means nothing: there are always ups and downs; what matters is the mean level of the team’s performance. And it would seem, looking back, that the Saints telegraph right from the start what kind of mean performance level they’re going to have, what kind of team they’re going to be. If you want to compare, I’d have to say this year’s team looks more like 2010 than like any other team of the Payton era. In case anyone’s forgotten, our defense finished with a higher rank than our offense that year: 4th, as opposed to 6th. Right now, we’re ranked 11th and 9th, and I’m not sure which is more surprising.
So how will this end? As of right now, I’m favoring the 2010 model: we lose to good teams like the 49ers and Seahawks, drop a few inexplicable stinkbombs, wind up 11-5 division winners, and collapse in the playoffs. That’s not what I want to believe, by a wide margin.
But that’s what this team looks like. As of now. And I’m afraid that any other view—even “wait and see”—is, in the last analysis, wishful thinking. We’ve had the entire preseason, and two regular season games to get to know these Saints. We have the history of Sean Payton’s tenure to look back on. And I can’t come up with any argument why the jury ought to be still out. Hell, if that’s how you feel, how about we wait until December?
Of course, the games still have to be played, and almost anything can happen. Maybe Mark Ingram catches fire, who knows? Right now, though, I’m glad of one thing at least: we don’t play Jacksonville this year.