Saints face critical decisions heading into ‘15

In what has to be the most disappointing year in the Sean Payton era, the New Orleans Saints were knocked out of playoff contention with a 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Many of us took the off-season bait and thought this team was the most talented squad the Saints had ever had – but that was on paper, not what showed up and presented itself on the field.

It is obvious that this team has several weak spots. The Saints are in desperate need of a starting cornerback, a starting offensive center, a top pass rusher at outside linebacker, a king-sized target at wide receiver and a young offensive guard.

There is hope in 2015 that veteran free safety Jairus Byrd, who the Saints made the highest paid safety in the history of the NFL, will help out the secondary woes. Speedy No. 1 pick Brandon Cooks could also develop into a “big-play threat” at wide receiver, but there is a lot of work to be done in the offseason for the Saints to return to the playoffs in the near future.

“Father Time” has come for some players along the Saints offensive line, and the team needs to make critical decisions on personnel on a defensive line filled with young players that were disappointments this season.

The loss to the Falcons pointed out each and every feature of what went wrong this season. The 6-9 Saints played respectable football on defense for three quarters and got a huge lift early with a 99-yard kickoff return by Jalen Saunders, but what was once a vaunted Saints passing attack has crumbled by losing the battle in the trenches.

Yes, Drew Brees will turn 36 years old, but he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today. It is the issues that surround him that need to be fixed. Can those issues be fixed fast enough take advantage of Brees’ unique skills before “Father Time” chimes for him also?

On offense, the Saints are losing the battle upfront along the offensive line, especially right up the middle at center and guard. The Falcons were dead last in the NFL in quarterback sacks and the Saints offensive line gave up five sacks Sunday.

Brees is constantly feeling “funnel” pressure and he cannot step up in the pocket and make the correct throw downfield. Other than Kenny Stills, every receiver is having difficulty getting open downfield or hanging on to the football.

On defense, the Saints cannot generate a pass rush without blitzing. Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins did not push the “pressure” button most of the season and only Junior Galette, who teams consistently ran right at, has gotten any sort of edge or inside pressure.

The Saints missed big in the free agency part of the game by whiffing on outside linebacker Victor Butler and veteran cornerback Champ Bailey in back-to-back offseasons.

Second-round pick Stanley Jean Baptiste is a project football player still learning the cornerback position.This team lacks talent in certain areas, but even more concerning is that some players showed unprofessional traits on and off the field. There was a noticeable drop-off in leadership and there was a lack of focus and attention to the smallest details.

And yes, the coaching from the Saints staff was not as crisp as in past years. Young players also didn’t develop quickly in certain spots.

Plenty of big name performers we have grown to associate with the Saints will not be here in 2015. It is the reality of the NFL.

But what hurts the most was that our high expectations came quickly tumbling down.


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