Should the Saints and their fans hit the panic button?
Why They Should Panic 1) Rush Defense - The Saints have become very average defensively against the run in the last several weeks. Much of that was pointed to the abscence of run-stopping DT Sedrick Ellis. But even since his return, the Saints still have had difficulty stopping the run. To be a contender, you must have a good running game and be able to stop the run. Lately, the Saints have had difficulty doing both, which brings me to...
2) Rushing Offense - At one point during the season, the Saints ranked in the top five in rushing, averaging nearly 150 yards a game on the ground with the three headed monster of Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush. The Saints haven't been able to get the ground going in the last few weeks, leading to the offense having a 2008 Season state of mind. Their inability to run the football last season cost them at least three games, due to the fact that they could not close out wins. And when you can't close out wins, they quickly turn into losses.
3) Lack of Depth Defensively - Winning covers up a lot of things, like the fact that the Saints have been decimated by injuries. They've had injuries on offense (leading receiver from 2008 Lance Moore has been out most of the season), but the injuries really really took their toll on the defense, particularly the back seven. This causedthem to bring in Chris McAlister, who was out of football, and bring back Mike McKenzie, who was also out of football. At one point, they were without three-fourths of their starting secondary and without their nickel & dime backs. The schemes of Gregg Williams covered up a lot of that, but schemes can only do so much. Backup CB Randall Gay has been inconsistent this season, and Malcom Jenkins is constantly out of position. He was great on special teams early in the year, and his play in recent weeks indicate he should have stayed there. Injuries in the secondary could be detrimental to the teams playoff run.
4) Play Calling - Payton has been quite creative when it comes to play calling, often thinking outside the box (note Payton starting the game against Tampa Bay off with a reverse).When you're facing a team that is ranked 30th against the rush, there is no logical reason for your quarterback to attempt 35+ passes.
5) Playing for four quarters: They've started fast and finished slow. They've started slow and finished fast. They need to start fast and finish fast. Simple and plain.
Why They Shouldn't Panic
1) Number 9: When he can get the time he needs, Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in football. It's difficult to count a team out as long as this guy can stay upright.
2) Key players are getting healthy: Tracy Porter has returned from injury. Jabari Greer, Jeremy Shockey, and Scott Shanle should be ready for the playoffs.
3) Motivation: Many people are calling the Saints fraudulent contenders. They should be more motivated than ever to answer the bell.
4) Coaching: When Sean Payton is himself, he is one of the best offensive minds in football. Pairing him up with Gregg Williams was an excellent combination. They have the ability to get the most out of their players and put them in position to succeed. The players have to actually execute, but the table is set for them.
5) Fanbase: I know some may not think it counts for much, but the fans have continued to support this team, even when they did things like draft a kicker 11th overall, or trade their entire draft for one player (the Washington Redskins approve), or trade up in the draft to select a defensive tackle who couldn't tackle (so would that make him a "defensive"?). Even though some of the bandwagon fans have jumped off (some of them I pushed off), the true Who Dat Nation members have continued to support this team this year, even though they've laid consecutive eggs. Given all this fanbase has gone through, from natural disasters to front office and coaching disasters, the current Saints don't want to disappoint their fanbase. It may seem silly, but I believe it makes a difference
Conclusion: would hate to see this wonderful start to the regular season translate into playoff failure. I'm not ready to push the panic button, but I am standing near it. Thoughts?