Same shit, different season. The worst part was how fast the Saints reverted to their ennuied norm. With 5:26 left in the second quarter, their latest new defense had allowed 77 total yards and a field goal; between that point and the end of the first half, it allowed 169 yards and two touchdowns, and the ongoing end rolled on.
No, you know what? I call bullshit. Sean Payton, said his buddy Jon Gruden early during the broadcast, thought his offensive line would shove the Vikings’ talented defensive front around. That’s bullshit, even if Andrus Peat and Larry Warford were worthy of my mentioning them in this sentence with Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, which they are not.
During opening week, Payton’s Saints ran the ball, in one-score situations, a higher percentage of the time than all but two other teams. Presumably, this approach was a result of Payton’s belief in the superiority of his offensive line. No one can coach around a weak offensive line better than Payton, but against Minnesota Payton coached right into one. That’s bullshit.
Dennis Allen and Sean Payton put several cornerbacks on the field, kept the ever-lauded but curiously absent three safety look off it, and expected Sam Bradford to do what Sam Bradford does: throw accurately underneath to receivers who can be quickly tackled. For a quarter and two-thirds, this worked. Bradford cooperated, and he threw underneath, and the Saints, tackling well, brought down his receivers. But then Bradford stopped cooperating, and threw downfield, particularly in the direction of De’Vante Harris, whose presence on the gameday roster is bullshit. Allen and Payton, confused, blitzed everyone in a way that would make Gregg Williams proud, and Bradford kept throwing downfield, and kept connecting, and had his best game ever.
Sean Payton’s biggest flaw these past few years — aside from his career-destroying allergy to defense — has been the sense he’s coasting through an easy gig, looking for a good time. “Coach Chesney,” a friend of mine calls him. How many times over the years has Payton rolled out an uninspired, color-by-numbers gameplan?
That wasn’t what he did in Minnesota. There, he set down a toy he’d wound up months ago, maybe as far back as the day he signed Adrian Peterson (a bullshit move to acquire a washed-up player for a role better filled by the likes of Mike Bell or Tim Hightower). To kick off his 2017 return to glory, Payton would pulverize a more physical football team, using its own franchise legend against it to pick up an emotional edge and drive its coaches to distraction. Then, with the Vikings fixated on Peterson, he would strike — see the sad moment Payton tried to deploy him as a decoy, while, from a diamond backfield, he had Alvin Kamara sneak into the flat. Minnesota ignored the now-plodding Peterson, of course, and swarmed Kamara as the ball reached him. The Vikings had no time for cleverness and sentimentality. They were too busy winning.
“I don’t know where to begin,” Payton said after the game. Well, no, of course not. The smartest guy in the room had just seen his best-laid plans trashed. It’s more than that, too. Payton had completely misread the composition of his football team, most notably by mistaking a shoddy offensive line for a powerful one. No, he will not be overpowering defensive lines and imposing his will through sheer physical force, even when the opponent doesn’t have as good a line as Minnesota’s. That he thought so, and told Gruden as much, is — well, I’m repeating myself.
But Payton’s no idiot, either, even now, this far into the end. Good X&O people have identified much of what happened against Minnesota as stuff that can be fixed. Maybe. We’ve been here before, so probably not. But I’m confident about this: The Saints’ opening night was bullshit, in the frustrated, pejorative sense of the word but also in the full-of-shit sense of it.
Don’t trust these Saints. That’s the certainty I woke up with today: We can’t trust these Saints. Sean Payton has suddenly decided to run, in neutral playcalling situations, more than all but two other teams — and behind a bad offensive line — crippling his offense? No. Bullshit.
The defense will be that bad all the time again? Well, probably. But somehow, watch that be sort of, sometimes, bullshit too.
Just don’t trust these Saints. I’m telling you right now: They won’t do what they’re supposed to.
Even when what they’re supposed to do is suck.