Devoted and passionate fans of the New Orleans Saints remain very concerned at the moment, regarding the team’s disappointing overall performance in their first 2 games to begin the current 2018 NFL Regular Season; which still has an entire 14 games left remaining that have yet to be played.
The (1-1) Saints have looked nothing like “themselves”, and are fortunate not to be sitting at (0-2) for a 5th straight season after escaping with a narrow 21-18 win over the Cleveland Browns this past Sunday. That win came on the heels of their previous week’s disappointing effort; which saw them lose to division rival Tampa Bay by a score of 48-40.
With a defense that still appears to be a bit shaky at times and a brutal schedule ahead in the upcoming weeks that includes games against some of the League’s elite “powerhouse” teams, some Saints fans are very uncomfortable about the position that the team finds itself in.
However, myself and a few other folks here at Big Easy Magazine believe that Saints fans have at least 5 good reasons why they can be optimistic about the remainder of the 2018 season, and the how the Saints can overcome their disappointing early-season performance in the 14 games that remain.
With that in mind, this morning we present 5 Reasons Why Saints Fans Can Be Optimistic About Remaining 14 Games of the Season.
Starting at #5 and working our way down to #1 with……
#5. THE RETURN OF MARK INGRAM
As you already know if you’re a Saints fan, #1 RB Mark Ingram is now half-way through with serving a 4-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, a penalty imposed on him by the League back in early May. During his suspension, which began September 1st, Ingram is not permitted to train or even visit the team facilities. It goes without saying how much the Saints miss Ingram on the field because of his fire and passion that he brings to the offense with every run, and he’s missed even more so in the locker room as one of the designated team leaders.
With Ingram suspended, the Saints were forced to compensate for his absence by increasing the workload of #2 RB and reigning 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara, but the team wanted to avoid overworking the versatile back. Kamara has been sensational (141 yards from scrimmage and 3 TD’s in Week #1; 99 yards from scrimmage and a 2-point conversion in Week #2) so far as the starter, but the coaches had hoped that back-up Mike Gillislee, whom the team signed after the Patriots released him on cut-down day, would capably fill Ingram’s role as a “power” runner.
Unfortunately, Gillislee hasn’t proven to be up to the task (3 carries for 9 yards and a lost fumble that the Buccaneers returned for a TD in Week #1; and 8 carries for only 18 yards in Week #2), and his total of 11 carries for 30 rushing yards just isn’t getting the job done. As of right now: the Saints are the NFL’s worst team running the football, averaging 52.5 rushing yards a game — which currently ranks them 32nd overall in the League.
Ingram is due to return to the Saints’ active roster on Monday, October 1st following the team’s September 30th game against the New York Giants. His return will no doubt allow New Orleans to manage the clock, convert third downs and most importantly: help re-establish the “rhythm” of the Saints offensive attack, beginning with the Week #5 contest against the Washington Redskins at the Superdome on October 8th.
#4. A ROSTER STILL “LOADED” WITH PLENTY OF YOUNG TALENT
Last season, the Saints managed to came away with what some long-time NFL Draft experts consider to be THE MOST TALENTED rookie draft class in the NFL’s entire 99-year history, a group that included both of the reigning Rookies of the Year, cornerback Marshon Lattimore on defense and running back Alvin Kamara on offense.
Besides those two, the team also selected safety Marcus Williams, linebacker Alex Anzalone, and tackle Ryan Ramczyk; all of whom also emerged as serious contributors. Throw in promising defensive end Trey Hendrickson, and the Saints Draft Class of 2017 very likely will continue to impact this franchise time and time again for possibly an entire decade or more.
That was already on top of the previous year before with the Saints 2016 NFL Draft Class; which yielded current starters / players Michael Thomas, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and Vonn Bell. Bottom line: this Saints team is still very young, and their youth is a big reason why this team seems to lack the seriousness of their situation, at times.
Nevertheless: outside of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings, you could make a strong argument that the Saints roster talent-wise is one of the League’s very best assembled group / collection of young talent in the entire NFL. Despite their rough start to the season, I believe that the “cream always rises to the top” — and it’s one of the reasons why Saints fans can be optimistic about the remainder of the 2018 NFL Regular Season.
#3. ONE OF THE VERY BEST COACH / PLAY-CALLERS IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE
Coming into this season, Saints head coach Sean Payton has been praised after he turned the Saints around last year from three straight (7-9) campaigns, to finish with an (11-5) record, an NFC South Division Championship, and just narrowly missed out on advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
Despite the rough start to this season, Payton remains one of football’s most feared and dangerous play callers among opposing defensive coaching staffs. His foresight last season to start utilizing the RB duo of Kamara and Ingram in the manner that he did, showed everyone exactly why opposing defenses still fear him. Obviously having a QB like Drew Brees running the whole show doesn’t hurt, but Payton deserves plenty of credit for his quarterback’s success.
Only a handful of coaches consistently make a difference on game day — and Payton is one of those guys. Very much in the same fashion as those legendary “riverboat gamblers” of the 1800’s a few centuries ago, or even the “card sharks” that you’ll find in the modern era at the casinos in Las Vegas, Payton still isn’t afraid to take chances that no one else would even DREAM about taking.
Going for it on 4th down and 5, with the ball at his own 45-yard line and his team trailing by 1 point. A “double reverse” while backed up near his own goal line. And who could ever forget: the onside kick to open up the 2nd half of Super Bowl XLIV, against the Indianapolis Colts.
The bottom line simply is that Sean Payton still remains as one of the more highly-regarded coaches in the NFL, and his staff that includes well-respected long-time NFL assistants such as LB coach Mike Nolan and Special Teams coordinator Mike Westhoff to just name a few, make Payton even more dangerous than ever before.
Payton certainly is getting some heat from more than a few Saints fans for the team’s rough start to this season, but it would be foolish to make any assumptions with a whole 14 games in the season still left to play that the man guiding this franchise can’t or won’t get these first 2 week of the season “cleaned up”. I believe that Payton will get a handle on the Saints’ current issues at the moment, and then will get back to what he does best: attacking defenses.
#2. DREW BREES
If you’re reading this as a Saints fan right now, they you ALREADY KNEW that this one was coming. The hair is definitely getting a little bit thinner up top, but the signs of any “slowing down” cannot be found anywhere in the person of one Andrew Christopher “Drew” Brees who turns 40 next January but still has the energy of one of his four elementary school-age kids at home (probably because he doesn’t have a choice).
When describing what Brees has done for the last 12 years since arriving in New Orleans from the San Diego Chargers via Free Agency in the 2006 off-season, their are a few adjectives that can be used such as “great”, “superb”, and “phenomenal”, to name only a few.
But somehow, using the term “G.O.A.T.” just seems so much more appropriate. That’s an acronym for “the greatest of all time”, for those of you older folks who still weren’t up to speed on what it actually meant all of this time (younger folks are always quick to come up with catchy stuff like that).
Despite his age and the thinning hair-line, Brees still remains as one the NFL’s best QB’s, period. Now in his 12th season as the Saints starting QB, Brees’ accomplishments read like an encyclopedia of accomplishments.
Here’s just a few of the most impressive:
- Super Bowl XLIV MVP (won title)
- Five 5,000 yard seasons.
- Eleven straight 4,000 yard seasons and nine straight seasons with over 30 passing touchdowns, both NFL records
- First QB in league history to throw 40 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons
- Broke Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54 consecutive games)
- Fastest quarterback to reach 40,000, 50,000, and 60,000 career yards passing
- NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage (66.64%)
- 128 wins overall (101 regular season and 6 Playoff wins with New Orleans)
- 452 touchdown passes
- 63,894 career passing yards (15 NFL seasons)
- Currently ranks 3rd in career passing yards, pass completions, pass attempts, and touchdown passes behind Brett Favre and Peyton Manning
And considering the phenomenal amount of effort that Brees puts into staying at the very peak of physical conditioning, there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t actually play well into his early 40’s (42? 43, even?) if he wants to. That certainly would serve to silence the false narrative put forth by those detractors outside of New Orleans, who always try to portray him as a “declining QB” physically.
Last season, Brees led the league in completion percentage and topped the NFL with 72 passes of 20-plus yards — second only to Patriots QB Tom Brady with 62. But Brees’ motivation for playing still even up to this point, is simple: he wants to win another Super Bowl before he retires. Hopefully if the Saints as a team can shake off the effects of this rough start to the season, he will get his wish come early February.
#1. THEY’VE ALREADY BEEN HERE ONCE BEFORE
Last but certainly not the least: Saints fans sure do have VERY SHORT memories. I say that not to be mean or to come across as a jerk (some folks have a much different term to describe me at times), but simply to be brutally honest and to remind Saints fans everywhere that this team has already found themselves here once before.
As a matter of fact, it was just right at a year ago that the Saints found themselves in an (0-2) hole and had just been beaten in successive weeks after playing poorly in their first 2 games in losses to the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots. Saints fans were understandably upset, as the team appeared certain to be headed for a 4th consecutive losing season after the past 3 years of consecutive 7-9 finishes; which had seen the team miss the NFL Playoffs every year since 2013.
But sometimes in life, things have a funny way of changing unexpectedly and completely without warning. The Saints then proceeded to go on an 8-game winning streak, won the NFC South Division Championship, and just barely missed out on making it to the NFC Championship Game. And as a direct result from those accomplishments, the Saints came into this current 2018 NFL season as a popular choice among some experts and analysts that cover the League every day, as a definite Super Bowl contender for Super Bowl LIII (53) in early February.
Let’s be perfectly clear: yes, the manner in which the Saints have began this season in their two performances against the Buccaners and Browns were and are a cause for legitimate concern, and you’d be a complete fool to simply “blow it off” as no big deal. The Saints have looked nothing like the team that we saw at the end of last season. However, the assumption among some Saints fans this morning that the team has regressed or is returning back to their losing ways during those previous (7-9) seasons from 2014 through 2016, are just off-base at this point.
Remember: it was a year ago at this time when the Saints went on the road and beat up the Carolina Panthers in their own stadium at Bank of America Stadium at Charlotte, North Carolina with a dominant 34-13 win. It was a win that sent New Orleans into a whole different direction, the same direction that they find themselves looking for once again to begin this season.
In other words: they’ve already been here once before — and it’s that experience which hopefully can benefit them once again during another “sluggish start’ to this year as well. And perhaps it’s the biggest reason to be optimistic about the (1-1) Saints, for the 14 remaining games of the 2018 Regular Season….
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his detailed story on the how the Saints and their fans are tackling the controversial NFL-National Anthem issue, featuring his interview with Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans as well as a piece we released today on a controversial movie filmed in New Orleans!