After two games, are the Saints done?

Since 2007, less than 10% of 0-2 teams have made the playoffs

            “Playoffs? You’re talking about playoffs?”

            So went former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora’s famous high-pitched tirade in an after-game press conference when asked about his thoughts on his team making the postseason.

            And, we’re talking about playoff chances for the Saints, who are winless after two games. Is it already time to write off the 2016 as a loss?

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            The odds say there is a greater than 90 percent chance that teams that start 0-2 do not advance. According to oddsshark.com, since 2007, only seven of the 75 teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs. That’s only a 9.3% success rate.

            The Saints’ Super Bowl winning season was seven years ago. Now the Saints are trying to avoid a 7-9 record for their third straight year and fourth out of the last five seasons.

            Still being licked by the flames of salary cap hell, the Saints weren’t expected to compete with the NFL’s elite teams this year. But through two games, they’ve faced mediocre teams in the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants.

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            While the defense had a fourth quarter meltdown that cost the game against the Raiders, they were stout against the Giants’ Eli Manning-led offense. Conversely, the offense was sharp against the Raiders, but failed against the Giants.

            Most consider the Giants game a hiccup, and, as long as the offensive line plays well, expect the Drew Brees-led attack to return to its consistent place among the NFL’s best.

            If there is any hope for a season turnaround, it is in the jump the defense made against the Giants. The Saints D didn’t give up an offensive touchdown to New York, even with the distraction of cornerback P.J. Williams’ losing consciousness, being strapped to a board and carted off of the field.

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            If defensive coordinator Dennis Allen can turn this team around, it will be one of the all-time great coaching stories in league history. This season has seen the dismissal of cornerback Keenan Lewis, who many considered the second best player on the roster behind Brees, and the diminished role of Stephone Anthony, who led the team in tackles as a rookie last season.

            After trading up to get a second selection in the first round, the Saints made Anthony the 31st overall pick in the 2015 Draft. He started all 16 games as the Saints’ middle linebacker last year, and recorded 112 tackles, a sack, an interception, two forced fumbles and five passes defended. But so far, Anthony has had minimal impact on the Saints D in 2016. In the first two games, Anthony has been on the field for 17 plays, 13 against the Raiders and four against the Giants.

            Now some are questioning his place on the team, as word is the Saints don’t like Anthony’s pass coverage skills.

            This offseason, the Saints signed veteran James Laurinaitis to play middle linebacker. Anthony was moved to strong side outside linebacker, a position where he was expected to see reduced playing time, as on obvious pass plays, a third cornerback or safety replaces the strong-side linebacker. The Raiders and, especially, the Giants played most of their snaps with three receivers, one tight end and one running back, requiring the nickel D. In New York, Laurinaitis and weak-side linebacker Craig Robertson played all 79 of the defensive snaps.

            Still, when the base defense with three linebackers has been on the field, special teams captain Michael Mauti has played 10 more snaps at SLB than Anthony. Mauti had 21 snaps against Oakland and six against New York compared to Anthony’s 13 against the Raiders and four against the Giants.

            It may be that the leg injury Anthony picked up in the preseason hasn’t fully healed. That would clearly account for his slide from seven tackles after two games last year to having just one so far in 2016.

            More worrying is the idea that Anthony doesn’t have the skillsets needed to compete in the NFL. Bad drafts have plagued this team and robbed it of talent for several years. The 2015 Class, featuring offensive lineman Andrus Peat (1st round, 13th overall), Anthony (1st, 31st) and quarterback Garret Grayson (3rd, 75th), haven’t met the expectations their draft positions demand. Unfortunately, in June, the team’s second round pick, LB Hau'oli Kikaha (44th overall), suffered what may be a career-threatening knee injury and will miss the entire 2016 season.

            With only an eighth of the season in the books, anything is possible. As James Bond would say, never say never.

            Game Three sees Monday Night Football and the arch-rival Atlanta Falcons come to New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of the reopening of the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina and the resulting failure of the city’s flood protection. Emotions will be high as fans reminisce about the most important play in franchise history – Steve Gleason’s blocked punt – and the 23-3 victory that helped catapult the Saints to their first NFC Championship Game. If the Saints are going to turn around the 2016 season, there’s no better time than to start with the Dirty Birds.

 

Snap Decision

After trading up to get a second selection in the first round, Stephone Anthony, the 31st overall pick in the 2015 Draft, started all 16 games as the Saints’ middle linebacker last year and led the team with 112 tackles. But after moving to strong-side linebacker, he’s only played 17 downs in 2016. In fact, backup Michael Mauti has played 27 snaps, putting Anthony’s status in question.

 

           Anthony                                                     Mauti

Opponent             Snaps                           Opponent      Snaps

Raiders                   13                                  Raiders          21

Giants                      4                                   Giants            6

Total                       17                                   Total             27

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