Sean Payton is to Blame for Saints’ Struggles

Sean Payton Saints

With Drew Brees on a career-high pace for passing attempts, and Ingram receiving three fewer carries per game than last year, what did the Saints really accomplish in their busy offseason? (Photo by: NewOrleansSaints.com)

For the Orleans Saints, 2015 was supposed to be more than just another year. It was intended to be the start of a new era – an opportunity to reinvent themselves.

When head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006, there was one goal – score more points than the other team. Behind Payton’s offensive genius, and Brees’ all-time great arm, the Saints were able to do so. In fact, from 2006-2014, the Saints outscored their opponents by 700 points on the way to an 87-57 record (.604). In that span, the Saints’ offense led the league in total yards five times, and only once, fell out of the top five. This success resulted in five playoff appearances, including their 2009 Super Bowl victory.

The formula worked. But as we all know, nothing lasts forever.

The Saints knew this all too well. A disastrous 2014 season, made up of a porous defense and a turnover-prone offense led to the franchise’s third 7-9 finish since its 2006 makeover. This inspired change, and rightfully so.

While the thought of such a drastic change confused many, it was the right decision. Brees, 36, is no longer able to single-handedly carry this team. At the same time, Mark Ingram showed that he wouldn’t have to. Instead of sitting back and waiting for the stars to align, general manager Mickey Loomis went out and aligned them himself.

The offseason additions of center Max Unger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Brandon Browner and running back C.J. Spiller made one thing clear – this team wanted to run the ball and play better defense. The departures of Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, and Pierre Thomas further reinforced the former.

Now, entering Week 8 of the NFL season, the Saints are 3-4, and are sitting firmly outside of the playoff picture.

So what went wrong?

Did Loomis mess up this offseason by making such drastic changes? Not in the slightest.

Instead, the coaching is to be blamed. With Marques Colston nearing the end of his career, and second-year receiver, Brandin Cooks failing to develop as many hoped he would, Brees finds himself without a true go-to receiver. While Willie Snead has emerged as a viable option, his role is no greater than what Lance Moore’s ever was.

Yet, even with a lack of offensive weapons, Brees is on pace for a career-high number of passing attempts. In six games, Brees has averaged 42.2 attempts-per-game – leaving him on pace for 674 over the course of 16 games. While attempting a career-high amount of passes per game, Brees is on pace to throw for his second-lowest passing total (4,989) since 2010 and easily his lowest touchdown total (21) since 2003. Those numbers just don’t line up.

At the same time, the ground game has flourished in limited opportunity. Mark Ingram has been, by far, the Saints’ most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons, yes, that’s including Brees. In fact since the start of 2014, Ingram has scored 14 touchdowns on the ground. Only DeMarco Murray (16) and Marshawn Lynch (15) have scored more in that span. Murray and Lynch appeared in 22 and 21 games, respectively, while Ingram only played in 20.

Still, for some reason, Payton refuses to commit to a ground-based approach. In Ingram’s breakout 2014 campaign, he carried the ball 226 times – 17 times per game over the course of 13 games. This year, through seven games, Ingram is on pace for 233 carries in 16 games. While potentially playing in three more games than he did last year, the Saints’ fifth-year workhorse back may only see seven more carries than he did one year ago. How does any professional coach let that happen?

When Loomis made that series of drastic offseason moves, he did so with the understanding that the coaches would make adjustments to the gameplan. Instead, even with the key offseason transactions to strengthen the offensive line and defense as a whole, paired with the drafting of an offensive lineman with their first-round pick, and two linebackers with the following selections, Payton has gone in the other direction, increasing Brees’ passing attempts and limiting Ingram’s carries.

In two of the Saints’ wins this season, Ingram saw his highest two carry totals all year. In the third win, he ran for his highest yardage total. It’s no coincidence, and it’s very simple.

When this team follows a gameplan reflective of their offseason adjustments, they win. When they try to play like the Saints of the past decade, they lose.

Heading into the season with the fifth-easiest strength of schedule, according to CBS Sports, the Saints had both the opportunity, and the talent to reinvent themselves here in 2015, but have yet to do so. If Payton doesn’t make the necessary adjustments, starting now, he may as well look forward to 2016…in a new city.

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