Dig Baton Rouge

Dark Day in the Dome

By Casey Gisclair

As a writer, I sometimes try and outthink the room with wit and cleverness when I start out these weekly columns.

But I won’t even fool around with that this time around. Let’s be blunt and say it exactly like it is: The New Orleans Saints got their butts kicked on Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals. To make matters worse, the team’s latest egg wasn’t laid on the road – the spot where most New Orleans eggs are laid. This yolk was instead smeared all over the 120 yards of field turf in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It was a complete butt-whooping from start-to-finish, and it encompassed every phase of the game.

Offensively, New Orleans had no explosiveness – everything just looked a step or two off. On paper, Drew Brees’ stats look good (33-of-41 for 255 yards with a touchdown, but almost all of his throws were dinks and dunks for minimal yardage – exactly what the Bengals wanted throughout the entire second half with a big lead.

None of the Saints’ successful passing plays went for more than 20 yards in the game. That type of output just won’t cut it against a Bengals’ defense that is one of the better groups in the league.

In an effort to stay balanced, Sean Payton did dial up the run game early and often, but that didn’t work so well, either. A complete jackhammer in the past few weeks, Saints’ halfback Mark Ingram was relegated to being a mere jackrabbit on Sunday, gaining just 67 yards on 23 carries – fewer than three yards per pop.

But for as bad as the Saints’ offense looked, the team did have chances – especially early. The missed fourth down play on the goal line was a killer that shifted the entire momentum of the game.

On the opposite side of the ball, there were no positives. The Saints’ defense was a complete and utter dumpster fire.

One week after being humiliated on national TV against the Cleveland Browns, Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton made the Saints’ defense look like a high school bunch, completing 72 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no picks – and this just a week after posting the league’s fifth-worst single-game passer rating since 1960.

On the ground, Cincinnati dominated the clock, gashing New Orleans for 5.2 yards per rush. Former LSU standout reaped most of those benefits in his Louisiana homecoming, using his 27 carries to notch 152 yards.

On the rare occasion that the Saints did muster a few positive defensive plays, it was of no concern to the Bengals, who were a ridiculous 9-of-13 on third down in the win.

No defense can succeed allowing offenses to stay on the field that easily. Until the Saints’ defense fixes some of the problems that exist in that secondary, expect many of these problems to happen again in the future – both on the road and in the Dome.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that the NFC South is a mess and that even with a 4-6 record, New Orleans still has a better than good shot at winning a couple games and sneaking into the 12-team postseason bracket.

But at this point, does it really even matter? Sure, winning the division is an honor, and history shows that just being in the tournament gives any team a shot at making something magical happen.

But to win the Super Bowl, one must be a great team. And to be a great team, one must have a skill that it does better than almost everyone else in the league.

What is that skill for the Saints? What does New Orleans do at a ‘great’ level in comparison to the rest of the league?

Offense? Eh, it’s still a good group, but not what it used to be.

Defense? Heck no.

Special teams? Probably not.

When it’s only happening on the road, it’s a trend. But when it’s happening at home, too, it’s just a sign that you’re not a very good football team anymore.

The 2014-15 New Orleans Saints are just that – not very good.

 

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