Dig Baton Rouge

Week 10 is done – it’s hard to call the Saints a true contender

By Casey Gisclair

 
“The good news is that the NFC South isn’t very good, and New Orleans can probably win the division by simply getting to eight or nine wins. But the Super Bowl aspirations we laid onto the team’s shoulders in the preseason have not yet come anywhere close to fruition.”

This past Sunday marked Week 10 of the NFL season. I’m no genius, but by my math, that means that there are seven more weeks left before we put a bow on the 2014-15 year and get started with the playoffs.

And I still don’t have a stinkin’ clue who the New Orleans Saints are as a football team.

I truly have no idea. None. Nadda. Zip.

Every time I start to think that I’m feeling the team’s true pulse, something happens to change my opinion. When the team starts to get warm, something happens to infuse an ice cube into their momentum to cool it down. When things look like they’re headed south, the team always shows just enough faith to keep stringing along fans that better days are ahead.

It’s inconsistency in its most consistent form, and I know it’s driving the people of Louisiana (me included) absolutely nuts.

The Saints’ season has been too much of a mixed bag for me, or anyone else, to be able to definitively label the identity of this team just yet.

It feels like every, single time the team takes two steps forward, they take three steps back. When this is happening in Week 4, it’s OK – just a blip in the radar and not a major source of panic.

But when it’s Week 10, it’s time for some questions to be answered and some problems to be solved before it’s too late and there are no more games left to be played.

After hiccupping and losing at home to the 49ers on Sunday, I’m willing to go on record and say that both of the team’s next team games are must-wins. New Orleans simply can’t afford to lose any more home games if it hopes to stay atop the NFC South, as abysmal as that division may be.

When I look at the Saints’ 2014-15 football team, the biggest red flag that I see is the fact that this group has a very real problem winning close games that go down to the wire.

In four of New Orleans’ five losses, the Saints were in the game during the final seconds. In two of the games, New Orleans was tied with its opponent through regulation and lost in overtime. But with an offense that isn’t quite as explosive as it once was, and a defense that is woeful against the pass, that sometimes is a recipe for disaster in sudden death situations.

In today’s NFL, parity is the trump card that dominates the league. Inability to win close games is quite possibly the worst problem a team can have, because so many of the games throughout a season go right down to the final few plays.

Close wins are why Dallas is 7-3 and why Arizona is 8-1. Conversely, a lack of those victories are why the Saints sit at 4-5 on the year, when they could easily be in the upper echelon of the NFC.

In addition to the close game woes, it’s been well documented that the Saints struggle a tad on the road. OK, saying they struggle just “a tad” is probably a bit of an insult to the word “tad.”

But New Orleans actually hasn’t been nearly the wrecking ball in the Dome that folks make them out to be, which further complicates matters in any attempt to crown this team a contender.

In the Superdome this season, New Orleans struggled to put away an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings team, were taken to overtime by Tampa Bay, routed Green Bay after Aaron Rodgers got nicked and then finally lost to the 49ers.

Sure, the win/loss record looks good, but the level of play is not near what it was last season when New Orleans steamrolled all comers at home.

Of course, the good news is that the NFC South isn’t very good, and New Orleans can probably win the division by simply getting to eight or nine wins.

But the Super Bowl aspirations we laid onto the team’s shoulders in the preseason have not yet come anywhere close to fruition.

And they’re running out of weeks to turn things around and show they were worth the accolades and expectations given to them.

The next two weeks are huge. Drop another game at home and that foundation really will start shaking.

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