Say what you want about the NFL, but America's most popular league is also a league of great parity. Success one season does not mean success the next, and in the case of the winless New Orleans Saints, a near trip to the 2011 NFC Championship game seems like a lifetime ago.
After yet another bitter defeat, this time at the hands of an angry Green Bay team Sunday, the Saints are now one of two teams (the other is Cleveland) that remains winless in 2012. The lingering affects of Bountygate -- the loss of head coach Sean Payton and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma -- have left the Saints in a seriously perplexed state on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the lack of a balanced attack has become an alarming issue that has the Saints ranked 26th in overall rushing yards. Drew Brees may be an all-world quarterback, who just happened to tie Johnny Unitas' record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, but the lack of a consistent ground game puts any signal caller in a precarious position, just as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have struggled when solely relying on the pass. Brees is averaging a robust 48 pass attempts per game, 18 more than the next quarterback. Just to give you an idea of what that number actually means, he averaged 34 pass attempts per game during the Saints' Super Bowl-winning season three years ago.
Of course, part of the reason why Brees is slinging it so much comes back to a defense that has been nothing short of awful, ranking dead last in total yards allowed and 29th in points allowed. Without Vilma patrolling sideline-to-sideline, the defense has struggled mightily to get off the field on third down and to create turnovers, two areas in which it excelled in during 2009. Losing on the road at Lambeau is one thing, but losing at home to a rookie quarterback making his first ever start in the Superdome and to a dreadful Kansas City team at home two weeks later suggests that an 0-4 start is more than a trend.
"It's going to hurt when you lose a game like this," Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said after the 28-27 loss to the Packers. "But I will not let them get down. We are too close."
Close or not, an 0-4 start in the NFC South, one of the league's toughest divisions, may have already sealed the team's fate. Undefeated Atlanta is an offensive juggernaut, while both Carolina and Tampa Bay are dangerous.
"(A record of) 0-4 is unimaginable for this team or any team," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "I thought it was impossible for us to be it."
One of Payton's motto's throughout his tenure in New Orleans has been: "Do your job." Without his daily leadership, however, it seems as if his message has been either misplaced or completely forgotten. The last time this franchise started the season 0-4 was 2007, which, if you're looking for a harbinger of the rest of the season, was the last time the Saints finished a season under the .500 mark.
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