After two weeks, the Saints are the most confusing team in the NFL

Welp.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but maybe we should’ve seen the writing on the wall when COVID-19 protocols led to eight assistant coaches being ruled out in the days leading up to the Saints’ (1-1) horrendous 26-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers (2-0).

That, plus the expected absences of C Erik McCoy, CB Marshon Lattimore, DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson, LB Kwon Alexander and DE Marcus Davenport due to injury led to one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory, a death by a thousand cuts that was excruciating to watch.

Perhaps the primary source of pain was the fact that the Panthers tried their hardest to give the game away.  They let the Saints drive into the red zone at the end of the first half.  The Saints blocked a field goal in the third quarter.  Carolina QB Sam “Seein’ Ghosts” Darnold tossed a pick directly into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Malcolm Roach.

All the Saints could muster from these gifts was a single touchdown and a paltry 128 yards, the single worst offensive performance in the Sean Payton era.  Jameis Winston was under constant pressure, running for his life on nearly every dropback and succumbing to four sacks.  I’m not mad at his two interceptions – in a gross way, I’m glad that he at least tried to provide a spark instead of crumpling under a Panthers defensive end for the umpteenth time.

After the o-line’s atrocious performance, you would think their positional coach was one of the staffers not present.  But in fact, offensive line Brendan Nugent was there, making this game even more baffling.

I mean, what the fuck happened?

“It’s the group in its entirety. It’s our offensive line, our quarterback. It’s also us relative to a gameplan of having good answers instead of some of the looks we received and quite honestly, once we struggled to handle a look or two, we got more of it. We need to have a better plan and that starts with me. We need to have a better plan to put our guys in a better position, but it’s not just one group,” Payton said after the game.

It seemed the challenges presented by inserting new pieces into the offense, plus the residual effects of uprooting the organization in the wake of Hurricane Ida, finally caught up with the team.  A new quarterback and a new center, plus a decimated coaching staff, led to a scenario in which the offense was unable communicate about and adjust to the various looks given to them by the Panthers defense, particularly when they walked two defenders into the A-Gaps.

Play after play, linemen we know to be talented and reliable were blocking air, looking like a Madden glitch as a free blitzer screamed past them to destroy Winston.

I really am at a loss for what transpired Sunday.  How could a team that looked so dominant against Super Bowl favorite Green Bay suddenly look so utterly clueless?

One thing that does seem apparent is that this defense is for real.  Yes, they gave up 26 points, but were done no favors by the offense.  The Panthers rarely targeted newly-acquired CB Bradley Roby (who had one of the team’s two sacks), instead picking on rookie Paulson Adebo, who didn’t look terrible in coverage.

Rookie first round pick Payton Turner had the Saints’ other sack, and he looked disruptive filling in for Davenport.  With all of the injuries piling up for the defense, they held up admirably and gave the team more than enough chances to come back.

But it never happened, and now we’re scratching our heads, hoping that the team rights the ship before they travel to New England, where Bill Belichick and the Patriots are rarely caught with their pants down.

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