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Kneejerk reactions are understandable when the New Orleans Saints look as sloppy as they did on Sunday. Between 11 penalties and a historically-low output on offense, plus two baffling interceptions from Jameis Winston, plenty of observers have declared the Saints dead in the water.
But that’s just not true. And when you look at the bigger picture for New Orleans, something becomes obvious: this team isn’t a finished product.
Now that’s valid for every team across the league. Everyone has players on injured reserve or personnel on the COVID-19 list. Most teams have a player or two returning from suspension later. Maybe half the league is working with a new starting quarterback, too. Now, sure, no other team has been living on the road for a month, but the Saints aren’t going to get any pity for the adversity they’ve dealt with.
Just look at what’s ahead of them — or who’s coming back. A third of the coaching staff wasn’t available for this game after breakthrough coronavirus cases ripped through the group (thankfully, none of them are dealing with serious symptoms). They should all return in the next week or two while the team continues to practice enhanced safety protocols to limit the spread. Standout defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and C.J. Gardner-Johnson aren’t expected to be sidelined for long either.
And that’s just part of the equation. The Saints offense will also be getting players back from injuries like backup center Will Clapp, starting wideout Tre’Quan Smith, and veteran tight end Nick Vannett (each eligible to return after Week 3’s game with the Patriots). The defense will receive reinforcements when Ken Crawley, an experienced corner, is cleared to play (also some time after Week 3). Another wave is on the way once impactful defenders like Kwon Alexander and Marcus Davenport make their return (after resting until at least Week 4’s home game with the Giants).
But it doesn’t stop there. Michael Thomas, at times the best player on the team, will end his time on the physically unable to perform list during New Orleans’ bye week and be eligible to play in Week 7 against the Seahawks. The next week David Onyemata returns from a six-game suspension to anchor the defensive tackle rotation. Those are arguably two top-five talents on the team returning just in time to provide a spark.
The Saints have three games left to play before that bye, against the Patriots (1-1), Giants (0-2), and Washington (1-1). If they can patch a couple of holes and reach the bye with a winning record, they’re set up well to go on a run coming out of it. That’s achievable, but there’s also a world where they have to rally back from a losing record at the bye. They’ve got to get better in a hurry.
Maybe it isn’t realistic to expect everyone coming back from injury or suspension to hit the ground running. But it’s a long season with 15 more games to play. That’s plenty of time for the Saints to figure out their issues, better adjust the offense to Winston’s abilities, and make up for their deficiencies until help arrives. Again, it’s a long season. More ugly games from the Saints will make it feel longer. Here’s hoping they get a handle on things in the weeks ahead before business really picks up.