x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New Orleans Saints are scoring but defence is letting them down

The New Orleans Saints are scoring points but their defence, reeling from Bountygate, is surrendering more.

Cornerback Josh Norman, left, and the Carolina Panthers made sure Jimmy Graham and his New Orleans Saints teammates got the message loud and clear, but mostly loud.
Cornerback Josh Norman, left, and the Carolina Panthers made sure Jimmy Graham and his New Orleans Saints teammates got the message loud and clear, but mostly loud.

The New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl winners three seasons ago, find themselves bottom of the NFC South after losing their opening two games with a defence that has been shredded by two young, mobile quarterbacks.

The Superdome in New Orleans will host this season's Super Bowl but it will take a major turnaround if the home side are to have a shot at playing in that game.

After the Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III orchestrated a 40-32 upset in New Orleans in the season opener, the Saints struggled on Sunday against the second-year playmaker Cam Newton as they fell to a 35-27 loss at the Carolina Panthers.

The poor start continued the troubles at the team, which began in the off-season when the league exposed a so-called "bounty scheme", suspending the charismatic head coach Sean Payton for the season and imposing other sanctions on coaching and playing staff.

The players won an appeal allowing them to play, for now at least, but the absence of Payton, being substituted by interim coach Aaron Kromer, cannot be underestimated.

"The preparation aspect of it, the way we practice, everything is the same as it always has been," said the quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday. "Now it just is a matter of as the season starts you come as a team. You gel. You find out who you are, early on.

"Unfortunately for us, it hasn't gone our way. It's going to test us. I'm confident we are going to stay strong and battle through this and we will overcome."

The shaky start looks to have as much to do with the teething troubles for the new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has replaced the controversial Gregg Williams, the man at the centre of the "Bounty" affair.

The Saints have a great quarterback and an effective offence, but they have largely been playing catch-up because of a defence which has given up 924 yards and 75 points in eight quarters of football.

The Panthers were allowed 219 rushing yards on Sunday and the Saints pass rush has not yet established itself.

But Brees believes it is just a matter of time before the Saints begin to click.

"There is always adversity. Unfortunately it has come to us a little bit sooner than we expected with the 0-2 start," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind that we have the right type of guys in our locker room and coaches and scheme to overcome this."

Next week's visitors, the Kansas City Chiefs, are also 0-2, making it possibly the earliest "must-win game" in a season for both teams.

"A lot of teams come back from 0 and 2," said the safety Roman Harper. "We just have to keep playing."

Well, not a lot of teams. Since the 12 team play-off system was introduced in 1990, just 12 per cent of teams who started 0-2 went on to make the play-offs. Three teams, Dallas in 1993, New England in 2001 and the Giants in 2007, managed to turn their seasons around and win the Super Bowl.

And no team has gone on to win the Lombardi Trophy after starting 0-3.

"With uncharted territory comes uncharted success," Harper said.

"We just have to ride this out and rectify it."

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