- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New Orleans Saints are the final stop of our tour of team-by-team mailbags.
Chuck in New Orleans writes: We all know that when running backs carry the ball too much one year, they inevitably break down or slow down the next year because their bodies need time to recover from the physical pounding. How much might the Saints lack of explosiveness on offense and defense be tied to simply being physically worn down from last year's long season? I think it might be a factor. P.S. For me, this is another argument against an 18 game regular season.
Pat Yasinskas: I think that’s a very valid point, Chuck. The Saints were playing for more than a month longer than almost all other teams last season. That certainly had to take somewhat of a toll and it also ate into their offseason recovery time. I know coach Sean Payton made some adjustments to the offseason program and training camp to try to help compensate for that, but there’s only so much you can do. In the case of the running backs, I’m not sure that the injuries to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas have anything to do with last year’s long season because the Saints rotate running backs. But I think the wear and tear of last year, but be having some impact at other positions.
Zack in Indiana writes: I've been thinking about the return of Darren Sharper for the Saints defense. They've had injuries to both starting safeties and a backup, and I think Sharper could be the missing link to the return of the 'opportunistic' defense of Gregg Williams. Do you think his return could have an impact or would he even play?
Pat Yasinskas: We’ll see in a few weeks, but Sharper sure has been talking like a guy who thinks he’s be ready shortly. It’s hard to even guess what you’re going to get from a 34-year-old guy coming off micro-fracture knee surgery. But Sharper was a huge part of last season’s success. Even if he only gives the Saints half of what he did last season, it’s still a boost to have a veteran presence and a guy who knows how to win.
Nick in Ocean Springs, Miss. writes: It's obvious the Saints are not producing like last year. Has there been any talk from the players/coaches about them pushing too hard? I realize other teams are bringing their A game against the champs, but, if the Saints had their A game they'd be blowing some of these teams out. I also realize they're dealing with a lot of injuries earlier in the season than they did last year, but, even before they had Bush, Porter and Thomas out, they were struggling.
Pat Yasinskas: You mention the old cliché about other team’s bringing their “A games,’’ but I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing. Everyone is out to get the Saints and they haven’t looked much like they did last year. However, they are 3-1. I think Payton has stressed to his team from the start that repeating won’t be easy and the Saints are going to have to gut it out at times. The fact they’re winning without the “A’’ game is the mark of a good team. I also think the “A’’ game could resurface at any time because the talent is there. In fact, I think the Saints played something close to an “A’’ game against Atlanta. Don’t sell the Falcons short. They are a very good team and they brought their “A’’ game that day. Both teams played a heck of a game and it could have ended up with a different outcome if Garrett Hartley made a field goal in overtime.
Adam in New Orleans writes: I know you've said teams are playing more zone to prevent the Saints from making big plays, but even when Drew Brees throws deep, he doesn't seem as accurate as last year. His passes are wobbling and he either overthrows or underthrows his receivers (i.e. that flea-flicker). Are you seeing this too?
Pat Yasinskas: Maybe a little bit. I can vividly recall the deep incompletion for Robert Meachem in the San Francisco game. But I attribute that one to the wind because you almost never see Brees missing an open target by five yards. But, overall, I think Brees still is throwing the ball well. The defenses are approaching things differently and that is a factor. I also think the absence of the injured Reggie Bush has more of an impact than people realize. When the Saints move Bush around, he makes defenses commit and that opens the downfield game for other guys. Without Bush, it’s harder for the Saints to get guys wide open downfield.
Chris in Chicago writes: What do you see as the primary reason for the Saints sluggish start. I think that it starts with the below average play on the offensive line. Your thoughts?
Pat Yasinskas: We’ve touched on a lot of the reasons above, but I’m glad you brought up the offensive line. That unit has not played nearly as well as last year and I’m pretty much at a loss when it comes to figuring out why. The Saints have some big-time talent on that line and Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are guys who maybe haven’t even hit their prime yet. Again, I’m not sure what’s going on up front, but I’m sure Payton and his staff are working hard to try to fix it.