When the New Orleans Saints lost a close one to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs last season the team had one thing to help them through the pain. Next year they get to win the big one—the Super Bowl—in their house.
That was before the Curse of the Super Bowl Host hit. The team was nailed with the Bounty-Gate scandal, lost their head coach and defensive leader for the season, the GM for eight games, and Sean Payton’s right hand man (and interim head coach Joe Vitt) for six games.
Those six games have now passed. He takes over a club that many saw as Super Bowl-worthy last season and expected them to be the same this season prior to the Bounty-Gate mess. Instead they are 2-4 and on the verge of obscurity.
The value that head coach Sean Payton brought to the team has been pretty obvious, but the question now is whether the man picked to replace him--Joe Vitt-- can get the team on track. Can he make them Super Bowl contenders once again?
Offensively the team is not much different than it was last season. In ’11 the Saints had the No. 1 overall offense (No. 1 passing; No. 6 rushing). This season they aren't too different. Through Week Seven they have the No. 3 unit thanks to their passing game which is No.1 in the league (their running game is dead last).
The issue this season has been the defense. Last season it wasn't a great unit (No. 24), but it was good enough. This season the defense hasn't done so well. Through Week Seven the Saints defense is dead last in the league allowing 465 yards of offense a game.
While the yards are bad it’s what teams have been able to do with them that is killing the Saints. Last season even though they gave up 368 yards a game they held teams to 21.2 points a game (No. 13 in the league). This season they are allowing 30.3; only the Chiefs, Bills, and Titans have allowed more.
Before the coaching staff was hit with the suspensions of Payton and Vitt, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had already moved on with Steve Spagnuolo taking his place. So whether the absence of Vitt can account for the poor performance of the defense remains to be seen.
Vitt has been a part of the staff with the Saints since 2006 as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach. His entire coaching background has been on the defensive side of the ball so if he was going to have an effect anywhere it would be there.
More importantly would be the relationship he already has established with the team, having coached many of the players for up to six years. The team needs someone that can put them in their place, but ease any tension as well. Rumor has it that on the return trip to New Orleans from Tampa Bay he made an announcement over the plane’s intercom:
Listen up, you f–kers. Put your trays up and buckle your seat belt of I’ll come f–king do it myself.
Not too many guys could get away with something like that. Is it the missing ingredient? Who knows. The world will find out soon enough when the Saints take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this Sunday night.