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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
John Sigler

Dennis Allen concerned about injuries, but the Saints have bigger problems

You’d be excused for not tuning into the New Orleans Saints’ ugly loss in prime time to the Arizona Cardinals. If watching Andy Dalton melt down and throw three interceptions before halftime didn’t do it for you, Dennis Allen’s blasé response afterwards probably would have. The Saints looked rudderless and overmatched by what’s widely considered to be one of the worst-managed teams in the NFL. It was brutal to watch.

Things didn’t really improve during Allen’s postgame press conference. After first commenting on his defense’s “shoddy tackling” in his opening statement Allen turned his attention to other factors at play in the loss, adding “My biggest concern is we haven’t had the health of our players.”

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Now, there’s some merit to that: the Saints were without six of their starters in this game (seven if you count first-round left tackle Trevor Penning, who was not expected to start as a rookie prior to a late-summer injury) including both starting cornerbacks and their top two receivers, as well as last year’s first rounder Payton Turner. Health has been a real problem for New Orleans throughout the season so far. There aren’t many teams managing worse injury situations.

But the bigger problems are on the sidelines. Allen’s coaching staff has made too many baffling decisions to overlook. Two weeks in a row we’ve seen rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed score a long touchdown (going 44 yards on the ground last week and 53 yards through the air this week) only to go the rest of the game without ever touching the ball again. Pete Carmichael Jr. has failed to weaponize a bright young talent.

That extends to other issues with the offense. He’s demonstrated an obvious play calling trend in calling a run play on more than 80% of second downs following an incomplete pass on first downs, setting the offense up to fail with too many third-and-long situations. When they have managed to get downfield and fight and claw their way into scoring position inside the opposing red zone, Carmichael has taken his best players off the field.

He’s failed to score a single touchdown with Alvin Kamara through five games; Kamara started the season poised to take Marques Colston’s career touchdowns record, but the Saints can’t get him the ball inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. Taysom Hill is an automatic score in short-yardage situations but they’ve got Andy Dalton throwing to Tre’Quan Smith in traffic instead. Make it make sense.

And let’s talk about the defense. There was a lot of noise about who would be calling plays defensively, with Allen having named defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen and secondary coach Kris Richard as co-coordinators. And it certainly looks like a unit with too many cooks in the kitchen. The Saints are missing what feels like dozens of tackles per game, allowing coverage busts left and right, and struggling to even hold up at the line of scrimmage, much less break through to disrupt the offense. They’re failing the fundamentals that middle school teams across the country work on every day.

They’ve lost to one team that was actively tanking (the Carolina Panthers, who gave Matt Rhule another week or two in the office with that win) and two others that wouldn’t have shocked anyone by firing their head coaches weeks earlier (the Zac Taylor-led Cincinnati Bengals and Kliff Kingsbury-coached Cardinals). The Saints are who their record says they are: a really bad and poorly-managed 2-5 team that bought their own hype, hired the wrong coach, and set their franchise back at least two years. We’re almost halfway into the season and there’s nothing you can say they do well. Now we wait until they take action to clean up this mess.

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