NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Losing is becoming a way of life again with the New Orleans Saints, who haven't spent a single regular-season week above .500 since 2013.
Perhaps the fifth defensive coordinator in Sean Payton's 10 years as head coach will improve New Orleans' fortunes during their final six games of 2015. But time is running short for the Saints, who are on an ugly two-game skid that dropped them to 4-6 heading into this weekend's bye.
"There are a lot of areas where we have to improve," Payton said this week, when he fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and replaced him with senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen. "We have six weeks that are important and are important to this team."
Allen was a defensive assistant during Payton's glory years in New Orleans. He was part of the storybook 2006 team that made an unlikely run to the NFC title game in Payton's first year — just one season after the club went 3-13 while displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Allen was the secondary coach on the 2009 team that won the franchise's only Super Bowl. He left in 2011 to take over as defensive coordinator in Denver, then Oakland snapped him up as its head coach in 2012.
But the Raiders job never panned out, so Payton gave Allen a job last offseason, allowing him to work alongside Ryan in an effort to shore up a defense that finished 2014 ranked 31st.
The arrangement failed.
New Orleans currently ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed per game (424.3) and points allowed per game (31.5). Quarterbacks have consistently had their finest outings against New Orleans — sometimes even in games the Saints won. Eli Manning had a personal-best six touchdown passes in a 52-49 Giants loss in New Orleans. Only Drew Brees' career-high seven TD tosses and a last-second field goal saved the Saints that night.
In a 47-14 loss at Washington last weekend, the Redskins' Kirk Cousins had the best game of his career, throwing for 324 yards and four touchdowns, producing a perfect QB rating of 158.3. A week earlier, rookie Marcus Mariota had a personal best overall game with 371 yards and four TDs passing with no interceptions and no sacks.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan called the loss to struggling Tennessee "a complete blunder."
"There is nothing to be happy about, and at the same time guys know that we have to stick together as a family," Jordan added.
Roster upheaval, whether because of personnel decisions or injuries, appears to have hurt as well.
At least in terms of production, the Saints have missed last season's sack leader, Junior Galette, who was released because of what the team deemed troubling character issues, including an arrest in a domestic incident for which he was later suspended by the NFL.
Dannell Ellerbe, who appears to be an upgrade at weak-side linebacker, has struggled with injuries. Top cornerback Keenan Lewis also hasn't been healthy all season, missing several games with a hip injury and otherwise playing hurt.
"It's one thing if you have one guy go down, but it seems like we have some new injuries, some nagging injury that takes apart what we should have had," Jordan said.
Fellow cornerback Brandon Browner has struggled with coverage, with penalties and even with his emotions since arriving as one of New Orleans' top offseason acquisitions. Last week, he lost his composure on the field when he abandoned pursuit of a Redskins ball carrier so he could blind-side an offensive lineman trailing the play. A week earlier, he cursed out reporters for asking teammate Jairus Byrd about a botched interception opportunity.
All of those factors have made it difficult for Payton's third-ranked offense to keep up.
The good news for the Saints is that Brees remains in strong form at age 36. New Orleans has passed for 313.2 yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. The running game hasn't done as well, ranking 21st (101.3 yards per game), but running back Mark Ingram is having a solid season because of his ability to supplement the ground game by receiving short passes out of the backfield. He has gained 998 yards from scrimmage and scored five TDs.
But even the Saints' offense has endured untimely stints of stagnation, which has haunted New Orleans in several close losses.
"I do not think that I would say that there is a sense that everything's OK. I think guys are smart enough to understand the situation and the expectations," said right tackle Zach Strief, an offensive captain. "It's like one week we show up and one week we don't. That is not a way to be effective in this league."
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Posted on Sun, November 22, 2015
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer