After two preseason games, it’s clear to me that the Saints have a high scoring offense and a defense with some holes that’s still capable of getting timely turnovers to mask them. We are used to seeing that same team from last year, and we know that they are Super Bowl contenders if they stay healthy. Based on what I’ve seen so far I have no reason to believe they can’t be as competitive as last year. If you asked me what the Saints’ biggest weakness is right now, though, I would say without question that it has to be their coverage units on special teams. It’s the one area that I’ve seen through two games that’s been of pretty much unacceptable quality. Save Pierson Prioleau’s (pictured) recovered fumble of Trindon Holliday, there was nothing even slightly encouraging about our ability to limit massive returns. The Patriots and Texans both gashed the Saints for huge returns at will. Poor kickoff and punt coverage kills the defense in that it gives the opposing offense constant good field position. The Saints’ defense is more opportunistic than dominant, so I’m not sure they’re built to deal with playing on a short field consistently. If the Saints don’t get this corrected before the season starts, it could come back to haunt them. Am I worried? Not yet. But I’m also not naive enough to think the Saints are infallible, and that they can’t be caught complacent if they think they are immune to their own deficiencies. Right now kick coverage is a glaring deficiency. I realize in preseason you see numerous backups running the coverage units, so you could argue that the full time starters may fare better, but the backups are getting beat by other team’s backups. I’d be terrified to watch the Saints take a stab at stopping Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs right now, regardless of who that kickoff unit is comprised of. This is nothing new as the Saints’ coverage units have always been fairly suspect over the course of the Sean Payton era. Still, the last two games it’s been a very obvious weakness on the team. This needs to be corrected immediately.
Check out some stats from the Sean Payton era:
In 2009, the kickoff coverage unit gave up 24.5 yards per return. Only 3 teams averaged higher returning. They also averaged giving up 14.3 per punt return. No team averaged higher returning.
In 2008, the kickoff coverage unit gave up 24.0 yards per return. Only 8 teams averaged higher returning. They also averaged giving up 10.7 per punt return. Only 5 teams averaged higher returning.
In 2007, the kickoff coverage unit gave up a solid 22.4 yards per return. They also averaged giving up 9.6 per punt return. Only 9 teams averaged higher returning.
You get the idea. The coverage units have been largely miserable in the Sean Payton era. The coaching staff would be well served to start paying attention to this because they seem to get worse and worse every season.