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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Will the New Orleans' Saints cavalry arrive against the Carolina Panthers?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 11:40 AM

Yesterday, long-lost New Orleans Saints safety Jairus Byrd was on the practice field. It's true. Look:
He was joined there by injured cornerback Keenan Lewis. ESPN's Mike Triplett reports it isn't certain or even likely that either guy will play Sunday in Carolina, but the fact they're getting close is one of the first promising signs of the 2015 season.

Will their eventual return even matter?

Drew Brees doesn't have a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Let's repeat that, even though by now you've seen it elsewhere: Drew Brees doesn't have a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. The mere bruise, which may or may not keep Brees off the field on Sunday, will certainly affect the quarterback this year, but it leaves a glimmer of hope that the Payton/Brees team isn't done yet.

Just a glimmer, but that's better than nothing.

The immediate problem is the 2015 Saints just aren't a good football team, which has been obvious since the season-opening Arizona Cardinals game, or for many fans since the preseason. If a fully-armed Brees couldn't make them good, a one-armed one won't either. With a struggling running game that has averaged just 3.36 yards per attempt, Brees probably won't have much support. Right?

Maybe. There's at least some precedent for improvement in the Saints' run game as the season progresses. In seven of ten seasons since 2006, the Saints have averaged fewer than four yards per rush attempt over the first two weeks. Their overall rushing average in weeks one and two is under four yards per carry.

In the next two weeks, overall, things are better. The Saints' rushing average per carry in weeks three and four increases to 4.03, and in those weeks they have produced 19 total rushing touchdowns, against 15.

It's not a huge difference, but it's still improvement. Recall, too, that the Saints' offensive line struggled terribly at the beginning of 2007, at the beginning of 2010, and for much of 2013 before improving to some degree, especially in the run game, as things went on.

If the Saints can take the pressure off Brees with a healthy rushing attack these next few weeks, they'll also make life easier on a defense that mixes awful struggles with bright moments. Cornerback Delvin Breaux became the butt of internet jokes thanks to that play where he lost the ball in the Dome lights, or something, but young defenders like Hau'oli Kikaha also gave their team a chance to win late. An upset on the road in Carolina would go a long way to making 2015 feel better. Will it happen? The odds are against it — the Saints are underdogs, after all. But stranger things have happened. 

It's not true that there's only one direction to go after you've hit bottom. You could go up from there, but you could also sit in the dark for a long time. For the Saints, right now, life isn't good.

But if nothing else, the rotator cuff in Drew Brees' shoulder is only bruised, not torn. The long-awaited returns of players like Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis are accelerating towards us. Hope may just be a glimmer in the distance, but it's there. 

Just be mindful of the cliche about the light in the dark tunnel. We'll see what the light's real source is, and soon.

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