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Monday, September 28, 2015

Luke McCown's success vs Carolina Panthers means Sean Payton's still got it — kinda

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 12:20 PM

The least surprising thing about the New Orleans Saints' performance against the Carolina Panthers yesterday is they lost, 27-22. The most surprising thing is they didn't lose because they deployed a backup quarterback, veteran Luke McCown.

McCown was good. He made the game interesting, giving the Saints a chance to win in the final moments with a poised drive that ended with an interception that was more a great play by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman than a bad one by the Verizon commercial star.

But as efficient and confident as McCown was yesterday, most of the credit for his performance should go to Sean Payton, who proved he can still put together a nice game plan.

At least for his offense.

Few of McCown's 31 completions stand out as special because, niftiness or a scramble or throw on the run aside, none of them were. That's not a criticism of McCown, who absolutely did what he was supposed to do — it's a compliment to the coach who put him in a position to succeed. 

(It may have helped that Drew Brees was pretending to play quarterback from the sideline.)

Focusing on short routes underneath Carolina's coverage and supplementing those passes with a rushing attack that looked okay, at least in the first quarter, Payton gave his team a chance. The offense was far from dominant, but it did enough. Unfortunately — and we could use this phrase for any number of losses since 2006 — Payton's defense eliminated that chance.

McCown's exception completion rate (81.5 percent) and 310 yards were not enough to overcome what was, for the third time in as many games, an unstoppably efficient performance by an opposing quarterback. Panthers star Cam Newton averaged a ridiculous 10.2 yards per pass attempt and compiled a passer rating of 119.7. McCown was fine, but could not match that kind of production.

This Saints defense has allowed an average of a first down's worth of yardage on every opposing pass attempt this season. For the year, they've given up 9.9 yards per attempt. That number is so awful it's still 1.1 yards worse than the most yards allowed per attempt by any defense in the last ten years — 8.8 by 2008's 0-16 Detroit Lions.

The defense has been so bad this year it makes the infamous 2012 one look pretty okay by comparison. 

The offense hasn't been good. It's been bad, even. But despite whatever signs of hope you think you've seen from the defense so far, it has been even worse. It has been 0-16 bad. The Saints' only hope is that they have been so bad their badness is unsustainable. It's not like they can actually allow that many yards per pass all year, right?

I doubt it. Or, rather, I hope so. I didn't it was sustainable that they'd break the all-time record for yards allowed in 2012, either.

And so that leaves us with a coach, Sean Payton, who even now can show his offensive acumen, and put his ability to manufacture offensive production from almost nothing on display. It leaves that coach undone, again, as he's been so often undone, by his complete inability to manage his defense.

The answer may be making a change at defensive coordinator even now in the middle of the season, as unlikely as it seems. Payton's trusted assistant coach Dennis Allen is on staff in some strange role, and has been a defensive coordinator in the past. But maybe the current combination of youth and lack of talent is too much for any coach to overcome. Who knows. Football makes no sense.

The bottom line is if the Saints' defense continues to perform as it has these past three weeks, the 2015 season could best be shown as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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