Saints Special Teams Not Very Special

Kicking field goals and extra points seems easy for every NFL team but the New Orleans Saints. In a major surprise, the Saints saw a http://www.espn.com/blog/new-orleans-saints/post/_/id/24426/saints-playoff-hopes-get-rejected-in-carolina-along-with-another-blocked-kick">place kick blocked for the second week in a row.

The Denver Broncos blocked a potential game-winning extra-point attempt and returned it for two points to beat New Orleans on Sunday, Nov. 13. Less than a week later on Thursday Night Football, the Saints saw the Carolina Panthers block a field-goal attempt.

Thanks to a penalty, the Panthers’ return of the block for a touchdown came off the scoreboard, but that didn’t stop wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. from making a spectacular catch for a touchdown shortly after.

Instead of cutting the Panthers’ lead to 13-6 at the half, New Orleans watched as the Panthers ballooned to 20-3. That big lead helped Carolina hold on for the 23-20 win.

The first team to block a Saints kick wasn’t the Broncos but the New York Giants in week two of the season. New York returned that block kick for a touchdown in the Giants’ 16-13 win over New Orleans.

Special teams haven’t been very special for the Saints. In addition that blocked field goal, New Orleans kick returner Marcus Murphy fumbled a kickoff out of bounds at the one-yard line.

The kickoff looked to be heading out of bounds, which would have given the Saints great field position from a penalty. Murphy’s mistake came after Carolina scored its only points of the second half from a field goal, and it kept the Saints in bad field position for most of the third quarter.

Back in week three, New Orleans had two punt-return men crash into each other during a game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints players’ miscue allowed the Falcons to recover the ball.

While it might be easy to pour all the blame on the Saints’ special teams for the losses of the last two weeks, quarterback Drew Brees hasn’t helped matters. Against Carolina, he had two turnovers, a fumble from a sack and wobbly interception, and during the previous week’s loss with the Broncos, he threw two interceptions.

The New Orleans defense has improved as the season progressed and has played well enough to win the last two games. But turnovers from the offense, poor special-teams play, including a running into the kicker penalty in the Carolina game, and poor coaching have betrayed the defense.

Some of the blame on last night’s win certainly falls on the coaching. Head coach Sean Payton didn’t get the offense moving fast enough on its last touchdown drive. Instead, the Saints huddled up and took their time going down the field.

That slow play helped the Panthers to eat up the clock while the Saints methodically moved down the field needing two scores down 10 points. The offense should have played with more urgency, and that has to come from the head coach.

Unless the place-kicking problem lies with rookie kicker Wil Lutz, the blocked kicks should be an easy fix. It should be just a blocking issue, which shouldn't happen again for the rest of the season. Otherwise, someone needs to hit the street.

If the Saints can keep improving on defense, fix the special-teams problems and stop with the turnovers on offense, this can be a playoff team. All the pieces are there if this team can jell over the final six games.


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