The New Orleans Saints offense is in complete disarray.
They have found some success scoring in catch up mode in the fourth quarter, but in quarters one through three they have scored just 13 points through three games. That’s an average of 1.44 points per quarter offensively if you exclude the fourth quarter.
Jameis Winston is not the only person to blame for the ineptitude offensive.
This has felt like a complete system failure. Backs are struggling to hold on to the football, they’ve now lost three fumbles in as many weeks with Alvin Kamara’s fumble going the other way for a touchdown on Sunday. When you give up a defensive touchdown, you lose over 85% of the time in the NFL. So that Kamara mistake was an expensive one.
The offensive line has given up 11 sacks in three games, mostly due to a massive struggle with identifying blitzers pre-snap and communicating how to account for that defender. We should expect much more blitzing in future games until the Saints show they can prevent it from being so disruptive to any kind of rhythm.
The play calling and coaching appears to be deficient. The field goal kicker is 50/50 on kicks so far this season. So it’s clear this doesn’t fall solely on Winston.
But Winston is dealing with four broken vertebrae in his back in addition to a sprained ankle that’s limited his mobility. At this point it’s fair to ask if Andy Dalton can be more productive healthy than Winston is hurt.
Despite the addition of new weapons in Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave, plus the return of Michael Thomas, Winston is playing much worse than last year.
During the 2021 season, Winston went 5-2 in seven starts with a QB rating of 102.8, just three interceptions in seven games, and taking 11 sacks. This season, he’s already taken 11 sacks in three games, he’s thrown five interceptions, and his QB rating sits at 79.5.
It’s undeniable his level of play is far worse than what he showed last year when the team was winning games. The amount of sacks he is taking and turnovers he is creating are at a much higher rate than a season ago and those are plays that lose games.
Simply put, the Saints offense has to stop taking so many sacks and they have to stop turning it over so much. Those are losing plays and that’s why this team sits at 1-2. So it really starts with the question of if there’s a quarterback on this roster that can take less sacks and turn the ball over less.
Andy Dalton is 34 years old, past his prime, and he’s certainly not a long term option for the Saints. But if he can reduce the amount of sacks and turnovers this offense is absorbing, he might be able to do just enough to get out of the way of this defense and help the team win by limiting mistakes.
We’ve seen how Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0, we’ve seen how Taysom Hill went 7-2 over two years of starting, and we’ve seen how Winston went 5-2 with this defense last season. The recipe remains the same: avoid mistakes. It’s clear the big plays are not enough to mitigate mistakes.
Whether the reason for Winston’s play is mental, physical, or a combination of both, it’s clear they cannot win the way he’s playing statistically.
Putting in Dalton now is not necessarily a long term commitment to change this season. Perhaps it buys Winston time to recover where he can find his health enough to find the same level as last season to help support his teammates. But the Saints have to seriously consider a move now before the season gets away from them. Because there’s really no excuses for this drop off in play.
The line is largely the same. The backs are the same. The weapons have improved greatly on the perimeter. Winston put up better numbers with his primary targets being Marquez Callaway, Adam Trautman, Kevin White and Kenny Stills a year ago.
If the Saints elect to go with Winston again Sunday in London against the Minnesota Vikings, this does feel like this is it. He’ll need to show he can at least play consistently enough to limit mistakes.
Fairly or unfairly, he’s measured by his ability to be effective in games and despite the injuries he’s dealing with he has to put his team in a position to win and right now he’s not doing that. Something has to change.
Andrew Juge is the co-host of “The Saints Happy Hour Podcast.” He can be followed on Twitter @AndrewJuge