The New Orleans Saints atop the league in giveaways and penalties.
Injuries to key players. Poor special teams play. Poor officiating. Losing Sean Payton. Bad luck. Making poor draft choices. Bad cap management. Playing a quarterback too hurt to be effective. Poor coaching. Missed field goals.
These are just a list of things fans give as reasons why the Saints sit at 1-3 currently. And they’ve all certainly played a part in the equation of what has been a losing formula for the Saints over the first quarter of the season. But I submit it’s actually all much more simple than that. The Saints, through four weeks, lead the NFL in turnovers committed and are second in the league in penalties.
In penalties, the Saints stand second overall with 34 infractions through four games, an average of 8.5 per game. If you go by penalty yardage, though, they are at the top of the NFL with 319 yards. Interestingly, their opponent on Sunday (Seattle) is second with 306 yards. Expect a monsoon-like shower of yellow flags to pour down on the Superdome turf Sunday.
Defensive holding appears to be the biggest culprit, where the Saints have seven calls of that nature against them – a league high. They also have six false starts, higher than all but five teams. They’ve also been hit four times for unnecessary roughness which is tied for the league lead. So you can’t really point to one side of the ball or one type of penalty in particular.
It is interesting to point out the Saints have yet to be called for a roughing the passer penalty – the downside is that supports the idea they’re not hitting the quarterback enough. The bottom line? This team feels overly aggressive and lacking in discipline. Perhaps you can live with the defensive holding calls if they’re being coached to do that, but you certainly can’t live with false starts.
As much as fans want to blame horrific officiating, and some of that is fair, not all of the calls going against the Saints are wrong. And when you have 34 penalties in four games, some if not most of this resides with self inflicted mistakes.
In giveaways, Dennis Allen’s team is tied for second in the NFL throwing five interceptions. They’re first in lost fumbles with six. So you really can’t point to one versus the other as a preferred method, it seems as though the Saints like giving away the football like it’s candy on Halloween to any opposing team like they’re a visiting kid from the neighborhood. That’s 11 total turnovers in total through four weeks and no one else in the entire league has more than nine.
Winning the turnover battle remains the leading indicator in which team wins an NFL football game. Depending on the year, whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game somewhere between 75 to 80 percent of the time. And since the Saints have lost the turnover battle in all four games they’ve played, their 1-3 record is spot on. It really is that simple.
It’s really simple, then. The Saints are beating themselves, and their opponent really doesn’t have to. Showing up has been enough, unless you’re the Atlanta Falcons and you can’t hold onto a 16-point fourth quarter lead. It’s really crazy to consider that the Saints could easily be 4-0 or 0-4 so far this year. All four of those games were that close and there for the taking. Impressive, then, on some level that they’ve managed to stay competitive with the aforementioned limitations.
Stop turning the ball over, stop committing dumb penalties, and the road to more successful results may be closer than you think.
Andrew Juge is the co-host of “The Saints Happy Hour Podcast.” He can be followed on Twitter @AndrewJuge