I was perusing the PFF grades through the first four weeks of the season today and I came across some interesting numbers. Of all the guards in the NFL, Jahri Evans is currently ranked 5th, Ben Grubbs is currently 8th and Carl Nicks is currently ranked 16th. All things being equal, would I prefer to have kept Nicks? Of course. But his loss, at least so far, isn't as pronounced and some would have you believe. Not that PFF is the ultimate measure of performance or a decisive way to theorize how Nicks would have done in a different environment, but it confirms my suspicion that guard play isn't the problem with some the Saints' offensive struggles. Granted, Carl Nicks' run blocking rating come in much higher than Evans/Grubbs, but overall the two Saints' guards grade higher. There is no question Nicks would be a boost to the Saints' running game. The Saints currently average 4.3 yards per carry (vs. 4.9 last season with Nicks in the lineup). By comparison the Bucs averaged 4.2 yards per carry last year and average 3.6 this year through 4 games. Nicks is just one player so obviously he doesn't deserve blame for a huge dropoff in Tampa just as much as he doesn't deserve sole credit for a drop off for the Saints the year after he left. Still, it's hard to conclude based on all that small sample size evidence that not having Carl Nicks is having a dramatic effect on the Saints offense. It's not.
The dramatic drop in performance is the receiver position, pure, plain and simple. Lance Moore has done what Lance Moore does, maybe with a few more drops than usual... but otherwise, Marques Colston has played on one leg, Robert Meachem is gone, Devery Henderson looks old, slow and has been concussed, Adrian Arrington and Nick Toon have both been placed on IR (Arrington since waived), and Joe Morgan hasn't been able to come close to offering the Saints what Meachem did. So, to me, you can look no further than the atrocious play at receiver being primarily responsible for the offensive woes. Granted, Colston is on the mend so that should hopefully repair a lot of problems... but Lance Moore looks to be unavailable Sunday night so there will still be some shoes to fill. Can anyone say Greg Camarillo?
The Saints are currently averaging 7.1 yards per passing attempt. Last year they averaged 8.3 yards per. Brees' current completion % is 57.6% compared to 71.2% last year. That's due to receivers dropping passes and struggling to get open. Lastly, receivers accounted for 53.4% of the Saints' passing yards last year. This year, it's down to 36%. If you take away that one Joe Morgan 80 yarder, it would be down to under 32%. That means Brees is having to settle for dump off to Graham/Sproles because the receivers aren't getting separation.
So while defense is the principle reason the Saints are 0-4 right now, and any suggestion otherwise is comical, the notion that Carl Nicks' departure is affecting the Saints' offense is misguided. Would I love to have him? Sure. Would the Saints be better than 0-4 right now with him? Pretty doubtful. If you want an explanation as to why the Saints' offense has slowed down, it's not Sean Payton being gone as much as the injuries and lack of performance at the receiver position.