Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 9/20/12
The New Orleans Saints have started the season without their head coach, assistant head coach/interim coach and general manager -- each of whom are serving suspensions for their role in the bounty scandal. They've also started a season with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2007 -- Sean Payton's second year with the club. Yet, as they engage in a lot of soul-searching, looking for answers to some obvious early-season problems that were magnified in the two losses, the Saints know exactly what they're not going to do: panic. While it would be easy to give in and reach for the panic button, the Saints are trying to stay positive -- hoping the worst is behind them as they prepare for Sunday's game with the winless Kansas City Chiefs. With everything that's happened off the field, the focus has to be on what's ahead of them -- especially for a defense that has offered little resistance in losses to the Washington Redskins (40-32) and Carolina Panthers (35-28). The Saints' defense ranks 32nd in the NFL in total yards (461.0) and rushing yards (186.0) and is tied for 31st in scoring (37.5), which has fans extremely nervous with some more potent offenses awaiting them down the road. But as interim coach Aaron Kromer and several players pointed out Monday, panic and finger-pointing aren't options. "The guys are down, but they're not out," said Kromer, who's filling in for the first six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt. "They have a feeling of staying tight and staying together. They're going to rebound in this situation. "We are going to stay focused on one week. We're not thinking about playoffs. We're not thinking about other things. We are thinking about winning this week. Total focus is on the job at hand this week." The defensive woes, which he said can be partly attributed to facing two unconventional offenses with dynamic young dual-threat quarterbacks, are at the top of a laundry list of things that have gone wrong so far. While 0-2 isn't the end of the world in a 16-game season, the Saints know they can't afford to slip any more without falling out of playoff contention terribly early. "Right now, we aren't where we want to be," said free safety Malcolm Jenkins. "We're only in Week 2, but there needs to be a sense of urgency." "If you're in this locker room and you've been a part of this team, then you have high expectations," said tackle Zach Strief, one of the team's offensive captains. "We know how talented this team is. There's a lot of talent in this locker room. "Talent doesn't give you wins, but it gives you chances to win games." Everyone knows about the Saints' offensive talent. It's the other side of the ball that's put additional pressure on the offense to score even more points to keep up with their opponents. That has to change quickly, and no one knows it more than first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Hired in January by Payton to transform a unit that was roasted in the playoffs the last two seasons, Spagnuolo knows what it's like to come under fire with a new team. In 2007, he was vilified when the New York Giants gave up 80 points in an 0-2 start in his first season as their defensive coordinator. After that terrible start, however, the Giants went 10-4 the rest of the regular season and continued rolling in the playoffs. With Spagnuolo drawing up the game plan for Super Bowl XLII, they allowed one touchdown to the powerful New England Patriots in the first 57 minutes en route to a monumental 17-14 upset -- ruining the Pats' hopes of an undefeated season. "I would say that I don't have a magic wand," Spagnuolo said in recalling that magical season. "There were no secrets to that when it happened. It came together because nobody -- nobody -- pointed fingers. Everybody stuck together and (you) just grind your way out of it." Spagnuolo accepted some of the blame for his team's uneven performance in the loss to Carolina, saying Newton took advantage of some overly-aggressive blitz calls to make big plays. The Panthers had eight plays of 20 yards or longer, pushing the total against the Saints' defense to just 15 in two games. Among the plays was a 66-yard throw from Newton to a wide-open Steve Smith and a 40-yard run by Newton. But Spagnuolo is adamant his zone-blitz scheme, which he learned at the hand of longtime NFL defensive guru Jim Johnson, will work for the Saints as it did with the Giants. "The growing pains will pay off in the end," he said. "I believe in our players and our coaches, and I believe in the scheme. And unless something out of the sky falls, I'm not going to change in that regard." Kromer said it's important that the Saints not point fingers and stay together while the defense gets more comfortable with Spagnuolo's system. "When you are on the inside, you'll see that we are going to be a good team," Kromer said. "We're not good enough yet. We've lost two games by eight points, so we're that much not good enough. ... We need to be nine points better than we are right now, and that's not asking a lot." Strief said the Saints, who are upset with the way they've played, will weather the storm and learn from it. "We could have a guy come in here and throw his helmet against his locker as hard as he can, OK? That's something you do when you're 6," he noted. "We could have tantrums, but it's not this locker room. It never has been. "You have to figure out for yourself, what can you do? What can you do to get better because we're not collectively as a team, right now, winning enough plays to win games." Quarterback Drew Brees noted the Saints are used to dealing with and handling adversity. But, he said, it has come a lot earlier than it in the past. "We trust our preparation. ... We trust our approach," he said. "Unfortunately, we've done some things that have set us back, prevented us from winning. The important thing is recognizing what those things are and having an answer for them. I feel like we have that."
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