Never a dull week here with the New Orleans Saints Mailbag. We're always appreciative of the interest, and for the inquiries. Here we go:
@brees4l1fe: Why does Wil Lutz keep getting his kicks blocked?
@ndominguez1217: When is Wil Lutz getting cut?
JD: These questions lead in the same direction, so this answer should suffice for both: The blocked kick against the Giants was a breakdown in protection, so that one can't be pinned on Lutz. If it's not, then we really are talking about three kicks – a deflected field-goal attempt against Oakland that may have been low, but ultimately was successful, and a couple of misses against Oakland from 50 and 61 yards. Now, no one wants or expects a steady stream of misses, but misses from that distance – especially from 61 – aren't usually employment-altering. Plus, Coach Sean Payton holds Lutz in high regard. I wouldn't rule out anything, but I don't expect a rush to judgement on this one based on the evaluation that has been made on Lutz.
@5_bluejayh24: Since P.J. Williams is on injured reserve, do you think there's any chance we will see more of safety Vonn Bell? Or do we trade for cornerback Joe Haden?
JD: Expect to see more of Bell just because he is on the ascent – 10 tackles, including eight solo, based on the coaches film from the Giants game, his first NFL start. That three-safety look for the starting defense (Bell, along with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd) was effective. As for the second question, I believe the charge is tampering when an NFL team publicly speaks about a player who currently is under contract. So I'm going to stay far, far away from that one.
@AndrewBoutros: I see that the attitude of Saints players is still upbeat and not defeated. Is Monday Night Football (against Atlanta) a must win?
@TheOscGonzalez: Does the team have a realistic chance to improve enough to make the playoffs?
@MarcustheGr806: Do you think the Saints can make the playoffs this year?
JD: These three questions are relatable enough to, hopefully, answer singularly. Literally, the only must-win game is the one that eliminates a team from playoff contention, or keeps it in playoff contention. So I'm fairly reluctant to call it a must-win. And yet…of the teams that have started 0-2 in NFL history, only 12 percent of them have advanced to the playoffs. So, it's realistic and it's doable, but it'll be bucking the odds, which means that the sooner the Saints start winning, the better. That said, the Saints made a pretty significant defensive jump from Week 1 to Week 2, and I'm too stubborn to believe that the offense consistently can be held to 13 points, 3 for 13 on third down and 288 yards, as it was against the Giants. So I believe better days are ahead.
@Highliner54: Why did we sign tight end Coby Fleener? Do we not watch film? He's beyond trash. Why do we give trash players good money? Why play man-to-man defense with trash defenders that can't even play zone?
JD: Why address trash questions from trash fans with trash opinions? Now, tell me: When you read that reply, did it look as stupid to you as it felt for me to write it? OK, now that we've dispensed with the juvenile delinquency and nonsense, let's try to engage in a little adult discourse. Teams sign free agents with the thought that the player will help improve the program. Some signings are immediate hits, some take a while longer to hit, and some totally are misses. But a player is signed with a specific vision in mind and if the vision and player sync, it's a success. As for playing man-to-man, that concept, in part, helped keep the Giants offense out of the end zone last Sunday. And for three quarters, that concept, in part, helped hold Oakland to 13 points. So, your personal dislike aside, it's one that has been useful for much of this young season and, your personal dislike aside, it probably is one that will be used more as the season progresses. As for the intro, I apologize. Just wanted to make the point that you can present a legitimate question in a less insulting way, and still achieve the intended result. Otherwise, you run the risk of the recipient assuming a defensive posture, and we're not going to achieve anything that way.
@saintsloppydawg: Who is the next tight end to step up if Coby Fleener flops again?
JD: Welcome to "Dog Out Fleener Day" in the mailbag. Unless he's injured, Fleener isn't going anywhere. However, once Josh Hill returns from injury, he'll help as a blocker and receiver. And, perhaps, we'll see what Chris Manhertz can do. But Fleener isn't going to be tossed aside just because he hasn't hit his stride in the offense two games into the season. The hope was that the acclimation and production would've been at a higher level than it is, but sometimes it simply takes a little longer for the process to smooth out.
@HeelEymar: Why are you all losing?
JD: The opponents have been better on that day. That's about as succinct as it gets. Now, if you want an answer with some specificity, hit me up next with a question that's a little more directed on one thing, and hopefully I'll have a better, more narrowed answer.
@Leovanni_Losada: Do you think the Saints would have been better off not paying Drew Brees?
JD: No. Nay. Uh-uh. Negative. Hell-to-the-naw (courtesy of the late Whitney Houston). First, he remains an elite quarterback who's playing at an elite level, and those guys give you the best chance to win in a quarterback-driven league. Second, the price absolutely was right, in terms of his compensation and the fact that his salary cap number significantly was lowered, so as to allow the Saints to retain key players and to pursue other free agents. Now, if the Saints were in full rebuild mode, that answer might be different. But the NFL is a league now where there is such a fine line between winning and losing, that a player like Brees can make a huge difference.
@WWEGL_VTC: With Delvin Breaux out for a while, and P.J. Williams out with a concussion, how does Coach Sean Payton plan to handle the secondary?
JD: Well, Deion Sanders and Darrell Green ain't walkin' through that door. So Ken Crawley, De'Vante Harris, Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb are going to have to hold the line. Vonn Bell's versatility should help (upon drafting him, the Saints expressed the belief in his ability to cover) and Brian Dixon is available. And, of course, there are some street free agents who likely have been, or will be, considered. But there probably isn't a miracle solution, save this: The available players will have to play well, and a consistent pass rush will be their best friend.
@swoldier24: Will Craig Robertson remain a starter at linebacker when Dannell Ellerbe gets healthy?
JD: Good question. Here's one back at you – how do you take him off the field? For everything that Ellerbe offers, Robertson brings similar traits to the table, plus one other significant ability: Availability. That, and the fact that he arguably has been New Orleans' best defender (a team-leading 26 tackles, and one pass defensed) mean that regardless of when Ellerbe returns, Robertson will have a spot on the field in several defensive packages. There's no reason to rush Ellerbe back into the starting lineup considering the way Robertson is playing, so Ellerbe can be transitioned back in as depth. Robertson hasn't done anything to diminish the enthusiasm he created in training camp.
@cdixonmoore2002: Do you think that the Saints will replace running back Mark Ingram due to lack of production?
JD: Twenty-one carries for 88 yards, in two games, suggests he hasn't had enough touches to make that decision. Coach Payton said that the offense needs more balance, and the only way to achieve that is for Ingram and the running game to be utilized a bit more often than they have been in the first two games. Now, if Ingram was fumbling, or missing assignments, or not taking advantage of what's there (he averages 4.2 yards per carry), that'd be one thing. But he hasn't had many opportunities, and he has proven that he can be productive when the touches occur.