Check out the action on the field between the Saints and Falcons.
The 'Bag is getting heavier by the week, it seems. Let's empty this week's edition. Thanks for the questions, and keep 'em coming in the future.
@saintsloppydawg: Why doesn't Coach Sean Payton make changes at the coaching of linebackers? We have the talent.
JD: Just a thought, but what if players are coached properly, and they're making errors? OK, with that bit of devil's advocacy out of the way, I think it's safe to say that Payton hasn't been shy about making changes on his staff when he has felt change was necessary. So I'm going to say that he still believes the proper balance of coaching and teaching is being done at linebacker.
@TrackNationUp: What about Stephone Anthony playing middle linebacker? He had a great rookie season there. And I think we use talent wrong, like cornerback De'Vante Harris not playing against Atlanta and safety Vonn Bell's snaps decreasing. He had a great debut.
JD: James Laurinaitis was brought in as a free agent at middle linebacker because, hopefully, his experience was going to be a factor for the Saints defensively. It's hard to debate the fact that a seasoned veteran has seen and experienced more than has a second-year player, even one as smart as Anthony. The natural byproduct would be that Anthony, relieved of the play-calling duties, hopefully could be even more impactful as the "Sam" linebacker. There's still time for that, but his unseating Laurinaitis in the middle probably is a long shot (the backup at Mike linebacker, by the way, is Craig Robertson, but Anthony still gets practice reps in the middle and remains capable of playing the position). With regard to Harris, the decision against Atlanta was to go with bigger cornerbacks to, hopefully, help in run support. It didn't work particularly well – the Falcons ran for 217 yards and three touchdowns, and averaged seven yards per carry – but, in theory, that seemed to be sound thinking. Either way, Harris not playing a defensive snap and Bell's snaps decreasing weren't major culprits in the 45-32 loss. Both will continue to be in the mix, but different games call for different gameplans and personnel packages.
@5_bluejayh24: Do you think the Lions would be willing to trade with us for defensive end Ziggy Ansah? Plus, could we bring back cornerback Cortland Finnegan?
JD: I seem to get one of these every week, so here goes: Commenting on other teams' players (current guys, presently under contract) in that way is a no-no for me. Bringing back Finnegan is a possibility; if the Saints feel that need, they know where he is and have a good idea of what he can do, having had him in training camp, so he possibly would be an early call if they're searching for a corner.
@_SportsKrave: Why is special teams so bad this year? The Saints easily should be 2-1, or 1-2, if it wasn't for special teams.
JD: As Coach Sean Payton likes to say, there have been a lot of dirty hands involved in the Saints being 0-3. So, to say special teams specifically is responsible for one or two losses is easy, but not very fair. For instance, could the defense have been better in the season opener against Oakland, when it allowed 22 fourth-quarter points in a 35-34 loss? Or, could the offense have been more potent and efficient against the Giants in a 16-13 loss? Special teams has had its issues, no doubt, notably a blocked field goal attempt returned for a touchdown against the Giants and the punt-return gaffe against Atlanta that led to a touchdown. And its issues probably appear more pronounced because those units are on the field the least. But the offense and defense haven't totally been mistake-free, either. The Saints haven't played complimentary football, and the special teams unit isn't the only culprit.
@brees4l1fe: How has Garrett Grayson looked on the practice squad? What happened to our defense?
JD: We haven't seen much of Grayson at practice since training camp ended; regular-season practices are closed, except we're allowed to watch the early portion of the workout (stretching, position drills). Grayson likely is running scout team but, again, we haven't seen much of him actually throwing passes, reading defenses, etc. What happened to the D? An imperfect storm of mental and physical busts. When that happens, it's going to be a really long night and the stat sheet is going to look absolutely awful. When the mental and physical dips don't happen, the Saints likely can more closely resemble the defense that took the field against the Giants, and the one that was solid for three quarters against Oakland. But, as we've seen, the margin for error is slim and it doesn't take an avalanche of errors for the defense to look bad. It only takes one bad quarter (against Oakland) or a bad night (against Atlanta) to skew things.
@TheKingMosDef: Why do the Saints continue to struggle developing talent? A coaching staff that's been together for so long has to be better.
JD: Developing talent is a hit or miss. For instance, no one questions the development of Terron Armstead, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead IV, Kenny Vaccaro and Cam Jordan, or the prior developments of Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks and Lance Moore. The fact is, there are going to be misses, and the sheer volume of the process suggests there will be more misses than hits. Do the Saints wish they had a higher batting average? Heck yeah. Every team does. No matter how long a staff has been together, projecting how long it will take and how well a player will acclimate to the NFL mostly is an educated guessing game. Teams consider all the factors and weigh the percentages of the player being a fit for their program. Lots of times, they're right and lots of times, they're not.
@wmconstant: How long until the defense gets better? Days? Weeks? Months?
JD: Now, I could pretend that I rent a space in Jackson Square, demand $50, and give you an exact date. But that'd be me trying to B.S. you when reality is, I just don't know. We've seen flashes of potential and we've seen undeniable progress, but we haven't yet seen sustained effectiveness. It was pretty good for three quarters against the Raiders, really good for four quarters against the Giants, then took a beating when it was gouged by Atlanta. Hopefully for the Saints, the answer is "Sunday, against San Diego."
@JohnMartyROCKS: Could you please rank the 2016 Saints team on a scale from 1 being a dumpster fire to 10 being a Super Bowl contender?
JD: I'm not sure anyone assumed the Saints would be a Super Bowl contender this year. But asking for a rank after three games makes me want to "Jim Mora" you a little bit. We need a bigger sample size than 12 quarters because – and I'm guessing you might not want to read this – there's time for this team to be better, as expected.
@haha0951: What's the earliest we can expect to see Sheldon Rankins back? It's been almost seven weeks now. Why is P.J. Williams on injured reserve for a concussion?
JD: Rankins broke his fibula on Aug. 15. He was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 5, which denoted that he couldn't practice for six weeks and couldn't play for at least eight. And P.J. Williams went on IR because his concussion was one of the worst that many have seen. Given that the NFL is extremely sensitive to head trauma – as it should be – that move wasn't shocking and long-term, it was in P.J.'s best interest.
@BarryMichaeKn1: Is there any chance for the Saints to salvage the season after starting 0-3? If they do, can the defense get healthy to help?
JD: Short answer: Yes, and yes. But here's the reality: Since 1980, of the 164 teams that have started 0-3, just five have advanced to the playoffs, none since the 1998 Buffalo Bills. If the Saints are going to be the sixth, it'll be because the defense got healthy and contributed.
@Negrodamu5: Any word on why we continue to suffer depth issues and are plagued by injury season in and season out? Just wondering.
JD: Football is a tough, physical sport, and injuries simply are a part of it. That's just an accepted part of the game. P.J. Williams suffered a wicked concussion. Kenny Vaccaro hurt his ankle. Terron Armstead has been battling a knee injury for months. Josh Hill had a high ankle sprain. Delvin Breaux broke a fibula, as did Sheldon Rankins. It's not as if these injuries are occurring while guys are walking the dog; they're happening on the field, in physical encounters, so there's nothing fluky about them.
@_igfrancisco: What's the status on our injured guys like Willie Snead IV, Kenny Vaccaro, Dannell Ellerbe, Tyeler Davison, etc.?
JD: We'll know more on Sunday, but I'd be shocked if Snead, Vaccaro and Davison aren't back on the field (all were back on the practice field this week). Ellerbe is still more of an unknown.
@SaintsFans13: Sterling Moore and Ken Crawley have played solid the last two games. When do we start coming down on coaches?
JD: Here's the irony of the question: If Moore, who wasn't with the team a month ago, and Crawley, an undrafted rookie, have been playing solid, don't the coaches deserve some credit for development and/or putting them in position to maximize what they do best? Or should we assume that neither requires coaching or a scheme? In other words, I understand what you're getting at, but there always is the flip side of the coin. If bad play is attributable to coaching, why isn't solid play similarly attributed?
@CJPruitt16_: Can we stop wearing white every week now?
JD: I'm pretty sure the color doesn't have any impact on winning or losing. Pretty sure.
@MARIAEHOUSHMAND: I heard most analysts say we are just half a team and coaching is part of the issues. True?
JD: When a team doesn't win, it's ripe for any criticism that's levied. Can Saints coaches be better? Yes. Can Saints players be better? Yes. Can the front office be better? Yes. Can the Gatorade be better? Yes. Can the Mailbag be better? Yes. What I'm saying is, when you're 0-3, everyone has accountability and nothing tastes sweet. If this same team wins three straight, the same analysts will say the Saints have come together as a team and the coaching is to be commended. That's just part of the business.
@Ivkm: How long do you think it'll take to build the Saints to go back to the Super Bowl?
JD: The first trip took 42 years. I don't have an exact date, but I'm going to say it won't take that long for the next trip. I'd love to say 2016, '17 or '18. I'll leave it to Coach Payton to make me right.
@ccothron427: When are the Saints going to hold open tryouts for some defense?
JD: Probably, they don't even hold open tryouts for people to run the deep fryer at Popeye's. Why would they do it for professional football? Seriously, most NFL teams – including the Saints – bring in players for workouts weekly, to prepare a readiness list. But there aren't a ton of Delvin Breaux-like gems out there, waiting to be discovered. If there were, 32 teams more than likely would be smart enough to pick them up and, at least, sign them to the practice squad.
@Martins_Pauloo: How many wins can the Saints get this season? How can this defense revamp this year?
JD: Unfortunately, sigh, I'm going to assume you're not a regular Mailbag reader. Otherwise, you'd probably know that I don't get into the wins prediction business (didn't do that at my previous place of employment, either, if that helps). But regarding the second question, the defense can improve pretty easily if it simply carries out its assignments. Now, that sounds pretty simple to say; I'm not the guy who has to make a split-second decision that could be the difference between a 3-yard gain and a 23-yarder, or could be the difference between a pass breakup or a contested 30-yard completion. But gap integrity on defense is carrying out the assignment, as is taking the proper angle and leverage. Small errors mount and become big, big problems. When you hear coaches and players talk about "cleaning up" little things, it's not just a cliché.
@CinematicCase: What can the Saints do to combat the short pass and the run? That's where we struggle the most.
JD: Probably, the best way to combat that is to keep teams in long-yardage situations. Much easier said than done because opponents study film and seek tendencies and weaknesses, just like the Saints. When a team is second-and-2 or third-and-1, it has a distinct advantage in terms of offensive playcalling. When it's second-and-8 or third-and-7, the defensive odds rise dramatically.
@ccothron427: Why isn't safety Pierre Warren getting another look by the Saints?
JD: Personally, I liked him as a person and player. That doesn't mean the team believes he's better than the players it has on the roster instead of him. Probably, the Saints are monitoring his progress and whereabouts but, probably, they believe they have better players on the roster. Coaches have seen him and weighed his play against the current group, and they chose the current group.
@MikeSnoopy2561: What role was Delvin Breaux playing on special teams when he broke his leg? Your top corner on special teams seems risky.
JD: I'm not sure what role he was playing, and I'm not sure it matters. He got hurt playing football, and he's not the first (or last) defensive or offensive starter to play special teams, or to get hurt while doing so. Special teams is such a critical part of the game, it sometimes requires that players like Breaux contribute to that unit. There isn't a no-risk position on the field and I understand the belief that Breaux being on special teams heightens the possibility of injury, but I wouldn't feel any better about his broken fibula if it had happened while he was making a tackle in run support.