Richie Incognito. If you follow the NFL, you’ll know the name, and it’s the one that’s attracted negative attention at almost every turn in his career.
Some might suggest that with the firepower at hand, the Saints should repeat their 13-3 effort and be well on their way to one of the most lucrative prizes in American sports: a home super bowl.
There are two main obstacles in their way.
The first is the absence of Sean Payton for the season from the sidelines and team facilities.
Some may say but you’ve got pro bowlers everywhere, these guys know how to play football and are more important than a coach.
In many sports, yes, but in the NFL, hell no. You don’t win in this league with bad coaching.
The label of head coach is somewhat misleading in the NFL.
The head coach actually does very little coaching of technique and systems. That is delegated down through the ranks.
Rather, his responsibility is to pour over tape and build a game plan that he can then amend on the fly like a chess grandmaster.
The head coach outlines his plan with the coordinators and the position coaches and what it requires from specific players to be executed and then those more specialised coaches go out and emphasise those skills within the position groups and the team.
Sure, the coach will give tips at practice. But that isn’t the main part of his job.
The main part of his job is to get the game plan ready.
On Sundays, the coaches bring to the fore the 90 hour weeks they’ve put in breaking down their opponent and constructing a game plan specific to their players’ talents and their opponents’ flaws and tendencies.
They then need to adapt over the course of the game that plan to what their opposing coach has done over his 90 hour work week.
In a game of NFL, the players are the soldiers in the trenches being directed by the general with a headset.
Sure, you need good soldiers, but they’re pretty useless without a plan.
Now Payton’s interim replacement might be very capable, but he’s never worn the general’s headset in his 33 years of coaching.
Oh, and he’s also serving a 6 week suspension from the same scandal.
This leaves the offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, as the main man to start the season.
It is difficult to see this ending well.
The second stumbling block is one of the most overlooked elements to predicting the NFL season: schedule strength.
Last year the Saints received the annual NFL gift from the gods – the league’s weakest schedule.
Changes in schedule strength are an often-overlooked aspect when predicting where a team is going to finish. We normally only look at where they finished last year and did they get better or worse, and then add or subtract some games.
Saints’ opponents had a 0.458 record when not playing New Orleans and a point differential of -339; the weakest adjusted record of any team in the NFL.
This year they’ve moved to a 0.513 adjusted record, but still with a negative points differential, only it’s halved at -166.
That type of move alone is normally good for an additional loss or two, regardless of what else is happening in the organsiation.
So combining the tougher schedule with the disarray at the head coaching position, it is very difficult to see the Saints pulling out the type of 12+ win season that will be required to win their division.