The 80s hard rock band Cinderella perhaps sang it best - "Don't know what you got, till it's gone." Indeed, offensive linemen can be that way. During football games, we're always watching the ball. We pay attention to who throws it, who catches it and who runs it. We often don't notice the big men in the trenches doing the dirty work, until they make a big mistake and jump offsides, miss a block or allow a quarterback sack. Unfortunately, Saints fans have been noticing their offensive line a lot this year.
During the 2009 regular season, a year in which the Saints started 13-0 before winning the Super Bowl, superstar quarterback Drew Brees was sacked a total of 20 times. Brees has already been sacked that many times this year, and we're only halfway through the 2013 campaign. Sure, the Saints are enjoying a strong year at 6-2 overall and are still considered one of the best teams in the NFL. But from the start, Brees has been running, scrambling and getting hit way too much.
Attrition is the biggest reason for the decline in protection. The offensive line that spearheaded the Saints to that 31-17 triumph over Indianapolis in Super Bowl 44 drifted away one by one. Carl Nicks, Jonathan Goodwin, Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb have all left the team for one reason or another. And this year, more than ever, those departures have become collectively evident.
On Sunday in a 26-20 loss at the New York Jets, Brees and his offensive line were in a funk from the jump. Miscommunications and protection issues resulted in all three of the Saints' first half timeouts getting burned before the end of the first quarter. It was brutal.
The Saints still can't run the football. Their leading rusher, Pierre Thomas, actually has more receiving yards (290) than yards on the ground (277). Oh, by the way, Thomas doesn't have a rushing touchdown all season. As a matter of fact, the team only has three scores on the ground – one each by Khiry Robinson, Darren Sproles and yes, Drew Brees. That's not all the offensive line's fault.
The Saints drafted what they envisioned to be a "power back" from Alabama in Mark Ingram. Ingram's struggles have been well documented. It just hasn't and may never work. On a third and inches at the Jets' 36-yard line in the fourth quarter, with the Saints trailing 26-17, Ingram was nowhere to be found. Instead, it was Jed Collins dropping an easy pass in the flat. Then, on fourth and inches, head coach Sean Payton's trust in his offensive line or Ingram was nonexistent again, as the coach called a befuddling reverse to sparingly used tight end Josh Hill. He was then dropped for a brutal eight-yard loss.
We still miss you, Deuce. Or even you, Mike Bell.
Brees may be able to sidestep most of the furious rushers and fire the Saints to another Super Bowl title this year, but championship teams aren't built on weak play in the trenches. And, that's what this current offensive line is producing.
Let's just pray Brees keeps getting up.
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