Saints’ issues go beyond Garrett Hartley

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints looks on against the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

When a kicker misses what would have been a game-winning field goal and sets up his opponent for victory instead, it’s not hard to figure out where to point blame.

Garrett Hartley should have made the 29-yard field goal that cost the Saints a victory over the Falcons yesterday in overtime. But the defending champs have more than just kicking issues to worry about.

Hartley’s kicking woes are obvious, which is why the Saints are set to work out veteran John Carney today. If they decide to make a change, then hopefully Carney will help bring some stability to the position.

But John Carney isn’t going to solve the Saints’ inability to stop power running games or help generate a pass rush. He’s not going to fix Reggie Bush’s leg injury or help a suddenly struggling interior offensive line either.

The Falcons have consistently proven that they can run the football. They rushed for 221 yards against the Cardinals, so for them to produce another 200-yard effort (201 to be exact) against the Saints wasn’t necessarily surprising. But it’s obviously still a concern.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Saints’ defense couldn’t stop Michael Turner and Jason Snelling on the Falcons’ game-winning drive in overtime. On that drive, Turner and Snelling combined for 46 yards on 10 carries and picked up three first downs by keeping the ball on the ground. (Although one of those runs by Turner was negated because of a penalty.)

Granted, the Saints had just played four and a half quarters and were obviously tired. But their inability to get off the field on third down is still troublesome. The Falcons’ game plan was to wear the interior of the Saints’ defensive line down and that’s exactly what they did. You have to tip your hat to the Falcons for executing a great game plan, but it’s not like the Saints won’t face other teams that can run the ball. They’re going to be challenged like this from here on out and Gregg Williams needs to figure out a way to solve the problem.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints lost a lot of their explosiveness when Bush went down with a leg injury on Monday night. But injuries happen – they’re part of football. The bigger issue is that the interior of their offensive line hasn’t been generating the same push as it did all of last year. Sean Payton’s offense is outstanding, but it needs to be balanced in order for it to be firing on all cylinders. The Saints rushed for only 43 yards yesterday and it allowed the Falcons’ front seven to remain fresh late in the game. (Atlanta also does a nice job of consistently rotating its defensive linemen.)

None of these issues are irreversible and the Saints have one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL. We’re not likely to see a slide anytime soon and eventually the defending champs will iron out their issues.

That said, giving Hartley the boot may solve the kicking issue, but Payton and Co. have other problems that need to be solved moving forward.

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