After four weeks of NFL football the biggest surprise to me is that the New Orleans Saints are 0-4. Last year this was the league's best offence and knowing what we know now, the league's most vicious defence.
On special teams, Darren Sproles is as good as any returner in football and the New Orleans Superdome was a true home field advantage. The Saints did not lose one game at home last year. And they ended the season with a quarterback in Drew Brees that broke the single season passing yardage record previously held by Dan Marino - 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns is one heck of a good year.
But this year, 0-4 with losses to Washington and their rookie quarterback, Carolina and their second-year quarterback, Kansas City who is not a playoff team and Green Bay, well, okay, that is understandable.
Does the absence of Sean Payton make the big of a difference? Did Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator influence good play that much? I mean neither played, they just directed. But what other possible answer could there be? The team is basically the same in personnel, but it is not the same in consistent excellent execution and determined resolve. What other answer is out there?
I will say this, Sean Payton and his absence has elevated the pay scale for any new and good NFL head coach. There is conclusive evidence that the good ones make the difference between winning and losing, the Saints have proven that. All coaches are different just like all players are different. For some, their greatest strength is teaching the techniques and details of the game in a specific position. Often they are former players that have transferred the ability to play to the ability to teach. Not an easy transition, I tried and could not do it for various reasons.
Others are planners and preparers and schemers. Almost always the coordinators, guys who design plays, love plays, and have an intense level of gratification in seeing what worked on the practice field work on the game field. They know both sides of the ball and are kind of the "nerds" of the game in that the game is all-consuming and affects all aspects of life outside of work. (If they have a life outside of work).
Then you have the head coach and he is all of the previous two and then some. The head coach is the intimidator, the Buck-stops-here guy, the guy you don't want to be called to the office for any reason guy. The guy who hires and fires and everything in between.
Not all have that type of personality or presence. Tony Dungy for example was a coach that pulled people together to win (and he had Peyton Manning in his prime). But, for the most part the head coach of a NFL team has the job because he has the internal strength to activate a response from others. If you don't have a tough guy head coach you better have a Top-5 quarterback.
When the Saints had Payton as head coach I could sense a focus that was unique, it transferred from Payton to his players. How? I don't know, it's difficult to describe but I could sense that Payton's resolve was the team's resolve. I think part of it is that the head coach will address the team, as a team more than any other coach. Usually as many as four times: after the game, before the Monday morning meeting, before the Wednesday morning meeting to prepare for the next game, and right before the actual game on Sunday. That is 64 times a year over 17 weeks, 16 games, not including training camp and off-season.
If you were to give me an opportunity to talk to a group of people 64 times over four months, I am sure I can mold and influence too, to some degree.
It is true that a football team reflects the personality and often morality of the head coach. The reflection is more subtle than intense but it is there.
At 0-4 I doubt the Saints are going to make the playoffs, they would have to win 10 of their next 12 to achieve Wild Card status. And they still have two games with Atlanta, San Francisco at home and at the Giants.
Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco is a good example of a coach that makes an impact. His brother John does in Baltimore, too. What would happen if Bill Belichick left New England? Would they improve? Sean Payton must be sitting back and not enjoying the downfall of the Saints, but in a quiet moment he might be thinking that his future is bright for many years to come. His discipline, play calling, and in-game decisions all are missed and as much as the Saints will try to duplicate his absence, they can't.
There is only one Sean Payton on the unemployment line. Only one Gregg Williams on the suspended list. And the Saints are 0-4. Logic rules in this one.