Payton sets tone for Saints’ continued ascension

    One of Sean Payton’s best qualities as a head coach/talent evaluator is that he is not optimistically delusional.          Unlike some previous Saints’ regimes that spent the offseason convincing themselves (and the owner) that they were better than they were, Payton understands where the Saints stand right now.
    Payton set the tone for the offseason moments after his team’s 23-15 divisional playoff loss at Seattle. Payton said he was “real proud” of his team and went out of his way to commend the work of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in “his first year.”
    Payton struck exactly the right tone. His underlying message is, “We have a good team that won 11 regular-season games. But, if we plan to win in the playoffs, we will have to improve enough to beat San Francisco, Seattle and Carolina.”
    In 2013, the Saints were 2-3 against that trio. One of those wins was 23-20 at home against the 49ers.
    Why can these teams compete successfully against the Saints? For one, all three have outstanding young quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton figure to be very good or great NFL signal callers for years.
    In most games, with Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints enjoy a huge edge at the most important position on the field.
    The 49ers, Seahawks and Panthers had a big edge over the Saints in defensive touchdowns scored. In 2013, San Francisco scored five defensive touchdowns, and Seattle and Carolina had four each. While finishing fourth in yards allowed, the Saints did not score a defensive touchdown all season.
    As solid as the Saints were defensively, the fact is they are unlikely to win unless their quarterback plays at a very high level. In 11 regular-season wins, Brees threw 32 touchdown passes. In five regular-season losses, Brees threw seven touchdown passes. Four of the Saints’ five defeats were outdoors.
    The Saints – and especially their head coach – abhor the label of “dome team.” But those numbers are simply hard to deny.
    What the Saints need is another offseason like the last. Since Payton’s return from his one-year exile, he changed defensive coordinators and significantly improved his roster. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was a terrific free-agent signing. Lewis is an outstanding cover corner, who was thrilled to be able to return to his hometown.
    The draft yielded two starters – safety Kenny Vaccaro and left tackle Terron Armstead. Wide receiver Kenny Stills is a legit deep threat, and defensive tackle John Jenkins appears to have an upside.
    Rookie street free agents also contributed. Defensive tackle Glenn Foster had three quarterback sacks. Running back Khiry Robinson averaged 4.1 yards a carry.
    During his unscheduled vacation, Payton watched the tape and realized his team had slipped. The Saints have started to ascend. The goal is to keep ascending, while the team’s franchise quarterback is still top shelf.
    Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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