Saints Have Their Own Problems to Worry About

The Packers got hosed in Seattle, but there's no sympathy coming from interim-interim Saints coach Aaron Kromer. After all, his team is 0-3 and practically on the brink of elimination with a mistake-prone offense and porous defense.

Everyone, it seems, has a reaction to the Monday night game that was stolen from the Green Bay Packers.

Everyone except New Orleans Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer.

"I don't have a reaction to it," Kromer told Packers beat reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. "That's football. That's part of it. I always say, if it has to come down to the last play of the game, then maybe you should have solved the problem earlier. We always say that. If we miss a field goal in a game, like we did last week, well, we should have got the first down and we wouldn't have had to kick a field goal. We've got to look at ourselves and look at our own problems and work through it."

The Saints have plenty of problems. So do the Packers. This makes Sunday's showdown at Lambeau Field practically an elimination game for the NFC playoffs. The Saints, with coach Sean Payton suspended for the season for his role in the team's bounty scandal, are a woeful 0-3 after blowing an 18-point lead in the final 21 minutes and losing in overtime at home to Kansas City last week. The Packers are 1-2 instead of 2-1, an about-face from last year when they took the league by storm with an offense that made up for the defense's perpetual shortcomings.

For New Orleans, the offseason was bad with the suspensions of coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and the in-limbo status of defensive players Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, both of whom have been reinstated. The regular season hasn't been any better, with losses to Washington by eight, Carolina by eight and Kansas City by three.

"Oh, geez, it's all been tough," quarterback Drew Brees said in his conference call. "It's all been really tough but we're making our way through. We knew it was going to be challenging. Obviously, didn't expect the way that we started off here but very confident in the guys that we have in the locker room and the type of character guys that we have that we're going to be able to turn this thing around. I feel like we've gotten a little bit better each week. Unfortunately, that hasn't translated into wins yet but, hopefully, it will very soon."

While the Packers are dealing with a distraction this week, the Saints have been dealing with distractions since the NFL released its findings into "Bountygate" on March 2. Almost seven months later, the Saints haven't found normalcy. The offense has been good but not great, the defense is struggling to replace departed (and suspended) coordinator Gregg Williams and major coaching decisions are being made by committee without Payton.

"Well, obviously, we're still trying to get in a routine being 0-3," said Kromer, the team's offensive line coach who is serving as interim coach while the other interim coach, Joe Vitt, serves a six-game suspension for his role in the scandal. "We haven't had that around here in a long time, and we're doing the best we can to get into a routine and get this thing straightened up." While distractions have been the norm for the Saints, the Packers are getting a heaping scoopful of distraction this week. As much as coach Mike McCarthy would like to turn the page to prevent his team from dwelling on the win that got away, he knows that's not likely to happen with a media frenzy descending on 1265 Lombardi Ave. for a huge game between teams with battered psyches and disappointing records.

Kromer has said the team has handled the distractions by ignoring them but, clearly, something is missing from a team that's tied with Green Bay for most wins (41, including playoffs) since the start of the 2009 season. Offensively, they've gone from 34.2 points per game to 27.7. After turning over the ball 19 times last season, they're on pace for 32. Defensively, the issues are much more pressing. After yielding 21.2 points per game last season, they're ranked last with 34.0 allowed per game this season. They can't stop the run (a stunning 215.0 yards per game that's last in the league) or the pass (25th-ranked 101.2 passer rating).

Kromer said the defense, being run by new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, hasn't been "playing fast enough." He saw some signs of life against the Chiefs last week, but Jamaal Charles' 91-yard touchdown run jump-started Kansas City's comeback. The Saints allowed 177 yards in the first half but 510 for the game.

"It appeared last week we did a much better job," Kromer said of his defense. "They got us a couple of turnovers and we capitalized and made them into 14 points. That's something we haven't been doing. For three quarters, we did a decent job stopping the run -- or at least stopping the big play for almost three quarters -- and then they broke one out and the wheels fell off a little bit both offensively and defensively."

The Saints can't afford to have the wheels fall off again. They're the only winless team in the NFC, a conference that has nine teams with at least two wins. Lose again, and they'd be three games out of the playoff chase with a lot of teams to climb past.

"For us, despite what's happened this offseason and the circumstances that we've been put under," Brees said, "all we can worry about is the guys that we do have in the locker room, as coaches and players, the scheme that we're running, trusting in, trusting in our preparation, and then going out there and finding a way to go win games."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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