It certainly was clever of Sean Payton to call that surprise onside kick in the first half against the Panthers yesterday.
But the Saints coach outsmarted himself on a bigger decision, and it cost them a game they needed.
Giving rookie Terron Armstead his first NFL snaps on offense in a must-win game on the road against a 10-sack defensive end in the middle of a contract drive turned out to not work so well. Of course, when you stack up reasons why it didn’t and the stack is so high, you wonder why someone as intelligent as Payton didn’t see it too.
Armstead couldn’t block Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, and the disruption caused by the Panthers multiple blitzes and stunts kept the Saints from moving the ball during the time of the game when weather would have allowed passing.
“We knew going in there were going to be some challenges, there always is at the position, though,” Payton said, via Katherine Terrell of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Granted, the guy Armstead replaced was awful last week. But Rams defensive end Robert Quinn didn’t abuse previous left tackle Charles Brown any worse than Hardy did Armstead, making the switch futile at best. (And for the record, Hardy didn’t have a sack on Brown earlier this month.)
Quarterback Drew Brees was a good solider, saying some of the six sacks he abasorbed were his fault for holding onto the ball too long. And it’s hard to fault Armstead, a third-round pick who had only been active four times this year. Armstead also had a pair of false starts, and was so bad they had to adjust their protection at halftime, keeping tight ends and fullbacks as cover just as the monsoon hit.
“I gave it everything I had,” Armstead said, adding he was “terribly upset” with the way the game unfolded.
Others should be as well, at the fact a decision which was foolish on its face was made in the first place. Even if the switch was necessary, announcing it so early in the week just gave the Panthers time to draw a plan to confuse the rookie, and it worked to perfection.