Since news of the bounty allegations against the New Orleans Saints came out this offseason, everything has gone downhill for the team. They lost head coach Sean Payton to a suspension for the entire season and current interim head coach Joe Vitt (also the linebackers coach) to a six-game suspension at the start of the season. The drama has carried on to the field, where the usually explosive Saints are 5-7, making this week's matchup in New York against the Giants a crucial one for the team.
"That's all we're getting ready for now, the New York Giants," Vitt said during a Wednesday conference call. "If we think we can walk past the New York Giants, the defending World Champions, and expect to beat anybody else, we're out of our minds. This is going to take every bit of preparation that we have, with total concentration and dedication to the task at hand."
The last person on the Saints people might expect to struggle is quarterback Drew Brees, but the past few weeks he has done just that. Against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, Drew Brees threw two interceptions for touchdowns, and followed that performance up last Thursday by throwing five interceptions.
"Drew is going to play better; he's going to work his butt off to play better," Vitt said. "It doesn't start; it doesn't end with Drew Brees. We have to protect better, we have to run the ball better, we have to play better defense, we have to have more three-and-outs on defense, we have to get our return game going, we have to play better in the fourth quarter."
Not only does the absence of Payton seem to be hurting the team on-the-field, it also is hard for many of them off-the-field, as many of the Saints staff have a close relationship with Sean.
"It's been difficult. It's been very difficult," Vitt said. "Number one, he's my friend, first.It's like a giant hole in my chest. I think we both kind of look at the calendar and see that there's four weeks left in the regular season, and he's due to come back here at the conclusion of the playoffs, but it's been extremely difficult."
Heading into the game against the Giants, the Saints do have a potentially valuable resource on the sideline, as current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo served as the Giants defensive coordinator for two seasons. Still, that might not be enough to stop Giants' quarterback Eli Manning.
"I think this: I've seen enough film on Eli and seen enough Giant offense, and of course Spags (Steve Spagnuolo) knows him very well, I think he's rare, man," Vitt said. "I don't know of a quarterback in the National Football League right now that's really as accurate as he is. This guy is a franchise quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl winner for a reason."