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Kromer earns passing marks after keeping Saints afloat during interim stint

Aaron Kromer guided the New Orleans Saints through a painful start to the 2012 season before ending his six-game interim head coaching stint with two victories (Photo: Parker Waters).Aaron Kromer guided the New Orleans Saints through a painful start to the 2012 season before ending his six-game interim head coaching stint with two victories (Photo: Parker Waters).

NEW ORLEANS -- A 2-4 record does not truly reflect the overall job performance turned in by assistant coach Aaron Kromer, the interim to the interim for the embattled New Orleans Saints.

He performed admirably under extremely trying conditions as a result of the unprecedented sanctions placed on the Saints franchise by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

That alone gets Kromer a passing grade, regardless what the team's current standing in the NFC South and conference playoff rankings suggest, regardless what the league-wide stats say about the team's defense.

Returning interim coach Joe Vitt summed it up well in his first meeting with reporters Monday after serving a six-game suspension for his role in the Bounty scandal.

"I think Aaron Kromer did a phenomenal job of keeping this team together through some tough times,'' Vitt said. "He has kept our staff together. We had a little bit of a rocky start. You never know how the season is going to go because every season takes on a life of its own. He has kept it together and kept our team together. Our hats are off to Aaron."

A "rocky start'' is one way of describing the Saints' "oh-fer'' launch to the 2012 season. I might use the words "disappointing,'' "embarrassing'' and "woeful,'' but that's just me.

Why not the word "surprising?'' I don't think many observers saw four season-opening losses in the cards, regardless who sat in on an interim basis for Sean Payton and Vitt.

2-2 perhaps, but not 0-4!

Which is why I conclude that, while he did his best, I'm not so sure Kromer left the campground better than he found it. I'm not necessarily blaming Kromer per se but he is the man in charge, after all, and blowing an 18-point lead at home to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs is inexcusable.

No, I blame the team's "Minute Men'' defense under the direction of first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, which is on pace to yield the most points and yards in one season in franchise history. The "Minute Men'' play decently for a series or two but then seem to lose focus.

Exhibit A: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman and wide receiver Vincent Jackson collaborate on a franchise-record 95-yard catch-and-run, a play in which Saints defensive backs Patrick Robinson and Roman Harper fail to defense properly.

Result: On the same play, free safety Malcolm Jenkins sprints across the field to tackle Jackson at the Saints 2, preventing a tying touchdown in the third quarter. Then, the Saints stood their ground in the shadow of their end zone, turning back the Bucs on four consecutive running plays. It was a combination of stout defense by the Saints and unimaginative play calling by the Bucs.

Exhibit B: In the final minutes, the Bucs easily march downfield and get into position for a tying score to send the game into overtime.

Result: On fourth down, Robinson wisely shoves Bucs' wide receiver Mike Williams out of the end zone and makes him an ineligible receiver, negating a potential tying touchdown pass as time expired. End of game. Saints win, 35-28.

I rest my case.

Through six games, opponents are scoring points and producing yards at an alarming clip against the "Minute Men.''

Consider:

-- The Saints have allowed 182 points, an average of 30.3 per game. On that current pace, the opposition would challenge the franchise's low-water mark of 487 points set by the 1-15 "Bagheads'' team in 1980.

-- The Saints have surrendered 2,793 yards, a league-high average of 465.5 yards per game. That represents 41 more yards per game than the league's 31st-ranked team, the Buffalo Bills (424.1). On that current pace, the opposition would rack up 7,448 yards, shattering the Saints' low-water mark for most yards in one season of 6,218 set by the same "Bagheads'' team.

-- It could get worse. If the Saints stay on their current pace of yards yielded, those 7,448 yards would obliterate the NFL single-season record of 6,793 yards established by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

So, here we have the streaking Saints, on a modest two-game run, going out to play Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Peyton Manning and the surging Denver Broncos in the mile-high altitude on Sunday Night Football.

Consecutive comeback wins against the San Diego Chargers at home and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road give Who Dat Nation reason to hope.

Yes, life is looking up.

Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is back for the time being, providing veteran leadership, vast knowledge and welcome inspiration to an underachieving defense. Vitt resumes his dual-role of interim head coach and overseeing the linebackers. Kromer returns to his old job exclusively as offensive line coach in charge of the running game.

Also, Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Drew Brees and a highly-potent offense remain poised to pounce anywhere, anytime.

Unless the Saints begin playing better defense for more than just a few minutes at a time, however, none of that will matter. Instead of playing for a postseason berth beyond Thanksgiving, they will be positioning themselves for the 2013 draft.

 

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