After struggling earlier in the season and missing two field goals on the road against the St. Louis Rams, kicker and 2009 NFC Championship hero Garrett Hartley was unfortunately the scapegoat after the New Orleans Saints struggled mightily on the road in Week 15. I say unfortunately because I genuinely liked Hartley as both a player and a person, but understand why coach Sean Payton decided to cut him.
Essentially, the Saints have been two different teams this season. The first team is the one we know and love — the dominant, high-flying offensive powerhouse that nearly impossible to beat, mainly at home. The other team has been the road team. Inconsistent, prone to errors and mistakes, starting slowly and just generally not playing like their home counterpart.
Although New Orleans had one of the best road records in the NFL dating back to 2009, their woes while traveling finally reached a tipping point after their loss in St. Louis. Payton had to make some changes.
We saw the first hints of impending changes in the third quarter against the Rams, when he pulled starting left tackle Charles Brown after he was repeatedly getting beat on the edge by St. Louis’ pass rushers. He then eluded to changes after the game and the following Monday.
Payton ended up cutting Hartley and replacing Brown on the offensive line with rookie Terron Armstead. Hartley was replaced with veteran kicker Shayne Graham.
It was obvious that changes needed to be made, and it is too early to say whether or not these were the right calls, but for now we have to proceed as if they are. Graham is a veteran kicker who has been pretty consistent throughout his career, compiling an 85.4 kicking percentage since he entered the NFL in 2001. Armstead, however, is an unknown and is a fairly raw rookie that has not played a snap this season.
Hopefully, Payton’s recent changes in personnel will inject new life into the Saints and they fix their deficiencies. If not, Payton will be subject to much scrutiny and criticism, perhaps even accused of dumping players hastily instead of working out their troubles.
Either way, New Orleans needs to head into their Week 16 match up against the Carolina Panthers focused, determined and ready for a showdown.