Friday, December 31, 2010

Week Seventeen Preview: Playoff-bound Saints Host Bucs, Pray for Panthers

When the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last met during week six in Raymond James Stadium, the results were not pretty for the home team with the visiting Saints winning 31-6. New Orleans dominated the Buccaneers on both sides of the ball, with the Black and Gold defense limiting the Bucs offense to a single score- and that was in the fourth quarter.

The Saints’ offense was as prolific as the score implies. Quarterback Drew Brees completed 21 of 32 passes to ten players for 263 yards and three touchdowns and was picked off once.

Most notably, undrafted rookie free agent Chris Ivory had a huge day, rushing for 158 yards on 15 carries and had a 17-yard reception.

Last year, the Saints also beat down the Bucs in Tampa by a 38-7 margin. However, it was a different story when the Buccaneers came to the Superdome in week 16. Tampa Bay’s record was 2-12 and appeared to be a mere speed bump for the Saints en route to securing the first seed in the NFC playoffs, yet Tampa Bay slipped past the NFC South division champions with an overtime win.

Tampa Bay is still in the hunt for a trip to the post-season, surprising most football observers with their strong record (courtesy of sweeping the weak NFC West, a pedestrian task the Saints could not perform) and will arguably be hungrier than the Saints.

The Buccaneer offense has played well with the emergence of young talent including 2009 first round draft pick quarterback Josh Freeman, 2010 fourth round draft pick wide receiver Mike Williams and undrafted rookie running back LeGarrette Blount.

Freeman has had an impressive sophomore season, passing for 3,196 yards, 23 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Freeman has also rushed for 353 yards. Tight end Kellen Winslow, in his seventh year, has had a strong season with 63 receptions for 702 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The Buccaneers’ offense ranks 20th in points per game (21.2), 18th in total yards per game (336.3) with an average of 208.5 yards in the air (21st in the NFL) and 127.8 yards on the ground (7th in the NFL), with Blount accounting for a plurality of the Buccaneers’ rushing yards.

The Tampa Bay defense has been relatively stout, ranking 12th in points allowed per game (20.3) and 15th in total yards allowed per game (334.5). The Buccaneer defense has been stronger against the pass than the run, ranking 6th in the former (201.1 ypg) but a lowly 28th (133.4 ypg) in the latter.

One major blow to the Buccaneer secondary was when cornerback Aqib Talib, who had 6 interceptions in 2010, was injured in the Atlanta game and was placed on injured reserve. The Buccaneers are tied for seventh in the league in picks with 18.

The Saints’ offense has been pass heavy with Brees’s arm and his receiving corps’ hands and legs accounting for 75% of the offense. The Saints’ offense ranks 10th in scoring average (24.7) and 6th in yards per game (377). The Saints are 2nd in the NFL in passing yards (282.8) per game and 27th in rushing yards (94.2) per game. Ivory, the Saints’ top running back, hasn’t played since straining his hamstring during the Saint Louis Rams game in week 14 but practiced “full” on Thursday so he will likely see some playing time on Sunday.

One key Saint nursing an injury is Brees’s favorite target, Marques Colston. The tall wide-out hurt his knee against the Falcons and received a scope on Tuesday. Though Saints head coach Sean Payton didn’t rule him out for the Tampa Bay game, it’s unlikely Colston will play with the playoffs around the corner.

Kick return specialist Courtney Roby, who had suffered a concussion against the Seattle Seahawks, was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Roby, who is also slated as a wide receiver but rarely used in that capacity, was replaced on the roster by wide receiver Adrian Arrington, who has spent most of 2010 on the team’s practice squad. Payton conceded that the former Michigan star was brought up due in part to Colston’s injury.

The Saints’ defense has allowed the 6th fewest points per game (18.9), 5th in yards allowed per game (305.5), 2nd in passing yards allowed per game (191.3) and 18th against the run (114.2). Despite the improved defense in terms of yards given up, the Saints are not the ballhawks they were last season, thus far ranking 30th in interceptions with nine.

The Saints’ defense must contend with an opposing quarterback who can pick up yards with his feet and arm and a running back who has been averaging 5.2 yards per carry and ran for 164 yards last week against Seattle.

Brees should be able to exploit Talib’s absence and though Colston will see limited if any action, the Saints quarterback is known for spreading the ball around. Expect wide receiver Lance Moore, number Nine’s second favorite target, to have an expanded role.

The Other Games That Matter

The Saints’ playoff path will be impacted by two other games. If the Atlanta Falcons lose to the visiting Carolina Panthers and the Saints beat the Buccaneers, then the Black and Gold would win the NFC South and clinch the first seed in the conference playoffs. However if either the Saints lose or the Falcons win, then New Orleans would retain their status as the fifth (top) seed wild card team traveling to the winner of the Seattle Seahawks-Saint Louis Rams contest.

And the Bookies’ Picks?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan chalks the Saints as an 8-point favorite and the Falcons as a 14.5-point favorite over the Panthers. With the Buccaneers playing for a shot at the post-season and the Panthers looking to send coach John Fox out of Carolina with a win, I’d take the points in both games, though both New Orleans, especially with their full complement of running backs active, and Atlanta will likely win their games outright.

Visiting Saint Louis is currently a 2.5 favorite over Seattle and starting quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memo to Carolina Panthers Coach John Fox

Attention John Fox.

As your career with the Carolina Panthers comes to an end, you have much to be proud of.

Sure your team currently stands at 2-13 and will finish with the second-worst record in franchise history, but conditions were beyond the control of even the most gifted head coach. The expectations for the 2010 season were low after losing the longtime anchors of your offense (Jake Delhomme) and defense (Julius Peppers) to free agency.

Short of pulling a rabbit out of his headset, your days in Carolina were numbered before the Panthers kicked off their first game, as the quality of your team decreased in a division with the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and a strong Atlanta Falcons club that was a much better team than their 2009 record indicated.

But you did enjoy success as coach of the Panthers, the high-water mark coaching the Panthers’ in Super Bowl XXXVIII. It should be noted that the expansion Panthers played their first season in 1995 and that you inherited a 1-15 club from George Seifert two years before.

Even the great Tom Landry received walking papers and there could be as many as a dozen new coaches in 2011 NFL season.

And through no credit or fault of yours, you will leave your team with the number one selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. In the case of some coaches, that’s about all they leave behind.

So as you enter your final game of a terrible season as the most successful coach in the history of the franchise, you could enhance your chances for employment with another team by engineering the mother of all upsets by defeating the Falcons on Sunday.

And if the 2010 NFL season ends up being defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’s last with the Saints by succumbing to the entreaties of a number of NFL clubs looking for a new head coach, Sean Payton might end up with a big vacancy on his staff.

So if you’re looking to score points with the Saints front office, I would imagine facilitating home field advantage for the playoffs would go a long way with a head coach who handed over part of his paycheck to land the defensive coordinator he wanted.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Week Sixteen Review: World Champions, Reaffirmed

The folks in Atlanta had to keep those NFC South Champion t-shirts and caps in the boxes for at least another week as the New Orleans Saints upset the Atlanta Falcons in their home nest on Monday Night Football, 17-14.

Though the Saints still need a gridiron miracle from the Carolina Panthers in addition to beating the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday in order to win the division, the victory in the Georgia Dome was important.

First and foremost, the win sends the Saints into post-season for the second year in the row. The Saints haven’t appeared in the post-season in consecutive years since the Jim Mora era (1990-1991-1992).

Secondly the Saints will fare no worse than finishing as the fifth seed in the NFC, which means the Black and Gold will face the winner of the Seattle Seahawks-Saint Louis Rams NFC West (worst) showdown next Sunday. And while there have been no “automatic” wins for the Saints this season (remember the Cardinals), it goes without saying that the team would rather face whatever team that emerges from the weakest division in the NFL.

Third, there’s always the remote possibility of the Panthers winning next Sunday and the Saints potentially having homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

But perhaps the most notable benefit of the Saints victory on Monday night was that it was a reaffirmation for the defending Super Bowl champs as they proved they are as good as the conference’s best team by record.

And they achieved the win by digging themselves out of the hole that was dug through errors and flukes.

While quarterback Drew Brees completed 71% of his passes for 302 yards and a touchdown, number Nine once again had to carry a disproportionate amount of the offense. Brees was picked off twice, with the first returned for a touchdown. Brees however made a good defensive play after his second interception, quickly tackling defensive end John Abraham, saving big return yards. The Falcons ended up having to punt after that turnover.

Running back Pierre Thomas also had a big game, getting yards on the ground late in the game and helping ice the victory for the Saints late in the fourth quarter. Thomas racked up 63 rushing yards plus a touchdown on 19 carries for an average of 3.3 yards. Thomas accounted for practically all of the team’s rushing yards on the day.

The big stars of the night were the Saints defense, who tackled well, forced punts and snagged two loose balls, including a key fumble from Atlanta running back Michael Turner’s hands caused by defensive end Jeff Charleston and retrieved by linebacker Marvin Mitchell on the Saints one yard line. Turner had not fumbled a single time in the 2010 season until then.

The Saints defense largely stifled the Atlanta offense. Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan barely completed a majority of his passes, Turner was held to a mere 48 yards and most remarkably when considering how he tore the Saints up earlier this season, tight end Tony Gonzalez was limited to a pair of catches for 12 yards.

Wide receiver Roddy White, who is making a big to supplant Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco as the league’s leading Tweet-Twit, proved more prolific at running his mouth leading up to the game than making plays on Monday night. The NFL’s leading receiver in yards had a touchdown but caught only three passes for a mere 43 yards.

Though Ryan was sacked only once (by defensive end Will Smith), the Saints defense successfully contained one of the NFL’s top scoring offenses.

Finally, accolades should also go out to special teams. Kicker Garrett Hartley booted a 52 yard field goal, punter Thomas Morstead gave the Saints’ defense good field position thanks to some good punt bounces and two touchbacks on kickoffs and the kick/punt coverage was solid.

Black and D’oh Moments

Brees went to the well one too many times while under pressure. After making an awkward toss to Thomas, who managed to bring the ball back to the line of scrimmage, the Saints quarterback made a bad toss that was grabbed by defensive end Chauncey Davis and brought back to the house.

And then there were the flags, eight for almost the distance of the field (92 yards).

Cornerback Leigh Torrence didn’t help his team’s cause with an unnecessary roughness penalty for ten yards on a punt return.

Tackle Jermon Bushrod was saved from becoming the resident goat thanks to the victory. Between playing doormat to the Atlanta pass rush and penalties, including a false start that negated a Brees touchdown pass, Bushrod didn’t play well and remains the weakest link on a Saints offensive line that is not playing to the same high level of last season.

Moving the Chains and His Record

Brees further advanced his franchise records for pass completions, yards and touchdowns on Monday night. Brees’s new Saints all-time records stand at: 1,998 completions, 22,722 passing yards and 154 touchdowns.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Week Sixteen Preview: Chasing Atlanta

Back in Week Three, I predicted that a New Orleans Saints loss to the Atlanta Falcons could be the difference between a first round bye and having to settle for a wild-card spot.

Thirteen weeks later and voila!

As the Saints enter the penultimate game of the 2010 NFL regular season, the Black and Gold finds itself likely going to the playoffs, but not in the preferred manner.

Since kicker Garrett Hartley missed on THAT occasion, the Saints have been staring at red and black tail-feathers the entire season. And a win by the Saints in the Georgia Dome, a place where the Dirty Birds haven’t lost a game all season, will help the defending world champions’ swagger, but might be irrelevant in terms of the NFC South division.

Without getting too detailed, the Saints need to beat both Atlanta and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the Falcons must also lose in their final game against the hapless Carolina Panthers.

I’ll take “Things That Aren’t Going to Happen” for $1000 Alex.

More than likely, the Monday Night Football game could end up being the first of two trips by the Saints to the Georgia Dome before the Super Bowl is played in Jerry Jones’s palace sans Jerry Jones’s team.

A win by the Saints on Sunday would assure the team of faring no worse than being the 5th seed in the NFC, which would still give them a shot at hosting the conference championship game. More than likely, Saints season ticket holders who “invested” in 2010 playoff tickets will have done nothing more than made an early deposit on next year’s season tickets, AKA provide Tom Benson with an interest-free loan.

Atlanta is arguably the best team in the NFC, if not in the entire league. They have the same record as the AFC’s supermen, the New England Patriots, and are one of the most well-rounded teams in the league, having the NFL’s 5th best offense in points scored (26.4) per game and the 7th best defense in points (18.6) allowed per game.

Led by quarterback Matt Ryan and possessing the league’s 5th ranked running back in rushing yards (Michael Turner- 1,256) and the league’s top wide-out in receiving yards (Roddy White- 1,284), the Falcons’ offense can slice opposing defenses in the air and the ground.

Atlanta’s defense is almost as good. Defensive end John Abraham is in his 11th season and has shown he still has it in him to make big plays. The veteran defensive lineman is third in the NFL in sacks with 12. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leads his team in tackles with 87 solos and has forced three fumbles, made two sacks and has an interception.

The Falcons’ defense has had more success stopping the run (106.1 yards per game, 12th in the league) than they have containing the pass (226.8 yards per game, 21st).

The Black and Gold defense is going to have their hands full with Ryan, Turner, White and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is second on the team in receptions with 62 and touchdown receptions (5).

While White had a relatively pedestrian game against the Saints (5 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown) in their earlier meeting this season, it was Gonzalez and Turner who victimized the Black and Gold defense. Turner ran for 114 yards on 30 carries (3.8) and a touchdown while the veteran tight end had eight receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown.

It should be noted that Ryan was not picked off once; the same could not be said for number Nine.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for a lot of yards (365) and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice, which tends to happen when your quarterback accounts for too much of your team’s offense.

The Saints rushed for a mere 43 yards in the same game where running back Pierre Thomas was injured. The game wasn’t good for future star running back Chris Ivory, who rushed for all 13 yards on 7 (!) carries and coughed a fumble up to the Falcons’ defense.

Since that most unfortunate performance, the undrafted rookie fill-in has emerged as the team’s leading running back in 2010, going from a last-ditch substitute to a key component in the offense. After straining his hamstring against the Saint Louis Rams and sitting out the entire game at Baltimore last Sunday, it appears the hard running half-back will play in Atlanta on Monday Night Football.

The key for the Saints is to keep their defense off the field by trying to re-establish a balanced offense by reintroducing the running game. Too much of Brees will inevitably lead to too picks.

Defensively, they need to stop Turner from having big runs while not allowing Gonzalez to beat them.

404 v. 504

The Falcons lead the Saints in the series, 45-37 though head coach Sean Payton has only lost the Falcons twice in nine games.

What Say the Numbers

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Falcons as 2-point favorite. I know Atlanta is playing with a lot of momentum and that they’re home and that they’re playing for the first seed, etc., etc., etc. but I think with the Black and Gold’s full complement of running backs playing together and a need to make a statement, I see the Saints winning this game straight-up…and I’ve been more bear than bull on the them this season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Onside Squib: Saints Still Have a Chance at NFC South

Earlier this week, I erroneously stated on this site that with the Saints’ defeat in Baltimore, that the Atlanta Falcons had won the NFC South division by having the tie-breaker over the Saints.

The news I reported of the Black and Gold’s divisional demise apparently was greatly exaggerated with the Ravens loss being virtually an exhibition game in terms of its overall effect on the division.

If the Saints defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Monday Night Football on December 27th and defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome the following Sunday AND (key conjunction) the Carolina Panthers, yes the 2-12 Carolina Panthers, beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on January 2nd, then the Saints would win the NFC South (and hold the first seed and first round playoff bye) by having a better division record than the Falcons. Under this rosiest of scenarios, the Saints would be 5-1 in the NFC South while the Falcons would be 4-2.

Now back to reality.

The Panthers’ two wins came at the expense of the lowly Arizona Cardinals (who embarrassed the Saints earlier in the season) and the San Francisco Forty-Niners, who at 5-9 could still win the NFC Worst…sorry, West.

The Panthers rank 32nd in points scored (AKA LAST), 32nd in yards gained, 32nd in passing yards but a relatively excellent 12th in rushing yards. Their Julius Peppers-less defense is marginally better.

The Falcons are 5th in the league in points scored, 12th in yards gained, 14th in passing yards and 7th on the ground. Defensively they’re 7th in points allowed and average in yards allowed.

Most significantly, the 12-2 Falcons are undefeated this season at home.

If Carolina defeated Atlanta’s starters in the season finale, it might be an even bigger upset than Detroit’s victory over Green Bay. Note that I qualified the aforementioned with the word “starters”. If the Falcons beat the Saints in MNF, then Atlanta wins the division and would likely bench their stars against Carolina, with the Panther first-team taking on the Falcons’ scrubs…and even then I would imagine ATL would be the heavy favorite.

Regardless of whether the Saints win or lose on Monday night, they will still be playing for something on Sunday pending the results of the Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Philadelphia and New York Giants. If the Saints beat Atlanta, they will have locked up not only a wild card spot at a minimum (and keep their chances of winning the division alive until the Panthers-Falcons kickoff), but will have secured the fifth playoff seed in the NFC.

This is relevant in that if the 6th seed wild card team wins their two playoff games (and if the Saints also win theirs), then the NFC Championship Game would be played in the Superdome. Bear in mind that in the NFL, playoff opponents are not determined by bracket but by seed, with the highest seed hosting the lowest seed.

The playoff picture should be clearer after MNF; but then again, I also prematurely awarded Atlanta the NFC South.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week 15 Review: Pendulum, Ravens D Swings Against the Saints

They can't blame it on the weather.

When the NFL scheduling sprites (won't call them "gods"- any entity that awards a Super Bowl to an open-air stadium in Jersey merit no such moniker), slated the New Orleans Saints to visit Baltimore in mid-December, I figured between the weather and the Ravens' defense that the black birds would be a favorite.

On Sunday it was all defense as a stifled Saints offense couldn't stay on the field while Baltimore running back Ray Rice picked up 153 rushing yards by himself and fellow running back Willis McGahee's 53 yards was more than the Saints' combined rushing yards (a pitiful 27 when factoring in Reggie Bush's -4 overall on the ground).

Who'd have ever thought the Saints would so sorely miss a certain undrafted rookie free agent from Tiffin with both Bush and Pierre Thomas back in action?

The Saints' offense had to rely almost solely on quarterback Drew Brees' arm and his receiving corps' capacity to make catches and his offensive line's ability to protect him. That's never a good situation for the team to find themselves in, especially when neither did very well- though tight end Jimmy Graham caught a pair of touchdowns and "Mr. Reliable" Lance Moore had great hands and toes on an end zone edge catch that was sustained after further review.

With the poor ground game, the Saints had less than 300 yards of total offense.

There were occasions where the Ravens were trying to give the game away, committing ten penalties, but the Saints offense could not take advantage of these "gifts". And then there was one fowl foul, a blantant block in the back, that was not called that helped keep a Baltimore drive alive. Perhaps the refs got tired of throwing flags?

To Brees's credit, things could have been much worse. After spending too much time trying to find open receivers, the Ravens knocked the ball out of his hands twice, with number nine recovering one of the fumbles himself (which is how he ended up with a mangled shoulder in his final game with the San Diego Chargers).

The Saints leader in positive passing records and accolades completed 29 of 46 passing attempts for three touchdowns and a pick while trying to pull off yet another last minute rally. This time the well had done run out of magic.

The Saints travel to number one seed Atlanta for Monday Night Football next week.

Mr. Consistent?

Saints kicker Garrett Hartley made his only field goal attempt of the day, a 47-yarder. Hartley has hit 13 of 15 field goal attempts since being released from "time-out" earlier in the season and has been perfect in his last seven tries.

Pierre Returns to His Roots

Thomas filled in for the injured Courtney Roby as the Saints' kick returner, averaging 22 yards a return. The running back broke in with special teams before succeeding Deuce McAllister as the team's primary tailback.

I-10 Runs Through Nola; the Playoffs Don't

With the Saints' loss in Baltimore, the Atlanta Falcons secured the NFC South division title. And for another season, no team has been able to win that division two years in a row. The best the Saints can hope for now is to win the NFC's top wild card spot (5th seed), which the Black and Gold currently occupy. The Saints currently have a two-game lead over Tampa Bay and Green Bay and a one game lead over the New York Giants before delving into the world of tie-breakers.

The only way the Saints would host a playoff game is if they secure the fifth seed and win the wild card game and divisional game on the road and that the other wild card team also runs the table. In that high;y unlikely scenario, the NFC Championship game would be played in the Superdome.

If the Saints do hold on and end up the fifth seed, they would play the wild card round game in whichever NFC West (worst) team limps out as the winner (dare I use such a term as no team can have a winning record in that professional football ghetto). Unless I am mistaken, Saint Louis, Seattle and amazingly enough 5-9 San Francisco are still in the hunt.

If you paid your playoff ticket invoice by last Friday, consider it a downpayment on next year's season tickets- unless of course there is a lock-out- which is more likely than the Saints hosting a playoff game.

For the Birds

File this one under least relevant statistic, but of the Saints' now four losses on the season, three have been against teams who have birds for mascots. Another reason to hope that the Saints won't have to make a road trip to Philly in the post-season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week Fifteen Preview: Pondering the Ravens

In honor of the New Orleans Saints visiting the city most associated with the American literary legend Edgar Allan Poe and the poem from which Baltimore’s franchise takes its name, I have written by game preview as a poem.

Not being much of a romantic, I haven’t even attempted to write a poem since I was forced to do so in grade school with the only guidelines then being a prohibition on the inclusion of the line “roses are red” and any reference to the island of Nantucket.

I have learned from this experience that finding a word that rhymes with “Flacco” is as frustrating as finding one that rhymes with “orange”. I don’t recommend you try doing either. It’ll only make your brain hurt.

I hope you enjoy reading this opus and if any English graduates feel compelled to pen a critique, you are free to send them over whilst on break from stacking books at Barnes & Noble.

Week Fifteen

On an afternoon most dreary, the Saints will face a team most leery

Both clubs fighting for their division, will heighten further the collision

Saints must get a win that day and also need help from birds of gray

Trailing to the men of Steel, the Ravens still nip on their heels

Baltimore, star spangled city, K-ville’s known for being gritty

They eat big crabs caught from the sea, we once had fish before BP

But we have jazz, parade and joy

They’ve got Poe, we’ve got Po-Boys

Beyond the fowl of blackened feather, the Saints must deal with nasty weather

A tougher challenge far from home, without the protection of their dome

Black birds are favored in gambling dives, a spread that stands at two point five

With a chance of snow on this coming Sunday, if I were you, the points I’d lay

The offense has been improved through a series of shrewd moves

Drafting smart and making trades, the Ravens even signed Donte

While Joe Flacco is no Trent Dilfer, for Baltimore he has delivered

And when the Ravens need to pound, Ray Rice can get yards on the ground

The Ravens defense was once most fierce, offensive lines they often’d pierced

It doth not take a learned sleuth, to see that they are long in tooth

Ray Lewis, T. Suggs and Ed Reed, they’re not the men they used to be

On Monday night they gave up scores, the Ravens barely flew out the door

But Who Dats cannot really brag, not the way we’re drawing flags

Twelve men on field was not so nice, just when the game looked to be on ice

Cincy came back, the Bengals roar’d, Saints fans attending were all floored

But saved they were by an early sally, which helped complete the Drew Brees rally

The week before in north Texas, had the Who Dats hurling hexes

A big lead blown in Jerry’s palace, the Saints were blessed to win in Dallas

And when our chances looked like zero, Malcolm Jenkins played the hero

THE Ohio Buckeye chased Williams down, forced a fumble and turn’d things around

And while the temperature is bad, there are reasons to be glad

The time elapsed has brought good health, the running corps- a source of wealth

Pierre is back and Reggie’s healed, on Sunday they’ll be on the field

Another player we won’t lack, our future hall of fame d-back

The Saints o-line must protect Brees, lest they bring us to our knees.

On Colston’s hands our hopes will ride, if number Nine hits him in stride

As playoff hopes burn like embers, too bad this game is in December

The toughest contest on the slate, to be fighting champions is their fate

Brees must avoid forcing throws, a pick-six there’s a mortal blow

Punt returns Bush cannot bumble, and pray that Ivory doesn’t fumble

And not to be an orn’ry nag, Jahri Evans should avoid the flag

And if Hartley’s kicks go wide right, Two Dat chances won’t look so bright

Early setbacks had us down, who’d have thought we’d lose to Browns?

Gainst the Cardindals we did not shine, Max Hall beat us in his first time

And with the loss to ATL, the playoff path looks road trip hell

And if New Orleans Saints drop one more, a repeat as division champs?, nevermore!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week Fourteen Review: Saints Sacrifice Rams

The New Orleans Saints had one of their best performances of the 2010 regular season in a game where they made big plays on both sides of the ball.

Heavily favored over the NFC West leading Saint Louis Rams, the Black and Gold comfortably exceeded the expectations of the oddsmakers thanks in large part to starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Jenkins, who executed what was the team’s most remarkable play of the year in Dallas, had the best day of his professional career against the Rams with two picks on the day, one returned for 96 yards for a touchdown.

Quarterback Drew Brees had a better day than most other quarterbacks but a little off for him, completing 25 of 40 passes (62.5%) for 221 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Brees also gained some yards with his feet, scrambling for seven.

The Saints offense was well balanced, gaining 132 yards on the ground. Returning running back Pierre Thomas, who had missed much of the season with an injury, received more touches than expected due to running back Chris Ivory going down with a hamstring issue.

Thomas had 39 yards on 12 carries and 29 yards on 4 receptions. Running back Reggie Bush had a decent day picking up 39 rushing yards on 9 carries and 22 receiving yards on 5 catches.

Wide receiver Marques Colston continued to have greater success in the season’s second half. Though the “Quiet Storm” only had 5 catches for 46 yards (one his lower totals in yards this season), the big receiver had two touchdown catches for the second time in the last five games.

Considering that the Rams defense is one of the league’s better squads at sacking quarterbacks, the Saints offensive line played well only allowing Brees to be sacked once.

And while the offense piled up the points, the Saints defense had a great outing after disappointing play in Dallas and Cincinnati. The “d” held the Rams to two field goals and a touchdown. Most significantly they had three takeaways, with Jenkins’s two picks and a forced fumble by strong safety Roman Harper that was recovered by cornerback Jabari Greer.

Harper also had one of the Saints’ three sacks against Saint Louis Rams quarterback and likely rookie of the year Sam Bradford. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the quarterback of the Saints defense, had a sack, a forced fumble and led the team with tackles with seven.

About the only things that didn’t go right for the Saints on the day was a kickoff fumble by return specialist Courtney Roby, who was seriously injured on the play and left the game on a stretcher, and the Atlanta Falcons’ win over the Carolina Panthers.

Atlanta maintained their 1.5 lead over the Saints (when factoring the tie-breakers) with three games left on the schedule. The Saints would have the top wild card seed if the playoffs began today, sending the Black and Gold, ironically enough, to Saint Louis.

Raising the Bar

Brees expanded his franchise records on Sunday increasing his totals for pass completions to 1,934, passing yards to 22,153 and touchdown passes to 150.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Week 14 Preview: Saints Host Bighorn Sheep

On Sunday afternoon the New Orleans Saints will be visited from an old rival from the Black and Gold’s days in the NFC West when the Saint Louis Rams come to town.

Though they’re no longer in the same division, the Saints have faced the Rams more than any other team with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco Forty Niners excepted, having squared off on 68 occasions, with the Rams winning 38 of them.

One of the biggest victories in Saints history came against the Rams in 2000 when the New Orleans franchise won their first ever playoff game. However the Rams avenged that indignity seven years later when they beat the Saints for their first win of the season after dropping seven in a row.

When the two teams met in 2009, the 1-7 Rams came very close to breaking the Saints’ eight game winning streak, but thanks to a Courtney Roby kick return for a touchdown and a last second deep pass incompletion, the Saints slipped out of the Edward Jones Dome with their undefeated record intact.

The Rams team the Saints will play against on Sunday will be a much better team than last year’s.

With the first overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft finding his stride as quarterback, the Rams no longer need to rely on running back Steven Jackson to carry the offense almost solely on his shoulders.

Quarterback Sam Bradford has completed 60% of his passes, throwing for 2,653 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 picks, which aren’t bad numbers for a first year pro and the reason why Bradford is the leading choice for rookie of the year honors.

And while Jackson is no longer the end all, be all for the Rams offense, he still constitutes a large part of it, handling almost all of the rushing duties and currently 15 yards shy of breaking 1000 ground yards this season. The running back is also a receiving threat, ranking third on his team in catches and fifth in receiving yards.

The Rams’ defense has performed adequately, allowing the 9th fewest points in the league per game (19.8) and 14th fewest yards (333), per capita surrendering more in the air (229.5 average- 19th overall) than on the ground (103.5 average- 14th overall).

One area where the Rams’ defense has performed well this season is going after opposing quarterbacks. The Rams sack total (35) is one shy of the NFL lead. The team is also +5 in turnovers.

The Saints’ offense is starting to increasingly resemble its high-powered former selves…though the unbalanced 2008 version in lieu of the 2009 championship edition. The offense remains pass heavy and the running game ranks 25th on the ground with an average of 98.5 yards per game. Hopefully the rushing numbers will pick up with the much-anticipated return of running back Pierre Thomas, who was injured in week 3, to the line-up.

And while the Saints defense has overall been stingy, they’ve given up 27 and 30 points in their last two games against subpar opponents. We’ll see if defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has made the necessary adjustments to prevent a repeat.

One area where the defense has seriously lacked compared to last season is in takeaways. The Saints secondary aren’t the ballhawks they were in 2009; the Saints are tied for second to last in the NFL in picks with 7, only one above last place. And though the Saints defense have forced 20 fumbles (3rd in the league), they’ve only recovered 11 of the loose pigskins.

The Saints enter the contest at a healthy peak with a slim injury report and almost all of their starters ready to play; the Rams’ secondary as been battered with injuries, a gapping weakness that Brees can exploit.

Welcome Back Karney

Former Saints fullback Mike Karney will be making a return visit to the Superdome on Sunday. Karney, who was one of the more popular players on the team in his role as running back Deuce McAllister’s “bodyguard”, signed with the Rams when the Saints released him after the team inked New England Patriots fullback Heath Evans.

And the Numbers?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 9.5 favorite over the Rams. With injuries to Rams secondary and Brees starting to connect on the longball, a blow out is not out of the question. However, the Saints have won their last two games by four points or less. Though those games were on the road, the Saints have played better away from the Superdome than they have inside of it. The Saints have not beaten the Rams by 10 points or more since 1998 and the Black and Gold have a habit of playing to the level of their competition. Also bear in mind that the Rams are playing for their division. I’d take the 9.5 as a reaction to the defense’s inability to close out games as of late.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week Thirteen Review: We Dey

After almost being defeated by their own “twelfth man”, the New Orleans Saints rallied back from a late deficit after leading most of the game to defeat the host Cincinnati Bengals along the banks of the Ohio River.

Though the snowstorm many Saints fans feared didn’t materialize, the weather conditions were hardly typical for the dome-based Black and Gold. The temperature hovered in the low thirties and there was light sleet throughout the contest.

With the victory, the Saints have extended their current winning streak to five and have given head coach Sean Payton his first consecutive winning seasons. In another accomplishment worth noting, quarterback Drew Brees had a franchise-record setting day, surpassing Archie Manning (21,734) for most passing yards in a Saints uniform.

Brees threw for 313 yards, completing 24 of 29 passes (82.8%) with two touchdowns and an interception.

Brees already holds the franchise records in pass completions and passing touchdowns but trails Manning’s record for attempts, 3,335.

Kicker Garrett Hartley had a mixed day, perfect as a field goal and extra point kicker but lacking on the kickoff. One of his kickoffs went out of bounds, resulting in a penalty while his other kickoffs were well short of the end zone and were returned by the Bengals for good field position.

Undrafted free agent running back Chris Ivory didn’t help injured running back Pierre Thomas’s bargaining position for a better contract. Tiffin’s finest had another outstanding performance, rushing for 117 yards on 15 attempts and two touchdowns, including one for 55 yards. Ivory did cough the ball up once though his fumble was recovered by tight end David Tomas.

Wide receiver Robert Meachem reminded everyone the wisdom of General Manager Mickey Loomis’s decision to pick him in the first round of the 2007 draft. Though Meachem only had three receptions, the wide receiver racked up 106 yards and a touchdown on the day.

With the Bengals offense scoring 30 points, it could be said the Saints defense, the strong point of the team for most of the 2010 season, was bailed out by the offense. The Bengals were forced to punt only twice. However the defense did make some good plays, though they didn’t have any takeaways in the contest. The Saints sacked Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer three times and allowed the Bengals to convert only 5 of their 14 third downs. They also forced the Bengals to have to settle for field goals

By far the ugliest moment for the Saints was drawing a penalty for having twelve men on the field when the Bengals were punting in the fourth quarter while sitting on an eight point lead. The inexcusable penalty kept the Cincinnati drive alive as they scored a touchdown and succeeded with their two-point attempt to tie the game up at 27 all.

The Bengals also had their “messy” moments. In the first quarter a running into the punter penalty set the Saints up for a Hartley 48-yard field goal. And then there was the costliest “bungle” losing a game of fourth and two chicken on the Cincinnati seven yard line that set up a Brees to Marques Colston touchdown pass on the next play.


It seems the wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson has been more prolific on Twitter than he has been on the field. After engaging in smack talk that referenced a recently gunned down New Orleans rapper via Twitter, #85 had five receptions for “nueve siete” yards and “cero” touchdowns.

No Comment?

The Onside Kick had a chance to shout a question to punter Tom Morstead while he was boarding the team bus concerning why he has been relieved of kick-off duties. The fan friendly player turned around, gave a shrug of the shoulders and continued walking to team bus.

A Little Help? Please?

The Saints will go into week fourteen once again staring at black and red tailfeathers. The Atlanta Falcons overcame a late Tampa Bay Buccaneer lead to stay ahead of the Saints in the NFC South by a game (and a half when factoring ATL’s tie-breaker advantage).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Week Thirteen Preview: Saints Hope to Not Bungle Playoff Chances in Cincy

The New Orleans Saints begin the final and toughest part of their schedule when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

While the Bengals’ record is 2-9, tied with the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills for second worst in the NFL, Cincinnati lost some close ones, including five games by a touchdown or less.

The Bengals have a talented quarterback in Carson Palmer, who has thrown for 2,760 yards and 19 touchdowns. But despite having two outstanding wide receivers on the Bengals roster, Palmer has struggled, with a completion rate of 59.5% (the second lowest in the USC standout’s professional career) and having been intercepted 15 times.

Free agent wide out Terrell Owens is tied for fourth in total receptions (65), third in receiving yards (914) and eighth in touchdowns with eight. Fellow receiver Chad Ocho Cinco (or however he runs his adopted surname together) has not shared in TO’s success.

Number eighty-five is tied at 33rd in receiving touchdowns (4), 26th in receiving yards (628) and 20th in receptions with 54. In other words, he’s having an “ocho stinko” 2010 compared to the other seasons where he played in most of the games on the schedule.

The Bengals’ air attack ranks 11th in the NFL, averaging 237.5 passing yards a game but are 25th in rushing with an average of 92 ground yards, with an overwhelming majority coming from running back Cedric Benson. In terms of scoring, the “Who Deys” are 21st with an average of 20.5 points per game while the “Who Dat’ 6th ranked defense has been surrendering 17.9 points per game.

Gregg Williams’s secondary are going to have their hands full with Owens and #85, though the Saints defense has had some recent success with the former. When the Black and Gold played the Buffalo Bills last season, Owens, who was playing for his fourth team thus far did not make a single reception, snapping a 185 game-catch streak that began in 1996.

The Saints’ last meeting with the Bengals’ “second” or “dos” receiver during the 2006 season did not go so well. Playing under his birth name Chad Johnson, the wide receiver burned the Black and Gold secondary for six receptions for 190 yards and three touchdowns, the longest being for sixty yards. The former Mr. Johnson had his season best yards per catch game in the Superdome, averaging 31.7.

The good news for the Saints is that the team is the healthiest it has been since the beginning of the season. The recent injury reports contained only three names- with tight end Jeremy Shockey and free safety Darren Sharper not appearing on the dubious list. The Saints are most complete at the very point of the schedule where the heaviest lifting is to be done if they want a shot at repeating as NFC South Champions or making the playoffs.

Historically, the Saints have enjoyed relative success against the Bengals. As of 1994, Cincinnati was one of the few teams New Orleans had a winning series record against. 1994 was also the last time the Saints beat them. Since then, the Black and Gold has dropped three in a row. The most infamous of those was on a road trip there in 2002, when the Bengals were plain awful, so much so that the sports page of the Times-Picayune mocked them in a story referring to them as the “Bungles” and featured a picture of a black and orange striped skunk.

The Bengals were 1-13 with their lone win being against the expansion Houston Texans while then-coach Jim Haslett’s Saints were 9-5 and needed only a single win in their remaining two games to make it to the playoffs. In my mind that game was the beginning of the end of Haslett’s tenure in New Orleans after giving the Bengals their second win of the season with a 20-13 score, courtesy of the Bengals’ stout run defense. The Bengals currently lead the series 6-5.

The Oddsmaker v. the Scheduling Fairies/Weather Gods

Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 6.5 point favorite over the Bengals. The dome-oriented Saints have not had a lot of success in cold weather, especially under coach Sean Payton. Also quarterback Drew Brees had trouble passing the ball in Candlestick Park earlier this season, meaning the Saints will have to get yards on the ground. With running backs Reggie Bush back on the field and Pierre Thomas continuing to make progress in his own recovery, the Saints should have all of their primary ground weapons suited up and ready to go.

If this game would have been played in September or October in Cincinnati, I would feel better about the Saints’ chances. But it’s not. When the 2010 schedule was released, it looked as if the league was going to make a point of making a “Two Dat” more of a challenge.

Maybe I’m still haunted by the Saints’ 2002 disastrous trip to Cincinnati, concerned about weather conditions (The Weather Channel is currently projecting a high of 37 degrees with snow showers on game day), shaken from the last three road trips to frigid Soldier Field and a kicking game that’s questionable in the climate controlled confines of the Superdome, but I can see the Bengals winning this one. Take the elements and the points

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roaf Named a Semifinalist for Hall of Fame

Retired NFL offensive tackle Willie Roaf, who played for both the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, was announced as a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

According to, Roaf was one of 26 semifinalists selected from a pool of 114 preliminary nominees by the hall’s selection committee.

Other notable nominees for election are running backs Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk, cornerback Deion Sanders, punter Ray Guy and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Roaf was selected with the eighth overall pick of the 1993 NFL draft, a selection that was acquired along with a four round pick from the Detroit Lions for linebacker Pat Swilling. The Saints later dealt Roaf to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2002 amidst a cloud of controversy involving a family matter.

Roaf was selected to eleven Pro-Bowls, seven while with the Saints.

Considered to be one of the greatest offensive lineman to play the game, Roaf’s eventual election to Canton was considered a certainty after he retired.

The former Louisiana Tech standout would be the second Saints player who spent the majority of his career with New Orleans to have his bust included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first being 2010 inductee linebacker Rickey Jackson.
Roaf was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2008.

Statement from Saints Defensive End Will Smith Regarding His Arrest

The New Orleans Saints released the following statement from defensive end Will Smith, who was arrested early Saturday morning in Lafayette and was charged with domestic abuse and simple battery after an altercation between him and his wife at a nightclub.

"During the past weekend, my wife Racquel and I were visiting her family in Lafayette, Louisiana for the holiday weekend. Early Saturday morning, an unfortunate misunderstanding led to my arrest.

My wife was not injured as reported and this was not a domestic issue. I am confident that the legal process will bear this out. Both Racquel and I look forward to having the legal process play out and will cooperate fully. Until then, and based upon legal counsel, I will not be able to make any further comment on this matter.

Racquel and I are both extremely thankful to everyone that has offered support through this trying time."

Smith and his wife were featured in a televised Thanksgiving segment during the Saints game in Dallas.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Week 12 Review: Indian Giving on Saintsgiving

How many Saints fans suffered from severe indigestion on Thursday afternoon unrelated to Aunt Gracie's turkey dressing?

After jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, the New Orleans Saints began giving the game away allowing and at times facilitating a Dallas comeback that had the Cowboys leading 27-23 with possession of the ball with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.

And then safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was listed as questionable going into the game, made an amazing play against Dallas wide receiver Roy Williams that later led to another amazing play by the Saints offense that put the Black and Gold up for good, as they reclaimed victory from the jaws of defeat.

The Saints, playing in their first ever Thanksgiving Day game and in the new Cowboys Stadium, moved up a half-game above the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (not counting the Saints' tie-breaker advantage) and trail the Atlanta Falcons by a half-game (also not counting Atlanta's tie-breaker advantage). Both teams play on Sunday, with Tampa Bay visiting the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta hosting the Green Bay Packers.

The Saints had no shortage of heroes on Thursday. Quarterback Drew Brees had an impressive (first half) though not optimal (second half) day, completing 23 of 39 passing attempts (59%) for 352 yards, a touchdown and an interception that was tipped by his intended receiver (rookie tighe end Jimmy Graham) into the hands of a Cowboys defensive back Gerald Sensabaugh.

Helping Brees make some of the tough completions was deep threat wide-out Devery Henderson, who made a number of impressive catches, including a sliding reception for 57 yards that got the Saints into the Dallas red zone on the fourth offensive play of the game.

Wide receiver Marques Colston also had a good day, making 6 catches for 105 yards. Though wide receiver Robert Meachem only had one catch in the game, it was a critical 55 yard catch on 3-10 on the Saints' 33-yard line that set up a Brees touchdown pass to wide receive Lance Moore on the very next play.

Though a certain running back returned to the active lineup, who's name will not be mentioned- at least at this point, undrafted free agent Chris Ivory and ex-Cowboy Julius Jones rushed for a combined 83 yards. Ivory added to his young career touchdown total with two on the afternoon while Jones led the team in ground yards with an average of 4.5 per carry.

The kicking game was strong, if not scary at times. Though often not cited because of the non-scoring nature of his job, punter Thomas Morstead, who is making a play for the Pro Bowl, had a great game, booming one punt for 64 yards. Kicker Garrett Hartley went 3 for 3 in the field goal department with a long of 50 yards, which came close to the side of the goal post. Hartley also had some luck on a kickoff that just bounced out of bounds past the end zone pylon.

The defense played very well in the first half but was worn down in the second half, especially due to the turnovers by the Saints. Dallas quarterback Jon Kitna picked on Saints rookie cornerback Patrick Robinson by throwing in his direction.

Saints defensive end Will Smith had a good game with a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. In fact, the Saints "d" forced three fumbles and the Cowboys coughed the ball up four other times, though they were able to recover those, yet another example of the ball literally not bouncing the Saints' way this season.

The Saints fell victim to a trick play early in the third quarter when Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin rushed 60 yards for a touchdown, thanks in no small part to a blatant hold by a Dallas player on Jenkins.

But the Saints free safety got his revenge in the end and has the distinction of earning the 2010 edition of the "Robeert Meachem Man of Steal Award". Though Williams had already secured a game icing first down reception in Saints territory with three minutes left in the game, the Dallas receiver tried to stretch it to the end zone. Enter Jenkins, exit the ball and the Cowboys' almost certain upset.

Finally there was the goat, AKA the most anticipated return of an injured Saints player. After dropping what would have been a touchdown reception that led to a Saints field goal, one whole yard rushing and fumbling a Cowboy punt that set them up for a touchdown that put them back in the game, one has to wonder if George W. Bush isn't more popular in New Orleans these days than Reginald A. Bush.

Adding insult to injury for number 25 was that his ex-girlfriend Kim Kardashian's new boyfriend, Miles, had a better day rushing the ball than Bush- and Miles isn't a running back.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, the Saints started strong, then played sloppy, then desperate before Jenkins's made some magic. After that, the Saints offense returned to their earlier form executing the big play and then the score.

In addition to whatever morale boost the players receiving from upending the team that snapped their 13-game winning streak last season, the Saints salvaged a conference win that will help come tie-breaker time and keeps the Black and Gold in the hunt for the division while also solidifying their position as a playoff team, wild card or otherwise.

Though the final score wasn't as pretty as the first quarter score, the Saints helped their chances of getting a return date in Jerry Jones's palace of sport in February.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Week 12 Preview: Guess Who Dat’s Coming to Thanksgiving Dinner?

The New Orleans Saints will play in their first ever Thanksgiving Day game on Thursday when they travel to Jerry Jones’s Palace near Dallas.

For the Dallas Cowboys, it’s been the worst of times and the slightly better of times as of late.

After aspiring to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, the 3-7 Cowboys can expect to do little else this season than run the tables for a winning record and help new coach Jason Garrett, the eighth in franchise history, hold on to his job for the longterm.

The Cowboys are last in the NFC East, trailing the third place Washington Redskins by two games, the second place New York Giants by three games and the first place Philadelphia Eagles by four games. With the division title appearing to be out of reach and strong bids for wild card spots by the 7-3 Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys will be watching the big game from either home or through the league’s player ticket allocation from the stands.

After a 1-7 start, Jones had enough after a 45-7 blow out at the hands of the Packers and dispatched head coach Wade Phillips, who briefly coached the Saints in 1985. Under Garrett, the Cowboys have won two straight games by double-digit margins.

The Cowboy offense has had trouble establishing a running game, ranking 29th in the league with 83.9 ground yards per game. Their reliance on the pass suffered a major blow when quarterback Tony Romo was injured and was replaced with 14 year veteran Jon Kitna in their fifth game.

Kitna, who is on his fourth team, has completed 63% of his passes for 1,223 yards, 10 touchdowns and 7 picks.

If the Cowboys 17th ranked scoring offense has been disappointing, their 28th ranked defense in points allowed per game (27.1) has been an embarrassment, where they rank 21st (235.1 ypg) against the pass and 22nd (117.3 ypg) against the run.

Though the Saints have experienced their own resurgence as of late, starting with a Halloween night victory over the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers, the injury bug has taken more than a few bites out of the starting line up.

Running back Pierre Thomas is expected to miss yet another game and eight other starters had limited participation in Tuesday’s practice, including running back Reggie Bush, who missed out on playing before his old college coach last Sunday.

The Saints offense has finally found its groove, ranking 5th in total yards per game (382.3), heavier on the pass (3rd in the league with 286.3 ypg) than on the run (26th with 95.5).

Even if Bush plays in a limited role, undrafted free agent running back Chris Ivory once again proved to be able to carry the load.

The Black and Gold defense has consistently outperformed the offense, even though they haven’t had anywhere near the success they enjoyed last season regarding takeaways, interceptions in particular.

The Saints secondary gave up some deep passes last Sunday against the Seahawks and with the Cowboys making no secret of their strong inclination to throw the ball, the safeties and cornerbacks will be challenged whenever their offense is on the field.

As the Saints are still two games behind the Atlanta Falcons (because of the tie-breaker scenarios at this juncture), this is another must-win for the Black and Gold. A conference loss would factor heavily in tie-breaker scenarios that could make the team a high seed with a first round playoff bye to a wild card team that will have to win on the road through the Super Bowl.

The formula for the Saints is pretty basic: the offense needs to score touchdowns and avoid making mistakes while the defense has to make the Cowboys settle for field goals when in scoring and range and the secondary must contain the longball.

The Spread

USAToday oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints as 3.5 favorite. I can more easily see the Saints losing a close one than winning a close one as the Saints offense ought to be able to exploit the Cowboys defense.

Though nicked up, the Saints ought to win this game by a comfortable margin, giving the new Cowboys coach an unwelcome reality check. Also the Black and Gold has an outstanding score to settle: it was the Cowboys that broke the team’s 13 game winning streak last season.

I think interceptions will be a big factor in this one, favoring the Saints. Give the points but don’t send me an invoice if it doesn’t work out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Week Eleven Review: Brees Shreds Seahawks, Team Records

New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees further increased his place in the franchise’s history while keeping his team in the hunt for an opportunity to play in the post-season on Sunday afternoon, as the Black and Gold handily beat the NFC West’s top team.

Of course that’s a relative assessment as none of the teams in that division have a winning record.

Brees threw for 382 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. His 29 completions advanced him past Archie Manning for the team record in that category. Manning’s benchmark was 1,849. The newly established record by Brees now stands at 1,862.

Brees overtook Aaron Brooks for the team record in career touchdown passes last season, which number 9 currently holds at 144.

Brees now trails Manning for the franchise’s passing yards record by 467, a milestone the Super Bowl MVP should achieve within the next three games at the latest, barring injury.

Though the Saints quarterback had an outstanding game, other players contributed in the rout.

Running back Chris Ivory, who has almost single-handedly carried the slack left by the team’s injured starting ground corps, rushed for 99 yards and scored his first career touchdown. The undrafted Ivory has the distinction of having helped the Saints the most out of all of the rookies on the roster.

Wide receiver Marques Colston also had a great game, with eight receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

And though the defense didn’t make any sacks and gave up a few deep passes by Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, they did pick up two Seahawk fumbles and limited their opponents to a single touchdown.

But the game had its ugly parts for both teams.

Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed his lone field goal opportunity, a pedestrian 27 yard attempt. Ex-Saint kicker Orlindo Mare had success in the Superdome he didn’t enjoy when he wore a Black and Gold uniform, converting all four of his field goal attempts.

That the Saints are still chasing the Atlanta Falcons from behind is largely due to Hartley’s failure to make an overtime kick against the Dirty Birds. One must imagine that Saints head coach Sean Payton’s patience are already thin and that future misses by Hartley will result in something more sincere than a “time-out” session.

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch didn’t help his team’s cause, fumbling the ball twice and dropping screen passes that would have resulted in positive yardage as the Saints defense didn’t have him adequately covered.

One local sports personality, whose name I won’t mention in this forum, mused on his Facebook status that Lynch must have bet on the game to perform so poorly.

Overall it was a very good game, giving Payton his second post-bye win of his career (last season was his first) while some members of the team continue to recuperate from injury.

A win over not only a conference opponent (which is a key component in tie-breakers for the playoffs) but a team that has as good of a chance as any of winning the NFC West will benefit the Black and Gold immensely if they can pole vault past the Falcons.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Halftime: Saints Still Looking at Falcons’ Tail Feathers

The good news is that if the NFL season ended today, the New Orleans Saints would be in the playoffs.

The bad news is that the Black and Gold would make it as a wild-card team.

That they’d be the higher ranked of the NFC’s two non-division winning playoff team doesn’t matter unless both the Saints and the Green Bay Packers made it to the conference championship, thus sparing the cold weather averse Saints team from making the trek to Lambeau Field.

It’s not that 6-3 is a bad record. The Saints didn’t start out the 2007 or 2008 seasons that well at the end of nine games.

But that said, it’s not good enough when chasing the fast flying Atlanta Falcons, who not only lead the Saints by one and a half games (by virtue of the head-up tiebreaker) but are also currently the best team in the conference by record and thus would claim the number one seed in the playoffs if the season ended today.

Having the second best record in the conference means little if the team with the best record is in your same division.

The Jim Mora-era Saints are most familiar with this unenviable position, doing well in the conference but always being stuck behind the San Francisco Forty-Niners in the NFC West.

Right now the Falcons seem to have the same mojo the Saints had last year. Five of the Dirty Birds’ wins have been by a touchdown or less. Their impressive last second comeback against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night is the latest example of how they’ve found ways to win games from behind.

The Saints are in a tough spot in terms of overtaking the Falcons in the division. If the Saints swept the remaining games left on the schedule and the Falcons only dropped their Monday Night Football home game against the Saints, Atlanta would still have the edge according to the NFL’s tie-breaker rules.

Though the Saints and Falcons would have the same head-up and division, the third procedure relates to best won-loss percentage in common games.

Currently the Saints are 5-3 while the Falcons are 7-1, since the latter dropped a game to the Philadelphia Eagles (who the Saints do not face) while all of the Black and Gold’s were to common opponents.

So in addition to winning, the Saints need help. And Baltimore was supposed to be one of the teams that was expected to lend a hand.
In addition to their post-Christmas MNF game against the Saints, the Falcons host the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers and visit the Saint Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field, one of the toughest and loudest venues in the league.

The Saints on the other hand have to travel to Baltimore and Cincinnati in December and to Arlington on Thanksgiving afternoon. The Black and Gold return from the bye week next Sunday when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, the Rams in December and close the regular season out with the Buccaneers in January.

Under new management, the Dallas Cowboys humbled the New York Giants in East Rutherford and might be a tougher opponent for the Saints than most fans thought they would be.

And the Saints will have to contend with frigid elements along with tough teams when they take on the Bengals and the Ravens.

Short of a meltdown in the ATL, the road to the Two Dat will go through other team’s stadiums. But that might not be a bad or insurmountable thing.

The Saints only road loss last season was a “trash game” against the Panthers in a contest where head coach Sean Payton wisely benched his starters. And of the Saints three losses in the 2010 season, only one (Arizona) was on the road.

And wild card teams have not only gone to the big game; five left with the Lombardi Trophy as well, with three wild-card Super Bowl champions winning all of their post-season playoff games on the road.

Payton titled his Super Bowl story/autobiography “Home Team” as a reference to the importance he placed on snagging the one seed.

But if the Saints can beat Atlanta in December in the Georgia Dome, then the Saints can compete in any other stadium in the league.

The way things stand it looks like the traveling Black and Gold faithful will end up dropping a few c-notes on Stub Hub and some travel sites if the team makes the playoffs.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Week Nine Review: Saints De-Claw Panthers on the Road

The New Orleans Saints have finished the first half of their season strong, going into their bye week with a one-sided road victory over the Carolina Panthers.

The 34-3 win was the team's strongest performance of the year on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Drew Brees completed 27 of his 43 passes (63%) to eight different receivers for 253 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an interception. The Saints second-strong running back committee (minus its two super stars who continue to recover from injuries) racked up 165 yards on the ground, including a 54 yard run by late-addition Julius Jones. 2010 third-round draft pick Jimmy Graham hauled in his first touchdown catch of his professional career after having one taken away from him in Tampa a few weeks ago.

Kicker Garrett Hartley was once again perfect booting two field goals (31, 36 yards) and all four extra points.

And while the offense showed the latest flash in 2010 season of their former selves, it was the defensive players who were the stars of the show.

Facing three (3!) quarterbacks, the Black and Gold defense held the Panthers to a season low in points scored. Cornerback Jabari Greer victimized Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen with a 24-yard pick-six, the first for any member of the Saints defense this season. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma forced a fumble that was recovered by free-agent defensive end Alex Brown. Strong safety Roman Harper, cornerback (!) Leigh Torrence, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and defensive end Jeff Charleston each had a sack. Harper also led the team in tackles with nine.

After disappointing losses that challenged the faith of Saints fans, the Black and Gold faithful are seeing a few things.

One, the offense is starting to become more productive. The team is coughing up the ball less and Brees has been getting his passes into the end the hands of Saints receivers specifically. And Hartley can't miss field goals he's not attempting if the offense is coming away with touchdowns.

Secondly, the NFC Championship Game hero and Super Bowl point contributor has become a good way. Hartley field goal attempts no longer cause Saints fans to hold their breath and cross their fingers.

Thirdly, the offensive line has offered Brees more protection. Is this is a result of protecting the quarterback against less pressure or a sign of improvement by the o-line? Brees was sacked only once on Sunday.

Fourthly, we've seen a different side of the Gregg Williams defense. While not the ball-hawks of 2009, the 2010 Saints defense has done a better job stifling opposing offenses. Also the Saints defense hasn't been burned as much by big running plays.

The Saints defense has so far this season outperformed the Saints offense, keeping the Saints in the game long enough for the offense to find their groove.

Finally, the Saints have had more luck on the ground despite struggling with injuries to their featured backs. The young, hard running Chris Ivory has curbed his former fumblitis and is a lock to remain on the roster and given opportunities to contribute after running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas return. Fellow b-sstringers Jones and Ladell Betts have also helped take some of the load off of Ivory, thought their tenure with the team is less certain.

The Carolina game proved that the Saints deserve to once again be considered one of the top teams in the conference despite trailing behind Atlanta and remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, their division and a coveted first-round bye.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Week Nine Preview: Saints Travel to Charlotte, But Which Team Shows Up?

Oh hell…the Saints are playing an awful team on Sunday.

Seriously, the New Orleans Saints have had somewhat of a schizo season thus far, beating what was arguably the best team in the NFL on Halloween night after having dropped two “easy” games to third-ranked teams.

And if the Saints struggle against struggling teams, then they might be in trouble against the 1-6 Carolina Panthers.

Historically, the Black and Gold have never had a lot of success against the Cats. After picking up a win against them in the Superdome this season, the Saints are now 14-17 all-time against one of the NFL’s newer teams.

But even a jinxed Saints team would have to commit a lot of mistakes to lose to the Panthers. Even on the road.

In fact, to paraphrase a certain high school math teacher who reveled in his reputation as having an easy class, the Saints would have to almost work to fail.

The Panthers, led by quarterback Matt Moore who has thrown two picks for every one touchdown, are offensively sleeping with the catfishes. They’re last in scoring with an average of 12.1 points per game and also dead last in yards per game, 251.4, almost equally bad on the ground (31st with 85.6 yards) as they are at passing (28th with 165.9 yards).

The Saints’ defense, 8th in the league in points (18.5), 3rd in yards (287.2), 3rd in passing yards and 16th in rushing yards (108.6) allowed, should be able to contain the Panthers’ offense without too much trouble, especially with starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer expected to return, replenishing the team’s badly depleted secondary.

The Saints offense might have running back Reggie Bush back in the lineup, though that has not been determined. Bush has practiced on a limited basis this week and with the Saints facing a weak opponent this weekend and a having a bye the next, Bush’s immediate return isn’t as pressing.

The Saints offense has enjoyed somewhat of a comeback, starting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then reappearing in the second-half in last week’s game against the defensively potent Pittsburgh Steelers. The Black and Gold offense is 17th in points scored per game (20.9), 9th in yards (365.1) having more success with the pass (5th in the league with 280.4 yards) than they have had with their battered running back corps (29th in the NFL with 85.8 yards per game).

Granted the rushing numbers are going to look bad after facing the Steelers, who excel at stopping opposing team’s running games.

The Carolina defense has performed better than their offense. They’ve allowed 21.4 points per game (18th) and have allowed the 4th fewest overall yards (301.7) and passing yards (182.7). However, the Panthers defense has been relative porous against the run, (21st in the NFL, allowing 119 rushing yards per game). Their defense is 25th in the league in quarterback sacks with 11 and is 6th in interceptions with 10.

Unfortunately for the Saints, as the stats show, their running game isn’t the same it was last year, especially since most of the people who ran the ball in 2009 have spent most of the season sitting on the bench.

Running back Chris Ivory will have another opportunity to shine in Carolina, much like he did in Tampa Bay while quarterback Drew Brees needs to play with more composure than he did against the Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns. When things are going bad, Brees needs to be patient and not compound problems.

At 5-3, the Saints have one of the better records in their conference and if the playoffs started tomorrow, the Black and Gold would be the lowest seed wild card. A Saints win in Carolina would advance them to second in their division since the two teams ahead of them in the NFC South, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, face each other this weekend.

As the Dirty Birds currently have the tie-breaker over the Saints, a Buccaneer win would go a long way to helping the Black and Gold’s chances of winning their division. A loss by Carolina would put them in a hole they probably cannot climb out of regarding their post-season chances and head coach John Fox’s odds of returning to the Panthers next season.

The Saints are the better team and only self-inflicted wounds would tip the balance to the Panthers, even in the mild confines of Bank of America Stadium.

What Says Vegas?

First, let me apologize to anyone who has been taking gambling advice from me. Granted, free safety Darren Sharper’s hands saved last week’s game, but that’s how the ball bounces.
USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 6.5 point favorite. The Saints are capable of winning the game by a touchdown and a field goal, but if you lay some money down and things don’t work out (as they haven’t on most of my predictions), don’t send me the bill. That said, give the 6.5…at your own risk.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week Eight Review: Saints' D Puts the Gris Gris on the Steelers

Free safety Darren Sharper’s hands were once again the salvation for the New Orleans Saints as number 42 recovered a Steelers’ fumble in Saints territory in the 4th quarter that set up eight plays later a touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to wide receiver Lance Moore.

If last weekend’s defeat was the one none of the pre-season prognosticators projected than this was the win nobody predicted.

Facing arguably the best team in the NFL, the Saints offense put up 20 points while the defense played strong with the exception of only one Steeler drive as the 2010 Super Bowl champions defeated the 2009 Super Bowl champions.

As expected, the toughest run defense in the league bottled up the Saints ground game though eventually Brees found his receivers in the second half. Brees was picked once and sacked twice, including a lost fumble that kept the Steelers in the game. The Saints quarterback completed 34 of 44 passes for 305 yards, two touchdowns and an INT.

Most importantly, Brees didn’t compound his frustration as he did against Arizona and Cleveland and outlasted the Steeler defense.

And since his misses tend to get a lot of attention, it should be noted that kicker Garrett Hartley was perfect, booting two field goals and two extra point conversions.

But the story was the defense.

Though not the ballhawks they were last season, the Saints defense has done a better job frustrating offenses. Perhaps their finest moment of the night was a goal line stance that came about after Saints head coach Sean Payton challenged a Steeler touchdown in the first half.

The Saints defense also got to Steeler quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, sacking him three times and picking him off to ice the game in the fourth quarter.

Though the win doesn’t have same “playoff’ value as a victory over a division or conference opponent, beating the Steelers is a tremendous boost to the team and fans’ morale as the Saints remain in the playoff hunt.

Costume Report

New Orleans got another win on Sunday night as the folks from Guinness World Records were on hand to determine whether the nationally televised game would achieve record status as the largest Halloween costume party. Both New Orleans and Pittsburgh fans showed up in costumes and masks to set the new record.

Some of the costumes seen at the game included a legion of young women dressed as sexy referees, a flock of Colonel Sanderses, a conquistador, Ike Turner, a graveyard’s worth of zombies and voodoo figures, a family of Super Mario Brothers and the usual decked out fans who go to every home Saints game in garb.

Happy Birthday!

November 1st marks the anniversary of the birth of the New Orleans Saints, when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced that the Crescent City was awarded an expansion franchise in the Pontchartrain Hotel on All Saints Day of 1966.

Week Eight Preview: Saints Face Scariest Opponent of the Season

The New Orleans Saints will face what is arguably their toughest opponent of the 2010 NFL regular season when the Pittsburgh Steelers take to the field-turf on Halloween night.

The Steelers are number one in ESPN and Fox Sports' Power Rankings and second behind the New York Jets in CBS Sports'. And while these arbitrary assessments tend to shift on a weekly basis, they do reflect what the currently reality is: the Steelers are the team to beat.

The Steelers offense improved with the return of two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback and league enfant terrible Ben Roethlisberger from his suspension. In the two games he's played in the 2010 season, Big Ben has thrown five touchdowns and an interception.

And though their offense's stats are not overly impressive, largely due to Roethlisberger's MIA status, the Steelers have done well on the ground, ranking 11th in the NFL in yards per game (118.8). It's their defense that has them on top of the league: 1st in fewest points allowed, 1st against the run and 4th in yards allowed per game. Their only weakness, relatively speaking, has been against the pass, 24th overall surrending 235.7 yards per game. And bear in mind that number is high because opposing teams HAVE TO throw against them as their run defense is too tough.

Expect to see Saints quarterback Drew Brees passing a lot on Sunday night, especially since the Saints' two top running backs, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, are still out with injuries.

The fate of the Saints' hopes to turn the spiraling season around in what is billed to be the world's largest costume party will be on the offensive line: can they keep the Steeler defense away from Brees? So far this season, the O-line has played like the NO-line.

Vegas Says...

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints...please don't spit up your a one point favorite. Either the boys in Vegas know something I don't or they're just trying to stimulate the economy by putting more money in the hands of the wagering class.

Take the point and start thumbing through Christmas ads.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Week Seven Review: Browns (and Yellows) Humiliate Saints

On Sunday afternoon the Brees Dream Foundation made their most substantial contribution to the less fortunate, as the Saints quarterback “donated” four…FOUR…that’s FOUR interceptions to the downtrodden Cleveland Browns.

The only good things I could say about the game is that it was nice seeing free safety Darren Sharper finally back on the field, Garrett Hartley made all of his point kicks and running back Chris Ivory didn’t fumble the ball.

Everything else was awful. Unless you were an ex-Saint.

Ex-Saints linebacker Scott Fujita played better against his former team than he did while with them, leading his team in tackles and snagging a pick and a sack. Practicing an entire year against the Black and Gold’s o-line gave the most educated man in the NFL excellent preparation for the match-up, knowing the playbook and most importantly the players.

The Saints offense choked when it mattered and the special teams unit looked like a mark playing three-card monte, biting on a clever and brilliantly executed “lateral” en route to a 62 yard return and then falling for a fake punt that resulted in a 68 yard gain.

Sure the Browns used a lot of gimmick plays, but that’s what they thought it was take to defeat the defending world champions. And to their credit, the Browns pulled them off flawlessly…perhaps with the admiration of coach Sean Payton.

In addition to the Brees interceptions, penalties also helped the Saints dig their own grave, calling back a Lance Moore touchdown reception while giving the Browns better field position.

While the win made the Browns’ season (as Bobby Hebert pointed in his pregame comments, Cleveland had defeated the two previous Super Bowl champions, with the Saints being their third straight victory), the loss may very well have marked the end of the words “two dat” in the local lexicon.

The Saints have now as many losses in week seven than they had during the entire 2009 regular season. And it’s only going to get harder.

The Saints face what is arguably the best team in football on Halloween night when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Add to that a trip to the Palace in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and December road trips to Atlanta, Baltimore and Cincinnati.

And the Saints don’t do well in cold weather away games.
I’ll defer to coach Jim Mora all questions related to the Black and Gold’s chances to making it to the post-season.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Week Seven Preview: Saints Host Fujita, Browns

The New Orleans Saints welcome to the Louisiana Superdome the very team that Head Coach Sean Payton defeated to mark the beginning of a new era of Black and Gold football in 2006 when the constantly struggling Cleveland Browns take on the defending world champions on Sunday afternoon.

Most significantly the Saints will face an old friend who had a lot to do with the re-establishment of the New Orleans franchise in linebacker Scott Fujita.

Fujita, who was the first free agent to sign with the post-Katrina Saints and has made the promotion of adoption and restoring Louisiana's fragile wetlands pet causes that he did not leave behind before heading to northern Ohio, has had a great season thus far with the Browns, in addition to the lucrative contract he inked with the team after the Saints didn't show matching interest in retaining his services.

In six games in the 2010 season, Fujita has blocked a field goal, forced a fumble and sacked opposing quarterbacks 2.5 times. In contrast, Fujita, who played in a 4-3 scheme with the Saints but now plays in a 3-4 in Cleveland, hasn't racked up that many sacks since 2007.

While the Saints have had some instability in their linebacker corps thus far this season due to injuries, it would be hard to argue with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Payton's decision to go in a younger, cheaper direction. Also Fujita brings leadership qualities more in demand in Cleveland than Nola.

In the long run the Saints, the Browns and Fujita are all better off for the move.

Expect fans to give him the welcome and love he deserves on Sunday.

Game Breakdown

Thanks in large part to running back Chris Ivory, the Saints offense has finally started to resemble their previous high-powered selves in last week's road trip to Tampa.

The Saints offense is now 13th in the league in points scored per game (21.7) but 8th in total yards (368.2), the disparity being due to red zone struggles, turnovers and missed field goals. Quarterback Drew Brees has brought the Saints to 5th in passing yards (269.8) and Ivory has almost single-handedly breathed new life to the running game, in which the Saints now rank 21st, after previously being near the bottom of the league a few weeks ago. The offensive line has contributed significantly to both the passing and running improvements.

The Browns might be the weakest team on the schedule, next to last in the NFL in points scored per game (14.7) and 23rd in overall yards (305.7). The Browns running game is about as mediocre as their revolving door passing game. The same applies to their defense. The defense has allowed 20.8 points per game, which is 17th in the NFL.

The Saints defense has been one of the consistent bright spots for the team, improving greatly against the run. The are 8th in points allowed (18 per game), 7th in overall yards allowed (301.5), 7th against the pass (195.5) and 15th (106 yards per game- which is progress). The Saints defense also hasn't been as victimized against the big run as they were last year.

If the Saints have trouble winning this game, then there's something wrong. They're at home and they've proven to themselves that they can play at the high level on both sides of the ball last week. Expect rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, number three for their team in this early part of the season, to play with poise and to make safe throws.

The Arizona Cardinals game proved that being fresh doesn't mean a game is a lock.

What Say the Numbers Man?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 13.5 favorite. After finally beating the spread in game 6 and the Browns lackluster play in 2010, the Saints should easily win by a minimum of two touchdowns so long as they don't cough the ball up....much. That's on you Mr. Ivory.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Joe Horn Joins Saints' Hall; Brooks Makes Surprise Appearance

Hollywood was back down south on Friday afternoon as retired wide receiver Joe Horn, one of the most accomplished players with the New Orleans Saints, was inducted into his former team's Hall of Fame.

The ceremony, held at the Landmark Hotel in Metairie, marked the return of the passionate and talented playmaker whose leaping catches and fancy footwork bedeviled opposing defensive backs.

Prior to saying his piece, Horn's father-in-law, a church deacon, shared with the assembled a story of Horn's well-known generosity, once selling his primary means of transportation to a church for fifty cents.

Though quite the talker on the field, Horn delivered a relatively brief speech praising his family, friends and God for the blessings that allowed him to excel on the gridiron. Horn also had some words for Saints owner Tom Benson, who also sat on the dais. While acknowledging previous hard feelings between him and the Saints organization related to his release from the team in 2007, Horn offered thanks and praise for Benson for the years he spent with the team.

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, the official who cut Horn, also attended the luncheon.

While a number of Saints luminaries and team hall inductees were on hand, two of Horn's longtime Saints teammates were present, retired kick returner and Saints ambassador Michael Lewis and ex-Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks. Brooks's appearance was a surprise to both Horn and the Saints Hall of Fame administrators, who hastily set up another chair on the dais for the quarterback and his primary receiver to be joined together one last time.

Horn expressed his appreciation for Brooks's presence durig his induction address. Horn didn't know Brooks was present until he ran into him in the hotel lobby. Upon seeing Horn, Brooks, who now lives in Virginia, said that he wanted to be there for his receiver's big day.

Horn also expressed his deep gratitude to Saints fans, even commenting on the opinion of more than a few that he should have received one of the 2009 team's Super Bowl rings. While he appreciated their thoughts, Horn said it would be inappropriate for him to have that honor as those who received the coveted diamond rings from the 2009 team earned them.

At the conclusion of Horn's comments, the portrait of him that will hang in the Saints Hall of Fame was unveiled, a close-up of Horn with an intense expression wearing a Saints helmet. Horn stuck around at the end of the festivities to sign autographs and pose for pictures with his numerous fans.

Also honored on Friday were longtime Saints equipment managers Dan "Chief" Simmons and Silky Powell, who received the Joe Gemelli "Fleur de Lis Award" for dedication to the organization. In tribute to both of these veteran employees of the team, former players that were present quickly stood up in unison and loudly applauded when Simmons and Powell were recognized.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week Six Review: Saints Silence Bucs' Guns

On what I figure to be the north end zone in Raymond James Stadium is a mock pirate ship that the Tampa Bay organization rents to corporate sponsors. According to a staffer at the stadium, there really isn't anything inside of it. Just a place for people to hang out, throw Mardi Gras beads (how original) and blast t-shirts from a launcher.

There's also a cannon that fires every time the Buccaneers score.

On Sunday, the Saints largely silenced the Bucs' guns as the Black and Gold offense stayed on the field and the defense (aided by two Buccaneer missed field goals) kept the home team in check.

Though not nearly as opportunistic as last season's ball-hawk secondary, the 2010 Saints defense has improved greatly in stopping the run, though they haven't made much progress in terms of sacking opposing quarterbacks.

The Black and Gold offense started to finally resemble the powerhouse squad that wowed the league under head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, scoring the most points of the 2010 regular season and combined with the defense's play, finally covered the spread.

But the real star of the game was undrafted rookie running back Chris Ivory, who went from practice squad potential to starting running back as the next four people ahead of him went down with injuries starting with the first pre-season road trip.

Ivory racked up an amazing 158 yards on the ground on 15 carries, including a long of 33 yards.

But the day was not all roses for the unheralded, yet now much loved Tiffin product. Ivory coughed up the ball on a fumble for the third time in four games. Fortunately the ball went out of bounds and the Saints did not lose possession.

Despite his challenges with ball control, the quick yet hard-running Ivory is a shoo-in to remain on the 53-man roster when fellow running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush return to good health. However, a good run is quickly negated by a fumble and his shaky hands don't inspire a whole of confidence in key situations.

A player whose job appeared secure going into this game was kicker Garrett Hartley, who had spent the past two games in "Time-Out" as veteran kicker John Carney returned to the team to temporarily assume field goal and extra point duties.

After making a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, Hartley missed wide-left a 33 yard field goal. He made all of his extra-point attempts, which there were many thanks to Brees finding the end zone three times.

The Saints did themselves a huge favor with the big win, even if against a subpar team....after all didn't the Saints lose to a sub-par team the week before?

The Black and Gold now has the same record as the Dirty Birds in the NFC South, though Atlanta has the tie-breaker until the Saints get a chance to even things on Monday Night Football after Christmas.

Conference wins are big; divisional wins are critical. Hopefully this was the game that helps set the tone for establishing the type of play for the remainder of the season.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Week Six Preview: Saints Try to Salvage Season in Tampa

Two phrases Saints fans haven’t been shouting much lately are “Who Dat” and “Two Dat”.

The former because the hated division rival Atlanta Falcons was the first to “beat dem Saints” and last week’s loss to the not-so-good Arizona Cardinals have given fans and the Saints organization a harsh reality check.

The Saints find themselves in a tough spot to achieve the unprecedented by repeating as winners of their division let alone doubling their Lombardi Trophy collection.

If the defending world champion Saints can fall to a rookie quarterback starting an NFL game for the first time in his life, who can’t beat the Saints?

In the Dome Patrol days, the joke was that the defense would ask the lackluster offense to just score a dozen or so points and they would take care of the rest.

Under the Sean Payton era, the turbo-charged offense has been the team’s strongpoint. But that hasn’t been the case in the 2010 season.

The offense’s red-zone frustration from either a failure to score touchdowns or score at all due to an inconsistent kicking game has plagued the team. The Saints defense, while not being the ball hawks they were last season, has held opponents to an average of 20.4 points, well below the scoring capacity of past Drew Brews-led offenses.

Regrettably for the Saints, their offense has yet to score more than 25 points so far in 2010 and I must once again mention their biggest margin of victory was the five points that separated them from the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL’s opener.

Injuries have taken their toll as the Saints have to rely on scrubs for the running game and their 2010 first round draft pick to play more than probably anticipated.

But mistakes of all varieties have cost the team dearly, whether it be poor clock management, play calling, drops, ball handling, penalties and throws.

The NFC South third-place Saints will travel to Raymond James Stadium this weekend to take on the division’s second-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hopefully the Black and Gold defense will keep that ridiculous pirate ship’s cannon discharges at an absolute minimum. I think they even fire it when the Bucs get a first down.

Though they handed the Saints their second loss of the season last year, the New Orleans organization has had a lot of success against Tampa. The Saints have led the series between the two teams since 1984, which currently stands at 21-15. For many many seasons, Tampa was the only team the Saints had a winning record against.

The weather is supposed to be gorgeous on Sunday, in total contrast to the tropical depression that drenched the fans and added to the Saints misery in 2008.

The Buccaneer offense isn’t any great shakes as a friend of mine in Jersey would say.

They’re 21st in points per game (18.5), 21st in total yards (313.8) and equally mediocre on the ground (18th -103.5 yards per game) as they are in the air (19th –210.2 yards per game).

Quarterback Josh Freeman isn’t likely to be starting anyone’s fantasy team, having thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions. Freeman has been sacked nine times.

But Freeman is a threat with his legs. The quarterback is the team’s second-best rusher with 112 yards, averaging 7.5 per scramble. As the Saints defense has not had much success chasing after a running quarterback, expect to see a lot of our front seven lunging in the dust of his cleats.

The defense, which the team invested heavily in during the 2010 draft picking two defensive tackles within the first 35 selections, has played better than the offense. The Bucs defense has picked off opponents 9 times already though have only four quarterback sacks. Brees is going to have to through carefully against the Buccaneer secondary, which means his offensive line needs to step up to buy #9 some time,

The Buccaneer defense has been weak against the run but then again, the Saints have been weak on the run.

If Brees can avoid being picked off multiple times, the Saints should be able to win. Otherwise it will be a replay of the Arizona game. The Saints’ defense has shown this season that they are up to the task of containing Tampa’s low-grade offense.

What Are the Numbers?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan gives the Saints a four point edge. My first inclination would have been to make I would have make the Bucs a 3.5 favorite. Just as the 2008 road trip to Tampa provided Payton with the epiphany that he needed to back off the pass for the next season, perhaps this visit to Florida’s west coast will be where the Saints finally rid themselves of the gris-gris that’s been hanging over their helmets.

If the Saints win, they’ll probably win by more than four. Bad luck haunted them last week as the offense gave away a game the defense had mostly kept them in. As analysts wiser than me in this realm seem to believe the Black and Gold has gotten their act together, I say take the chalk.

But be forewarned: I have thrown a lot of good money trying to get bad cars fixed in the past. Bottom line is we will know what kind of team the Saints are after this weekend, for better or for worse.