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.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week Five Review: Plucked

Well Dat sucked.

Let's see: reckless quarterbacking, bad coaching, poor time management. Miscommunication. Failure to execute. Sounds like a summary of an LSU win but wait, it's the story of a New Orleans Saints loss.

In a game against an awful opponent, Sean Payton's team once again played up to the level of its competition proving that they could play every bit as terrible as the Arizona Cardinals and then some.

The Cardinal is passerine bird, more commonly known as a songbird, but the ones in the University of Phoenix Stadium proved to be more like raptors forcing four turnovers, which in the end decided the contest.

Sure it's only the 5th game of the season. Sure the Saints have a lot of players hurt. And yes it was very loud in the stadium. But in these past five games I've seen a sputtering offense that has had to rely on a defense playing above their talent.

This is the same kind of play their fans have been subjected to five weeks in a row. I'll become an optimist when I see a different Black and Gold team take the field.
Apparently the boys in Vegas had the Saints sized up just right.

Against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Saints racked up a total of 358 yards of offense. And the Cardinals D had the distinction of picking Brees off three times and recovering a Ladell Betts fumble. Considering he was starting the first game of his professional career, rookie quarterback Max Hall performed adequately, completing 17 of 27 passes for 168 yards and one interception.

The one good thing that came out of the game for the Saints was their defense's performance against the run. The Saints held the Cardinals to a grand total of 41 yards on the ground, the area one would have thought Arizona would have victimized the Saints the most.

Special teams coverage was poor as well. Cardinals kick returner LaRod Stephens-Howling (what is it with these law firm named players?) had two big returns, one for 60 yards and another for 50 yards.

The defense cannot be blamed for this one as it was the offense that committed suicide by shooting themselves with a gatling gun. The aforementioned three INTs and fumble, the missed field goal, the dropped passes, bad communication on the field, bad clock management and settling for field goals...pardon...field goal attempts in lieu of touchdowns.

And the sad irony is that the Saints had a shot to come back in the final minute of the game thanks to an Arizona mistake. But the Cardinals never really suffered for their errors.

Next Sunday the NFC South's "third team" Black and Gold could dig themselves even deeper when they face divisional rival Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.

A loss there would give the Saints their second loss in the division and would make snatching a wild card bid their most likely entree into the playoffs.

The S.S. Two Dat is taking on water quick. The Saints need to figure out soon what is holding them back. Judging by the close margins they have managed to eke out wins by, it appears their opponents have.

Note of Recognition: Saints Fans

The Black and Gold faithful showed up in numbers and to their credit stayed to the bitter end of a miserable game at time when being present at University of Phoenix Stadium was like being in the middle of a prison riot in the wrong uniform. Kudos to the Saints fans who made the trip and stood by the team until Brees took the knee.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Week Five Preview: Saints @ Cardinals

The Black and Gold could not have made it to the soft quarter of their schedule (at least relatively speaking) at a better time as the roster looks like a MASH unit.

Reserve safety and Super Bowl on-side kick hero Chris Reis is out for the season.

Starting cornerback and Super Bowl INT hero Tracy Porter is out for two to four weeks with a knee injury.

Running back Reggie Bush is going to be out for several more games and starting running back Pierre Thomas did not practice on Thursday, nursing an ankle injury. Also not practicing was starting defensive end Will Smith, who may not play on Sunday.

While the Arizona Cardinals are 2-2 and are atop the NFC West (Worst?), nobody is projecting them to be in contention for a trip to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals two wins came against bottom of the barrel teams: the Oakland Raiders and the Saint Louis Rams and both games were close.

Their losses, however, were spectacular surrendering 41 points to both Atlanta and San Diego.

Their division might as well be determined by a raffle drawing. The winless San Francisco Forty-Niners still have enough space on the schedule to win the division.

The red birds have not known stability this season. After future hall of fame quarterback Kurt Warner retired after the Saints eliminated his team from the playoffs last season, back-up Matt Leinart was expected to step up and be their quarterback of the future.

Unfortunately for both, the future wasn't very long.

The Cardinals organization cut the former first round draft pick before setting their 53-man roster on the eve of regular season play. Rookie quarterback Max Hall will start for the first time in a regular season game on Sunday. Hall threw 14 passes against the San Diego Chargers last weekend, connecting on 8 and was picked off once.

The Arizona offense is ranked 29th in the league in points per game (14.5), 31st in yards (251.5 per game) faring better on the ground with an average of 99 yards per game (18th in the league) but struggling in the air with an average of 152.5 passing yards per game (29th in the NFL).

With their passing game far from set, expect the Cardinals to try to exploit the Saints' 26th ranked run-defense (giving up an average of 138.2 yards on the ground).

The Saints offense SHOULD have a field day against the oft-victimized Arizona defense. Their D is 31st in points allowed (29.5 per game), 29th in overall yards (388 average) proving weaker against the run (154.8 yards per game- 30th in the NFL) than against the pass (233.2 through the air- 23rd in the league).

The bad news for the Saints is that their rushing attack , which hasn't done much this season, is largely riding the pine. The Saints are 30th in the NFL on the ground, rushing for 73.2 yards per game while quarterback Drew Brees's aerial show ranks 5th, throwing for an average of 270.8 yards per game.

Thus far this season, the Saints have won ugly. Even though they're on the road, here is the team's best opportunity to light the board up offensively while their defense will be challenged mostly on the ground.

This game could also be an important milestone for Saints running back Chris Ivory as either the contest that solidifies his standing with the team or the place where chronic fumblitis marks the beginning of the end of his time in a black and gold uniform.

In other words, the Saints shouldn't be winning this game off of John Carney's foot.

What Say the Boys in Vegas?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has chalked the Saints as 6.5 favorites. If the Saints cover, it'll mark their largest margin of victory for the season. The low spread could be because of the battered defense and their questionable running game. Also the Saints tend to play at the level of their competition- remember the close shaves against the Washington Redskins and Saint Louis Rams last season? But I'm a believer this week. Give the points. Saints should win by double-digits.

Will the Sun Roof Be Open?

Head coach Sean Payton confidently predicted that the roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be closed during his Thursday post-practice interview.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brees Advances to Second on Saints’ All-Time Passing List

Largely lost in the team’s narrow escape from the claws of the Carolina Panthers last Sunday was New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees supplanting former Black and Gold quarterback Aaron Brooks on the franchise’s record books.

Brees was a mere 2 yards shy before the Saints hosted the Panthers.

Brees passed for 275 yards against the Cats, bringing his season passing yards total to 1,131. Brees’s career total in four and one-quarter seasons with the Saints is 19,429.

Brees trails Saints all-time leading passer Archie Manning by 2,305 yards. Assuming Brees remains healthy throughout the season and continues his current pace, number nine should set a new mark before the end of the year.

Not that the 2010 Super Bowl MVP doesn’t already have the distinction of being the Saints’ greatest quarterback ever.

Brees is already the organization’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, a continually increasing record that stands as of this moment at 129.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First Quarter Review: Disappointing Success

Is there such a thing as a bad 3-1 start in the NFL?

After all, the New Orleans Saints have the same record as three other teams at the top of their conference.

The organization has started the first quarter of a season with at least 3 wins on nine other occasions in the 43 years they’ve taken the field.

Yet in those nine quick start seasons, they made the playoffs only three times.

Or put another way, the Saints have had trouble “finishing strong” for most of its history.

And though the Black and Gold has the same record as the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints are staring at red and black tail feathers as the Dirty Birds have temporary ownership of the tiebreaker.

While panning for nuggets of good news, it should be noted that the Saints have managed to win the close ones, the same contests that bedeviled head coach Sean Payton’s squad in the 2008 season.

Unfortunately, they’ve all be close games. Luck has had as much to do with the team’s relative success as their offense, which went from being the league’s most prolific to being as potent as a 90 year old patron of the Chicken Ranch.

The Saints have not beaten the spread in 2010 with their largest margin of victory coming in the NFL kickoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, which was decided by 5 points thanks to kicker Garrett Hartley.

In points scored/allowed, the Saints are a net +7 in which Drew Brees’s offense has scored fewer points than the winless Detroit Lions. The team’s ground game is lacking as well, standing at 30th in rushing yards- in glaring contrast to last season where the team hovered in the neighborhood of the top five in running.

The offense has been bailed out thus far by their stretched-thin defense. The defense has been somewhat stingy in the first four games ranking 13th in points allowed per game (18) and 11th in defending the pass. However, the team continues to struggle against opposing team running backs as the Saints defense has given up an average of 138 per game, ranking them 26th in the NFL.

Those kind of numbers are only going to further encourage opponents to keep the ball on the ground and out of the grasp of the Saints’ ball-thieving secondary.

After a relatively rough start, the Saints will have ample opportunity to finally get the kinks out. The team’s first quarter is amongst the toughest on their schedule until the final quarter; their second quarter is the softest.

Fumbles, dropped passes, missed field goals and subpar pass protection and run blocking need to be addressed and fixed during the second quarter, where the Saints take on the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns before hosting their toughest opponent of the period, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Halloween night.

They say offense wins games and defense wins championships.

Add to that saying, luck wins a wild card berth.

If the defending champions don’t improve their play, the Saints better pack their long johns if they some how make it to the post-season, because they won’t be playing in the rowdy confines of the Louisiana Superdome.