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 NFL.com, 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 zone...in 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 consistent...in 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.