Thursday, November 29, 2012

Awful in Atlanta

Five interceptions. 

The “BrUnitas” streak ended.

An opportunity to break into the playoff picture squandered.

Game over.

Season over.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had the second worst day in his professional football career in Atlanta on Thursday night.

His worst day of course being the final game of the 2005 season while with the San Diego Chargers when his shoulder got mangled against the Denver Broncos.

On Thursday night football, the $100 million man was far from bionic.  It could truly be said that the Saints’ best player cost his team the game and then some.

That it was to the benefit of the hated Atlanta Falcons compounds things.  Especially after the egging the team’s bus received courtesy of some airport workers.

I generally turn a blind eye to that kind of prankery, but I hope the culprits are not just disciplined, but fired.  To merely blow off this kind of antic at an airport, a center of hypersecurity in our post-9/11, is to invite others to push the envelope further.

While Atlanta is not exactly a slice of heaven, it’s not Caracas either.  And it seems some its denizens need to be reminded of this.

When “hating” devolves to “assault”, serious punishment needs to be meted out to underscore the severity of the crime.   

What happened in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night was the manifestation of a season that got cursed once word of the Saints’ “bountygate” reached the public’s ears.

“King Roger’s” wrath finally caught up with the Black and Gold. 

Had the Saints not been hit with penalties to its draft, front office, head coach and interim head coach, it’s likely the team would have started the 2012 regular season no worse than 2-2, instead of 0-4.  Had the road trip to Atlanta played out exactly as it did in that scenario, the game would have been like a bad hangover to be exorcised with a trip to the post-season, even if only as a wild card.

Instead, many bad things converged in downtown Atlanta at a most inconvenient time.

The Atlanta Falcons not only creeped that much closer to securing the NFC South division and homefield advantage in the playoffs, they did so at the expense of their rivals while leaving the field with Drew Brees’s historic consecutive touchdown streak as an additional trophy.

Thursday night was a new low for the Sean Payton era Saints. 

Brees failed not only as a passer but also as a field general.  He inexplicably wasted precious seconds on the team’s last drive in the second quarter and then made a poor decision to target a receiver a few yards outside the endzone instead of taking a shot at the endzone or killing the clock by throwing the ball away. 

That was Les Miles-like clock mismanagement and uncharacteristic of the franchise quarterback.

The Saints are not officially eliminated from contending for a playoff spot, but the road to the post-season looks arduous.

In addition to having to win the four remaining games on the schedule, the Saints need the five teams ahead of them to practically collapse.  The early losses to the Washington Redskins and the Green Bay Packers not only cost the team in the win column but with tiebreakers. 

Last season, the Saints were only a single play away from hosting the NFC Championship game in the Superdome and possibly claiming its second Lombardi Trophy. 

This season it was death by a thousand cuts with Brees’s picks against Atlanta counting as five of the largest.

The 2012 Saints are a far better team than their record reflects and the difference between where they are and where they should be is coaching.

Who Dats better hope Sean Payton doesn’t get too comfortable in his Goodell-imposed Dallas-exile.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Onside Kick's Interview with Mike Detillier

College football expert and NFL Draft guru Mike Detillier was kind enough to field some questions from The Onside Kick concerning the opening third of the 2012 New Orleans Saints season. 

Detillier shared his thoughts about whether the team has a reasonable chance of making the playoffs, the wisdom of having a coach by committee system, Devery Henderson’s future with the Saints and other questions.

  1. What would you say is the biggest problem affecting the team?
A lack of team confidence and attention to details. That is something Sean Payton was a stickler for and it is missing right now. The win over San Diego helps, but this team has dug themselves a huge hole and it will be tough to get to double digit wins.

There is a certain swagger gone from this team without the general leading the way. Sean was the emotional heartbeat on this team.
In a nutshell, team confidence and the attention to the smallest of details are missing.
  1. Did you foresee a Payton-less Saints squad struggling so much this year?
No, I really thought they could overcome this without him. I don’t think anyone thought this team would struggle this badly early on. You thought with Drew Brees and basically most of the offense back things would continue to work, but no one thought the defense would struggle this bad and the lack of a running game and a commitment to the run is alarming. You can’t be one dimensional in this league. It goes to show just how much Sean Payton really means to this organization. His play-calling skills are just unbelievable and Sean has the best offensive mind in the business right now.
  1. Why have the Saints had such a hard time establishing a run game?
Well, first of all they have fallen behind early in some games and went strictly to the pass, but there is no true commitment to run the ball like what we saw down the stretch last year. They are averaging about 19 rushes per game. Last season down the stretch it was 27 and they are averaging under a yard less per carry. Losing Carl Nicks hurt, but in this league you have to be able to run the ball when you need to.
So far, that has not happened and there is no commitment to the run and late in the Green Bay game they didn’t really try to when you could have tried and finish that team off. They did replace one All-Pro guard with another.  But Nicks is the best in the game right now and he is really missed upfront.
  1. Would you agree that the two best first round draft picks since 2006 now play for other teams?
I believe the move to cut loose Reggie Bush and bring in Darren Sproles was a win/win for both the Dolphins and Saints. Reggie was a good player when he was healthy, but he was always hurt in New Orleans. He has stayed healthy and been super for the Dolphins and Sproles has been fantastic in New Orleans. Bush wanted and needed a change of scenery.

Robert Meachem is a “chip” player at best. He is not a #1 wide receiver in the NFL. At best he is a #2. He had a role here in New Orleans and he did a very good job when healthy, but he got an unbelievable contract in San Diego and so, he made the right choice and the Saints did also to let him walk.
What is disappointing is not getting really good production from Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith. Cameron Jordan has good long-range potential and I like him, but right now Brodrick Bunkley has been disappointing also. You are getting bang for your buck with these guys with the exception of Jordan.

5.  Considering his low yards per carry average, would you write off Mark Ingram as a bust at this point?
I don’t consider him a bust, but he is someone that needs 12 to 15 carries to warm up as a runner and he won’t get that in New Orleans. It is running back by committee and he has not shown he can be that “closer” this team needs right now. He is not the most sure-handed receiver also coming out of the backfield like Pierre and Sproles. This team needs to get the ball in the hands of Pierre Thomas more and give Chris Ivory his chance to be that thumper between the tackles.
Right now it is just not a good fit for what Ingram does best and he never gets truly warmed up as a runner, like what he did at Alabama. He was a real force in the 3rd and 4th quarter of games in college, but we haven’t seen that element in his play in the pros.
  1. Do you see a future on this team for Joe Morgan or Greg Camarillo??
Joe has big-play skills and speed, but he is just not a confident player right now and he looks a lot like a young Devery Henderson. He is just not making the catch out front with his hands and he is letting the ball get too close to him. He also has a habit of taking off before the secure catch. He has a big upside, but they will have to be patient with his development. I love his ability to stretch the field and his speed in the openfield, but right now he is just not a real confident player and he needs to hone down his eye-hand coordination better and have a better grasp of the playbook. He will admit he makes too many mental errors.

On Camarillo, he is a good slot receiver. He doesn’t have great speed and he is not real tall, but he is tough, a smart route runner, he catches the ball cleanly and he has great rapport with Drew. He just finds the open spots in a secondary and he catches the ball so well. He is also a very good downfield blocker. He’s a good “fit” player on this team.

  1. Devery Henderson is one of only two players left on the team from the Jim Haslett era.  Do you think this is his final season in a Saints uniform?
 Oh no, he is having an excellent season and Brees trusts him fully. No one could have guessed when they both came out of LSU that Devery would have the much better NFL career than Michael Clayton, but it is not even close. I think he will be back and he has really improved as a route runner and he still has that big play speed that can stretch a defense. Where he has really improved is as a route runner and getting his head turned around quicker to make the grab. Early on in his career he was not a good route runner and he wasn’t looking the ball in good because he wasn’t getting his head turned around quick enough. He will be back in 2013.
  1. The Saints signed three linebackers and traded for one as well.  Do you think shifting Martez Wilson to defensive end was a wise move in retrospect?
            Yes , it was the right move. Martez is a natural as a pass rusher and he has the closing speed few have. He is still a work in progress to get off of blockers in a quicker manner and he needs to develop a better group of moves and countermoves.  He is their most explosive pass rush element, but he is really rough around the edges as a technician. His speed and explosive qualities are the best on this team upfront and he should get more playing time as the season goes along. If you play him fulltime teams will run the ball right at him until he physically gets stronger at the point of attack and understands positioning and leverage skills better. But he is a real big-time element as a potential pass rusher, once he understands the position better.
  1. Why aren’t Wilson and Junior Gallette not getting more time at defensive end?
 Good question. Steve Spagnuolo says Galette is his best defensive front-line player, but he isn’t starting. That’s his call. They need to be playing more and be out on the field in obvious pass rush situations and I would like to see more of the four line set-up of Galette/Wilson at defensive end and Cam Jordan and either Will Smith or Turk McBride inside.
  1. Do you believe the Saints should have brought in a full-time head coach for the 2012 season instead of having a rotating head coach situation?
 No, they did the right thing. Aaron Kromer is in a tough spot. He is doing the best he can, but he knows he is just a part-time coach and that puts him in a real difficult spot. This spot is unprecedented and there was no real blueprint on what to do. The Commissioner really overstepped his authority here and the incident never should have been dealt with this harshly. I do know that Joe Vitt will bring some fire to this team. That is his personality. But the hole is huge to climb out of. There is just no real good blueprint to work off of.
  1. Do you think letting Tracy Porter go to another team was a mistake?
 Yes, but the injury issue was major for a long term deal. He wanted to stay here but the deal with the Broncos was much better than the Saints offer. Healthy he is a really good player, but he is awfully thin and he has had a bunch of injuries to deal with on a yearly basis. He is really missed in this secondary because of Jabari’s groin issues and he has excellent cover skills. The problem is keeping him healthy. I would really want to see him on this team and healthy. The young kids in Corey White, Johnny Patrick and also Patrick Robinson are getting picked on, but they can’t cover forever. There is no pass rush to aid them.

Do you think the Saints have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs this season?
Its’ reasonable, but it will be awfully tough. Drew Brees and the offense will have to play great the rest of the way out for them to get to 10 wins and you will need 10 wins to get to the playoffs. It’s a longshot for them, but they are still an awfully good team on offense.

  1. What two things good came out of the San Diego win?

First, the protection for Drew Brees was outstanding and Marques Colston looks to be healthy. He has been a key the last two games and when healthy he is one of the best “Big” wide outs in the game. I liked the protection and the good health of Colston. Whoa, Colston is just unstoppable at times and one of the most underrated players offensively in the game.

Secondly, it would be the ability this defense, as leaky as it is, to come up with turnovers. They are on the plus side right now. That could help out greatly down the stretch. In 2009 that was the only time they were in the plus category and they have shown a knack for getting some turnovers. Now, they just need to stop people and produce a better pass rush on a consistent basis in a league full of great signal-caller and the very best group of wide receivers and pass receiving tight ends this league has ever had at one time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Brees, Colston Break Records, Team Ends Losing Streak

With suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, interim coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis watching in person but from a distance, franchise quarterback Drew Brees exceeded the record he shared with NFL legend Johnny Unitas going into the game against the San Diego Chargers having completed at least one touchdown pass in forty-seven consecutive games.

The Unitas record was set in 1960 and was tied by Brees last weekend in Green Bay.  Brees broke it on a 40-yard completion to wide receiver Devery Henderson, one of the team’s two players remaining on the roster from the Jim Haslett era.

With that record-setting touchdown completion combined with his other on-field accolades, Brees has all but locked up a first ballot election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his playing days are over.

Brees wasn’t the only member of the Black and Gold to set a new statistical benchmark on Sunday night.

Wide receiver Marques Colston, a favorite target of Brees, tied Joe Horn’s franchise record of 50 career touchdown receptions in the second quarter, surpassed it in the third quarter and set a new mark in the fourth quarter.

In addition to ending the team’s losing streak at four, the Saints concluded another ignominious run when Roman Harper snagged an interception in the fourth quarter.  Until then, a Saint safety had not intercepted a pass since the 2010 season.

The defense also had one of their better games attacking the opposing quarterback, sacking the San Diego signal caller five times, almost doubling the number from the previous four games.

Despite Brees and Colston’s respective record breakings, the game ball for the win should not have been handed to a member of the Black and Gold but to a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Linebacker Demorrio Williams picked off Brees and brought the ball back to the end zone.  Had nothing further happened, the game would have been essentially over right then and there and the Saints would have stumbled into the bye week 0-5.

Linebacker Melvin Ingram got through the Saints offensive line (not too grand of an achievement of late) and laid a late hit on Brees, which led to a roughing the passer penalty that not only nullified the Williams’s pick-six but returned the ball to the Saints offense with an extra ten yards and a first down.  Brees and the Saints offense did not squander this gift and marched down the field sixty-eight yards for a touchdown.

It can truly (and finally) be said that an Ingram won a game for the Saints.

And speaking of the other Ingram, the Saints offense was handicapped once again by a non-existent running game.

The player the Saints coughed up a couple of high picks to land in 2011 racked up all 16 yards on five carries.  Running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles did not fare any better on the ground though they managed to pick up significant yards on receptions.

With the bye week approaching, the Saints should both count their blessings for snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat and figure out a way to play better.  The Chargers as much lost this game through sloppiness as the Saints won it by hanging in.

The Saints have to establish a run game and the defense needs to make big plays instead of giving them up on a consistent basis. 

Otherwise, Sunday’s record-breaking victory will be a rare highlight in a dismal season.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Making the Pilgrimage to Lambeau Field

Note: Rather than writing yet another installment of how the Saints played awful "this week", I've decided to write about the Lambeau Field experience instead. There are other places on the internet to find a detailed obituary of the Black and Gold's latest act of self-immolation.
Due to the boom in new stadium construction fueled by the increasing hunger for luxury boxes and further induced by a Super Bowl award, the NFL lacks venues that possess an aura that comes close to that of a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.
With one exception.
Lambeau Field is the only stadium that approaches those hallowed temples of sport in history and relevance  to its particular game.
Over the years, the stadium has been expanded, upgraded and renovated (rather than torn down and built anew) and it's currently undergoing another addition with the installation of new seating in what I believe to be Lambeau's south end zone- work being financed from the latest sale of Green Bay Packer stock.
And though parts of the stadium are very modern, the bowl is different from any other in the NFL. 
Lambeau Field, to me, is a cross brtween a midlevel college stadium and Las Ventas, Madrid’s bullfighting ring.
Allow me to explain as I know this is a tough description to fully grasp.
Like the domain of an Iberian matador, Lambeau is old and historic and like the referenced bull fighting ring, there are few chairs as most of the seats are in fact numbers stamped on a bleacher, but as in both venues, a seat cushion can be rented.
And like Las Ventas, where you sit can be important in terms of temperature.  In a bull fighting ring, there’s Sol and Sombra tickets (sun and shade).  In Green Bay, the visitor’s sideline is on the sunny side while the home sideline is in Lambeau’s shade.  
The big difference between the two is that in Madrid the animal carcasses are in the middle of the stadium while in Green Bay they are all over the parking lots cooking on countless charcoal pits.
LSU fans take pregame tailgating to a high level of luxury and extravagance, but tailgating at Lambeau Field is done on a widespread scale as if a grill is attached to every vehicle bumper.
And though Lambeau doesn't have the luxury coaches that populate the south side of Tiger Stadium on any given game day, Green Bay has to have the largest collection of retrofitted ambulances and school buses anywhere.  
Like most college stadiums, Lambeau Field is a big bowl and adding to the collegiate feel of the environment there are male and female cheerleaders working the crowd on the sidelines. And in Green Bay the cheerleaders are dressed like cheerleaders and not strippers, with all due respect to the Washington Redskins’ First Ladies of Football.
Also worth noting was the post-game entertainment, something you see in AAA baseball stadiums and not the NFL.  
After the last players trotted from the field, the University of Wisconsin band, which performed the national anthem at the start of the game and played the halftime show, put on an encore show for almost 45 minutes, playing state and college songs and a few polka tunes (Saints fans have Get Crunk, Packers fans do the Chicken Dance and sing and dance to Roll Out the Barrels).
But what makes Green Bay the most unique is the fanbase.
Considering its miniscule media market and its location two hours north of Milwaukee, Green Bay should not have a professional sports franchise above the minor league level yet they have one of the most important teams in the league with a national fan base that penetrates every nook in the country.  
There's even a Packers bar in Las Vegas.
And though New Orleans Saints fans are some of the most passionate in sports, the Green Bay fanbase is on another level. When their franchise was in financial trouble, people bought stock (in actuality 
contributed as the highly restrictive stock does not yield any dividends to owners, has limits on its transfer and has a real worth far less than its cost).
It took then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to keep the Saints in New Orleans and support for improvements to the Superdome have come from taxes. Also at one point Louisiana taxpayers were directly subsidizing the team.
There is a 20,000-person waiting list to buy Saints season tickets.  The Packers' line stretches to 60,000.
To say that the Packers are the heart and soul of the community would be an understatement.  
The pews at Saint Agnes a few hours before kickoff looked more like a pep rally than parishioners gathered for Mass. Packer jerseys were everywhere and even the dressed up ushers were wearing Green Bay ties.
Green and gold candle glasses surrounded an image of the Blessed Virgin.
Packer fans have a reputation of being the nicest folks anywhere, though I can attest that isn’t universal. 
It is true that some of the nicest people you will meet at an NFL game are Packer fans, though I found more than a few hostile ones around.
For example, I had never been taunted by someone in a wheelchair until this past weekend, and I had that novel experience twice in the less than friendly confines of Lambeau.
I found plenty of Packer fans to be snide, with more than a few going out of their way to approach me to ask “for real?”, either questioning my choice in NFL teams or being stunned that someone had the audacity to wear another franchise’s colors on their sacred ground.  And the way the Saints have been playing lately, possibly both.
Also at the start of the game their announcer took a rather nasty dig at the visiting team when he encouraged over their public announcement system for the home team and fans to “send the Saints home packing with bags on their heads”.
I couldn’t imagine a class act like Jerry Romig saying anything remotely like that over the Superdome’s speakers.
They don’t always keep it classy in Green Bay.
While walking out I encountered a couple that do.  
An elderly husband and wife walked up to me to ask what I thought of their stadium.  I really didn’t know how to answer because in terms of amenities, Lambeau Field is perhaps only a few rungs above the aptly named “Ralph” in Buffalo and the “Black Hole” in Oakland.
I expressed my admiration for their commitment to preserving tradition, celebration of history (outside the main entrance are gigantic statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi) and refusal to conform or surrender their team.  
Grandma, with a green and gold bow in her hair, wasn’t buying what I was selling as a compliment and shuffled off arms linked with her husband’s.
In my hesitation I could see their pride.  The Packers are not just the big thing in Green Bay.  
It’s their everything.
Tips for Hitting a Green Bay Packers Game
Forget flying into their airport.  Rumor had it that airfare direct to the city were in the high four-figures.  Milwaukee, which has Air Tran and Southwest flights, is only a two hour drive away.  If you’re determined to fly in as close to Green Bay as possible, consider Appleton, which is an hour south.  Hotels in the area tend to book up well in advance of the game (the Packers play in Green Bay but are the pride of Wisconsin and have a national following).
Milwaukee is home to one of the best brewery tours in America (Miller) and has outstanding German restaurants.  Chicago is another option if flying into Milwaukee is too expensive.
Because of the high demand of tickets, prices are high making a ticket to Lambeau one of the pricier regular season game tickets in the league.  Stub Hub and Ticketmaster TicketExchange are two advance sale outlets though you could roll the dice and buy tickets from dealers outside of the stadium.  Yet another quirk in Green Bay, there are actually licensed sellers in a designated zone that wear badges with license numbers.  Online sellers were asking $180 with fees while the licensed onsite sellers were asking around $150.  
Finally there is the matter of parking at Lambeau Field.  You don’t.  Since lot space is in high demand, short of buying a pass from someone on line, you will have to deal with bars, businesses and area homeowners who rent space in their lots, driveways and frontlawns.  A property owner in the vicinity of the proposed Tulane Stadium should take their medication before looking at the parking scene around Lambeau Field on 
gameday.  Bear in mind that Lambeau Field sits adjacent to people’s backyards.  Prices for parking can range as much as $35 for a premium spot at a nearby bar to $10 five blocks away at the Jimmy John’s.  Also, the parking lots at Lambeau Field do not open until four hours before kickoff so there is a major traffic jam on the roads leading to the stadium where people start tailgaiting on the open roadway.  
Whether you’re a cheesehead, a Who Dat or a Dirty Bird, Lambeau Field is a special place to watch an NFL game and with the way the NFL schedule rotation runs, the Saints are not guaranteed another game there until 2018, though it could be earlier pending on how the Saints finish in relation to the Packers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bring in a New Coach....NOW!

If anything has been learned over the past three weeks, it is that coaching matters.
I was amazed the way area sports writers and talk radio hosts painted such a rosy scenario concerning the Sean Payton-less New Orleans Saints going into the 2012 season.
They said grandly speculated that not having the head coach that hauled the Crescent City its first pro sports title would translate into no worse than two additional losses.
I didn't think any of those guys could have passed a drug test then and now peeing a cup would be unnecessary with the piss-poor performance by all three Saints' squads, offense, defense and special teams (which is a polite way to say Garrett Hartley).
Three games into the season, the Black and Gold is three games down and staring at a probable fourth loss this Sunday when they head to Lambeau Field.
And while bad officiating, continued sloppy play and bad luck have haunted the Saints this season, it can be said without a doubt that the Aaron Kromer interim-interim head coach experiment has failed miserably.
And things won't get much better when interim head coach Joe Vitt is allowed to wear his headset again.  I'm thinking that episode will more resemble the second coming of Rick Venturi, the last temp coach to win a game with the Saints, than a reasonably facsimile of the exiled Payton.
Having a running back committee has marginally better than having the entire team coached by committee.
This was never a good idea and the team would have been better off bringing in a retired NFL coach who was seeking one more bite of the apple to lead the Saints as Payton serves out his season-long suspension.
The team’s lack of aggressiveness, discipline and direction are apparent and that the Saints are not the stuff of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis's self-trained platoon in Stripes.
As much of a leader quarterback Drew Brees is, he cannot run the team and he needs to be free to focus on his job, just as coach Kromer needs to stick with dealing with a faltering offensive line that had been recognized not long ago as being the best in the NFL.
Earlier this year, I penned an April Fool's column announcing that the Saints had signed ex-head coach Jim Mora to a one year deal.
While that was written in jest, I can't help but think how having Mora back would raise the fans' morale while also bringing an intensity that isn't present on the sideline.
The Saints cannot possibly look anymore foolish with Mora running the show than they currently do under Kromer.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Week Three: Saints Stand at the Edge of the Abyss

Two games into the 2012 NFL season and the Saints already find themselves two and a half games out of the division lead.

The Saints defense was once again exploited, but this time by an offense that was only able to put ten points on the board the week before.  The once record setting Saints offense found itself struggling to stay on the field and in the end was only able to accumulate yards and points while trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole.

Sloppiness has plagued the Black and Gold thus far into the 2012 season and with 14 games left, the Saints still have time to compete for the division title or land a wild card spot, but with every loss, the prospects become dimmer and the need for help from other teams increase.

Especially with road trips to Atlanta, Tampa, Denver, Green Bay and the New York Giants on the schedule.

If there is any such thing as good news for the Saints and their interim-interim head coach Aaron Kromer is that they will host what is probably the biggest cupcake game against the also winless Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.

The Chiefs are awful.  But don’t my word for it; ask their sports talk hosts.

On paper their offense looks impressive, averaging the fifth most yards in the league but the devil is in the details.  In points, the Chiefs are 20th averaging 20.5 points.  The Kansas City defense has given up 37.5 points per game, worst in the NFL, and has been weak against the run.  But then again so are the Saints, which have surrendered the most yards on the ground.

The Saints have an opportunity to use the Kansas City game to get back into contention by finally establishing their running game, getting their defense clicking and allowing their franchise quarterback to play up to the record contract he just signed by providing better pass protection and not dropping receptions.

With a road trip to Green Bay on the schedule for next Sunday, the game against the Chiefs is the Black and Gold’s best chance to stop the slide and salvage the season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

After Being Home-Schooled by Rookie QB, Saints Need to Win in Carolina

Who Dat Nation, welcome to earth.

Sure the core of the Super Bowl winning team from the 2009 season remains intact. 

Minus the head coach of course.

And this past Sunday proved that Sean Payton was being paid over $7,000,000 a year for his Bill Belichick impersonations.

And a few other players whose presence were sorely missed in what was a brutal reality check for the Black and Gold, which was delivered in part by the defensive unit led by former Saints head coach Jim Haslett.

The New Orleans Saints have struggled against the Washington Redskins during the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.  Their lone win during that period was during the magical season that was enabled by a miracle play by a wide receiver who currently wears another team’s uniform.

In the regular season opener, the Redskins beat the Saints on both sides of the line of scrimmage.  Rookie quarterback and second overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft Robert Griffin III carved up the Saints defense while Brees was constantly under pressure.

The Steve Spagnuolo-led defense was embarrassed, coughing up 459 yards to RG3 and Company, surrendering 306 yards in the air and 153 yards on the ground. 

And when number Nine managed to launch the ball, it ended up being dropped by a receiving corps that no longer looks as deep as it did at the beginning of training camp.

Second year wide receiver Joseph Morgan proved to be no successor to speedster Robert Meachem, who remains the Saints best first round pick in the past seven drafts though he now plays for the San Diego Chargers. 

Actually Morgan didn’t even look like a good successor to practice squad favorite Andy Tanner.

This Sunday, the Saints face the 0-1 Carolina Panthers and their own young talented quarterback in an all-important divisional match up in Bank of America Stadium (nee Panther Stadium). 

The good news is that the Cats, which were expected to be the Black and Gold’s main threat for the division, also got off to a sputtering start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers racked up a pathetic ten rushing yards against the Bucs and scored ten points, both lowest in the league. 

Sophomore quarterback Cam Newton threw for 303 yards and a touchdown and will test the Saints’ lacking secondary.  And though Carolina lost to Tampa Bay, their defense proved to be stingy, giving up 16 points and only 128 passing yards, the second fewest in the NFL.

The Saints would find themselves in a major hole in the NFC South if they end up dropping two in a row. 

In Charlotte, Saints fans are going to learn if the first game was a hiccup or an omen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Saints Kickoff Training Camp on Thursday

Are you ready for some football…practice?

The New Orleans Saints take the practice field at their Airline Drive headquarters on Thursday afternoon, offering die-hard Who Dats their first opportunity to see the 2012 team with their $100,000,000.00 star in the huddle.

The first training camp session will be at 4 PM on Thursday and is scheduled to last until 6:45 PM.  Admission is free to the outdoor sessions, as is parking at nearby Zephyrs Field.  However practices moved to the indoor facility due to inclement weather are not open to the public.

The Saints play their leadoff exhibition game in less than two weeks when the Black and Gold travel to Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio for the Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, August 5th.

Below is the Saints’ public practice schedule, which is subject to change, through the Hall of Fame Game.

Thursday            July 26th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Friday                July 27th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Saturday            July 28th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Sunday              July 29th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Monday            July 30th                  OFF

Tuesday            July 31st                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Wednesday      August 1st                4 PM to 6:45 PM

Thursday          August 2nd               4 PM to 6:45 PM

Friday              August 3rd                4 PM to 6:45 PM

Saturday          August 4th                Travel Day

Sunday            August 5th                Hall of Fame Game (Arizona Cardinals) 7 PM


Sunday, July 15, 2012

And the Who Dat Nation Said Amen

There was never a chance that the New Orleans Saints would not come to terms with their star quarterback, right?

Sure, the San Diego Chargers let him walk after the 2005 season, but Drew Brees never meant to Land of Ron Burgundy that he means to Nola.

And the quarterback is heavily invested here. New Orleans is not only his and his young (and expanding) family’s home but also the locale of his sandwich shop franchise.

My concern throughout the contract process wasn’t Team Brees taking a big bite out of Tom Benson’s ample billfold but the salary cap opportunity cost of a stratospheric deal related to the team’s ability to land future free agents and the frazzled nerves of Saints fans who thought their hero might actually leave.

Brees wanted to avoid the prospect of a one-year franchise tag deal just as much as Saints general manager Mickey Loomis wanted to avoid being known as the football executive who executed the greatest free agent signing in NFL history and the guy who later lost him through a trade demand.

And it turns out the unjustly maligned Saints front office was not the unwilling suitor in the high-stakes contract dance, which made $19,000,000 plus offer.

Brees and his agent wanted more and with the deadline approaching, they got it.

Despite the class warfare and wealth envy that has become en vogue in the American political environment, Saints fans have good reason to be rejoicing over someone else’s good fortune.

In relation to what other NFL players have made, Brees clearly outplayed the contract he signed with the team in 2006. Hopefully Brees will be able to replicate in the next five years what he accomplished in the past six.

Brees has brought more joy to the people of New Orleans than any single person in the city’s history.

He’s earned every penny of his considerable paycheck.

And unlike some professional athletes, Brees is going to keep earning his new bigger paycheck. A second Super Bowl win would lock in the overachiever’s place in Canton on a first ballot.

Being the highest paid player in the league is the MVP award Brees has been denied.

Sports journalists are biased; the free market isn’t.

Though inking Brees to a multi-year deal was a no brainer and the possibility of an accommodation not being reached infinitesimal, failure to do so would have sent the franchise on a downward spiral with rock bottom not hitting for a few seasons to go.

It’s a scary yet unfortunately familiar place.

In a rare exception for Saints fans, this is a “what could have been” situation that was mercifully avoided.

The Saints have not only retained their superstar but the franchise core who possesses a gravitational pull for attracting and retaining talent.

So long as Brees is healthy and taking the snaps, expect the Black and Gold to remain a part of the Super Bowl conversation for the next five years.

The Saints didn't just sign a player; they extended their lease with greatness.

Congratulations on the contract and welcome back number nine.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Contract Clock Ticks Down on Brees, Saints

The anxiety of Saints fans has reached DEFCON 1 as the period to sign Drew Brees to a multiyear deal hits the two-minute warning this weekend and runs down on Monday afternoon.

While Brees won’t be immediately joining another team if a longterm contract isn’t reached on Monday, his future in New Orleans beyond the 2012 season could be in question and by extension the team’s ability to compete over the next five years.

It would likely signal the disintegration of a team that has largely stuck together over the past few years, bringing back unpleasant memories from two decades ago when the wheels began to come off another talented Saints roster.

The sun began to set on the Jim Mora era on January 3, 1993, which marked the last time a Saints team played in the post-season until Jim Haslett became head coach seven years later. 

The team core that had brought unprecedented success for the franchise began to melt away after the 1992 season.

The playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles marked the final appearances of quarterback Bobby Hebert and linebacker Pat Swilling in Saints uniforms, though the latter was traded. 

The season after Hebert and Swiling’s departure, linebacker Rickey Jackson won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers and Vaughan Johnson was with the Eagles. 

The last major exodus saw the remaining member of the famed Dome Patrol, linebacker Sam Mills, and the franchise all-time leading scorer Morten Andersen (kicker) playing for other teams in 1995. 

The foundation of what was then the most successful team in Saints’ history was replaced with a perpetual revolving door of underachieving scrubs coached by burnouts. 

Eleven years of on-field mediocrity did as much to jeopardize the New Orleans franchise’s viability as Hurricane Katrina’s thrashing of the Superdome. 

Brees has not just been a phenomenal player; he’s been the top recruiter for free agents willing to take less money to be a part of his team and the reason why so many other players have opted to stick around and not seriously test the free agent waters. 

The day Brees trades his fleur-de-lis helmet for another, Saints fans will once again witness an agonizing talent departure when their contracts expire. 

The collapse will not be sudden though the rebuilding will be protracted.  And painful.

Drew Brees is not just the franchise player; he’s the franchise core. 

The Black and Gold faithful have every reason to be anxious for a longterm deal to be worked out by the Monday deadline at 3 PM New Orleans time as there’s a lot more on the line than making a Super Bowl this season.

Monday, July 2, 2012

It's Time to End the Contract Insanity

Allow me to start this column out by making a statement that would best made behind a screen of chicken wire: Drew Brees is not the greatest quarterback of all time.

Willie Roaf was a better a tackle than Brees is a quarterback.

Rickey Jackson was a better linebacker than Brees is a quarterback.

And Morten Andersen was a better kicker than Brees is a quarterback.

Roaf will be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. Jackson was enshrined in 2010. And Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer who went to seven Pro Bowls, will likely have a bust in Canton if the committee remember kicking is indeed an important part of FOOTball.

If Brees’s playing career ended today, the Saints quarterback would likely get voted into the hall, though he wouldn’t be the slam-dunk Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will be when they’re eligible.

Brees would need to win a second Super Bowl to guarantee his spot in the hall.

That said, no player who has ever worn a gold helmet with a black fleur-de-lis has meant more to not just the franchise but also the city of New Orleans.

Brees is to Nola what John Elway is to Denver, Dan Marino is to Miami and George Brett is to Kansas City.

Number nine owns this town. He knows it. And perhaps more importantly his agent Tom Condon knows it.

And if someone else ends up taking snaps for the Saints offense in 2013, the 70,000+ waiting list for season tickets would shrink fast.

Even if Brees’s next few seasons don’t resemble the past few in the stat department, it is important to the franchise and the fans for him to have a contract that will allow him to end his playing career as a Saint.

So who is at fault for the way Brees’s signing has been so drawn out?

This blogger doesn’t have any scoop as to negotiations between the team and Brees/Condon, but a large part of the blame needs to be left on the doorstep of the Saints’ front office.

Why did owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis let negotiations drag out this far?

Did the Saints’ braintrust really believe Brees could be signed at a lower price while the franchise quarterback was tearing up opposing defenses and the NFL record book?

As much as I appreciate Benson’s post-Katrina commitment to building a quality team and Loomis’s moves to remake the Saints into a perennial Super Bowl contender, not coming to terms with Brees at an earlier and cheaper date boggles the mind.

That’s not to say Brees and Condon are faultless as negotiations have entered overtime.

Is Brees simply being greedy?

Are the quarterback and his agent stalling until a late June arbitration hearing is held about Brees’s’ future franchise tag status?

Or is Team Brees looking to play “negotiation chicken” up against the July 16th deadline for a multiyear deal?

Is Condon letting his drive to ink a record contract for his client and his own reputation delay an agreement that could jeopardize the chances of Brees ending his gridiron days in a Saints uniform?

Brees isn’t the only person whose tenure with the Saints is on the line.

If Brees ends up playing for another team in 2013, Loomis can start cleaning out his office on Airline Drive.

Loomis would go down in Black and Gold lore as the general manager who lost the team’s most important player and he would be lucky to land a gig as an executive in the Arena Football League.

One has to think Loomis has lost more sleep over Brees’s contract than his own suspension for his connection with the Saints bounty scandal.

Last season Brees demonstrated the kind of leadership that made Who Dats fall in love with him all over again when he organized voluntary workouts for his teammates at Tulane while the players and the league owners worked to reach a longterm deal.

This year, Saints fans are being treated to something else: a multimillionaire quarterback and his agent publicly hemming and hawing over contract details with a franchise that has a track record of letting their great players go elsewhere in the face of prolonged negotiations.

Both sides need to keep their egos in check and work out a reasonable contract that recognizes Brees’s value as an athlete and a pillar of the organization and the community without mortgaging the team’s future.

Every dollar paid to Brees is one less buck the team can use to sign an offensive lineman or defensive back.

To Brees’s credit, he has recently toned down his frustrations about the state of negotiations and has instead redirected his public grievances towards the league’s treatment of his coaches and teammates caught in the bounty scandal.

As great as Brees is, the protracted haggling isn’t not making the Saints a better team.

It’s time to get a deal done. Hopefully the upcoming arbitration ruling concerning another potential franchise tag will accelerate making a deal.

Andersen, Jackson, Roaf, Pat Swilling, Archie Manning and Sam Mills all ended their playing days wearing the uniform of another team.

For the sake of Saints fans everywhere, let’s hope Brees does not join that number.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Saints Draft 2012; Black & Gold Digs Deep for the Future

I am convinced that there are more drama queens in sports journalism than there are in the soap opera circuit.

Do these commentators feel a need to be obnoxiously hyperbolic in their evaluations?

Their Jim Rome aping reaches a climax during the NFL draft, where men who last left it all on the P.E. gym floor engage in histrionics about those drafted and the franchises that picked them.

And I’m not engaging in this seemingly oxymoronic rant just because sports writers/bloggers/talking heads all panned the New Orleans Saints’ draft.

Though this is as good of a time as any to call these clowns out for what they are: Joan Rivers jock-wannabes.

And their collective grade on the Saints’ 2012 draft ranged from a relatively charitable C- to an F. 

I would love to know what these geniuses thought of the Jonathan Sullivan pick from 2003.

It goes without saying that I don’t concur with their evaluations.

Until King Roger I sees fit to smite the remaining members of the Saints’ defense (the delay being as absurd as the NFL’s overreaction to the so-called “bountygate”), the Saints didn’t really have too many gaping holes to plug.

The biggest was the hiring of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to replace the tarnished Gregg Williams, whose last contribution to the team was abandoning it before he would have been exiled from the league.

I consider Spags an upgrade from the undisciplined “Double G”, whose ego has cost the team dearly in the form of bad play calls and franchise crippling scandal. 

Beyond that, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis made selections with more an eye on the future than on the 2012 season while enduring a public relations nightmare stemming from the bounties and an alleged eavesdropping system truly worthy of the suffix “gate’ if true. 

If not true, then I hope Loomis and the organization take ESPN to the cleaners for defamation.

The team’s first selection of the draft was third round pick Akiem Hicks, a defensive tackle that was recruited by LSU but ended up at the University of Regina.  The Saints front office and scouting department must have seen something they like about the 6’5”, 318 lb defensive lineman.

And he could not possibly be a worse selection than Sullivan, whom I consider to be the biggest Black & Gold draft bust of all time.  Even if Hicks doesn’t pan out, he’ll have cost the team less in opportunity cost and cash than the aforementioned disaster.

And it’s hard to argue with an outfit that plucked Marques Colston from Hofstra, Jahri Evans from Bloomsburg and Jermon Bushrod from Towson.

Actually a pick from the University of Georgia scares me far more than someone from a small school. 

If Hicks works out, I’ll finally forgive him for trading two first rounders to snag “he who shall not be named ever again” in my column.

I also like the Nick Toon pick.

The big receiver from Wisconsin has a pro-football pedigree and will give the team its first real competition for a rare open receiver slot in some time. 

Toon will have to compete with Adrian Arrington (who has seen sparing regular season action since being drafted late in 2008) and 2011 pre-season standout Joe Morgan to fill a roster spot that was vacated when free agent Robert Meachem left for greener financial pastures in San Diego.

The wide-receiver battle will be front and center in the exhibition games.

The balance of the draft will likely need time to emerge as on-field contributors. 

Safety Corey White of Samford could be a rare franchise beneficiary of the Commish’s vengeance. 

If strong safety Roman Harper gets nailed with a lengthy suspension, White will have an opportunity to demonstrate that his 5th round selection was a worthwhile crapshoot.

Guard Andrew Tiller of Syracuse and Tackle Marcel Jones of Nebraska could be the low rounders that challenge the thus-far disappointing Charles Brown (2010 second round selection) for a place on the team.

Then again, the Saints’ 6th and 7th round picks could be relegated to camp body/practice squad duty.

Rather than hyperventilate over Loomis’s picks, critics should have faith in an executive who has often found better value below the second round mark than he has above.

Besides, Loomis’s legacy will have more to do with his ability to ensure that the Saints are the final destination in Drew Brees’s playing career than what he did in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.

That said, I thought the Saints soon-to-be suspended general manager drafted responsibly and merits no worse than a B-.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 New Orleans Saints Schedule

2012 New Orleans Saints Preseason Schedule

Sunday, August 5th Arizona Cardinals 7 PM NFL Network
Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio

Thursday, August 9th @ New England Patriots 6:30 PM CST/FOX 8

Friday, August 17th Jacksonville Jaguars 7 PM CST/FOX 8

Saturday, August 25th Houston Texans 7 PM CBS

Thursday, August 30th @ Tennessee Titans 6 PM CST/FOX 8

2012 New Orleans Saints Regular Season Schedule

Sunday, September 9th Washington Redskins 12 PM FOX

Sunday, September 16th @ Carolina Panthers 12 PM FOX

Sunday, September 23rd Kansas City Chiefs 12 PM CBS

Sunday, September 30th @ Green Bay Packers 3:15 PM FOX

Sunday, October 7th San Diego Chargers 7:30 PM NBC


Sunday, October 21st @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12:00 PM FOX

Sunday, October 28th @ Denver Broncos 7:30 PM NBC

Monday, November 5th Philadelphia Eagles 7:30 PM ESPN

Sunday, November 11th Atlanta Falcons 12:00 PM FOX

Sunday, November 18th @ Oakland Raiders 3:05 PM FOX

Sunday, November 25th San Francisco 49ers 3:15 PM FOX

Thursday, November 29th @ Atlanta Falcons 7:30 PM NFL Network

Sunday, December 9th @ New York Giants 3:15 PM FOX

Sunday, December 16th Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12:00 PM FOX

Sunday, December 23rd @ Dallas Cowboys 12:00 PM FOX

Sunday, December 30th Carolina Panthers 12:00 PM FOX

Sunday, April 1, 2012

HE'S BACK: After Parcells Turns Saints Down, Mora Rejoins Team

METAIRIE- Just as talk of future Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells’ coming out of retirement to temporarily assume coaching duties for the heavily sanctioned NFL franchise came to a halt when world leaked out of Airline Drive that former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora will once again return to the Saints’ sideline.

Though the details of Mora’s compensation package are unknown, the man who led the Black and Gold to their first winning season, playoff appearance and division title it was confirmed that contract was limited to the 2012 season.

Schuyler Colfax of Pro Football Weekly first broke the story of Mora’s surprise visit to the Saints’ front office Saturday morning.

Colfax reported that Mora was seen on a flight to Louis Armstrong International at 6:30 AM and briskly exited the terminal without comment and entered a black suburban with dark tinted windows.

Parcells, who embattled and soon to be suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton considers a mentor and had personally recruited to temporarily assume the helm, declined to end his retirement, which would have delayed his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by another five years even for a one-season coaching stint.

Parcells was eligible for induction into the hall of fame earlier this year but was not voted in.

Some gridiron analysts see the Mora hire as a “win-win” for the Saints, including NFL Watch editor Thomas Hendricks. “The Saints have practically lost the 2012 season between the Drew Brees contract distraction, the departure of key free agents and the loss of crucial draft picks and their head coach. Bringing Mora back will generate some buzz and give him one last chance to win that elusive NFL playoff game,” said Hendricks.

John Breckinridge of The Pigskin Report concurred, opining on his website that “fans are going to pay attention just to watch the rants, with much inspiration from the Saints’ porous defense.”

The 77-year old Mora started his professional coaching career with the USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars before joining the Saints in 1986. In Mora’s first season with the Black and Gold, the team finished in fourth place in the NFC West though with a 7-9 record, one of the best in franchise history. In the strike-shortened 1987 season, More led the team to its first winning season (12-3) and playoff appearance, as a wild card. Mora had four more winning seasons as head coach and three additional playoff appearances, though success in the NFL post-season proved eternally elusive.

Mora resigned as head coach in 1996 in the midst of a sputtering 2-6 season.

In 1998, Mora assumed head coaching duties with the flailing Indianapolis Colts, ending his first season there with a 3-13 record. In Mora’s next season, the Colts won the AFC East division with a 13-3 record though lost to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional playoff round. Mora guided the Colts to another winning season in 2000 and a playoff appearance (wild card) though lost what would be his sixth and final playoff game, this time to the Miami Dolphins.

Mora’s last season with the Colts was in 2001. After hanging up his headset, Mora became an analyst with Fox Sports and after being fired for making unflattering comments about then Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Michael Vick.

Mora returned to New Orleans as a gameday analyst with local television station WDSU and his post-game tirades have been featured in Coors Light’s television commercials, including his rants about “Playoffs?!, “Diddly Poo”, “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda,” and “April Fools’!”.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Saints Execute Encore Record Performance

It cannot be said that New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton played his starters out of pure vanity.

It seemed that the Saint Louis Rams were within striking range of doing the job Seattle Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson fumbled last week. But it's been standard procedure for the Rams organization to frustrate the Saints one way or the other, punt returned Az Hakim excepted.

The Saints go into the post season a bit sooner than preferred but with momentum they haven't had since the Jim Mora era.

Last year the Saints limped into Seattle, one of the toughest venues to visit in football, with a banged up secondary, tight end and decimated ground game, the very recipe the league's first ever division winner with a losing record needed to deny the Super Bowl champs a Two Dat.

During the 2009 "super season", the Saints backed into home field advantage on a three game losing streak and was reminded by the sports media ad nauseam that teams that bumble into the playoffs in a such a fashion don't win Super Bowls.

And the Saints made history proving that they do now.

Speaking of history, the Black and Gold made plenty of it against the pesky Carolina Panthers, the Bill Clinton-era expansion team that own a winning record against a New Orleans franchise that dates to 1967.

Though they're not going to the palyoffs, the Panthers had turned their team around after finishing worst in the NFL last year largely due to the prize they reaped from that dis-stink-shun.

Quarterback Cam Newton ought to be the hands down selection for rookie of the year and perhaps should have received a free trip to Hawaii in a few weeks.

The Saints were lucky to escape with a win against the Panthers in Charlotte earlier this season but in the Mercedez-Benz Superdome on Sunday, even the cats proved to be just another victim of the NFL's most prolific offense in history with a defense that's not too bad either.

Quarterback Drew Brees extended his own NFL single season passing record to 5,476 (Brees had 389 in the game) and stayed ahead of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who played on Sunday as well and ended the regular season with 5,235 passing yards, trailing Brees but besting Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino's long standing benchmark.

Almost forgotten in the mix was Saints running back/punt reurner/kick returner Darren Sproles's own NFL record day as the free agent broke Derrick Mason's single season record for all purpose yards.

Saints second year tight end and first time Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham exchanged the tight end single season receiving yards record with New England's Rob Gronkowski. It seemed that Graham would own the record but a Buffalo Bills turnover gave the Patriots a late opportunity to get the ball back in Gronkowski's hands, beating Graham out by 17 yards.

San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winskow had set the mark during the 1980 season with 1,290.

Though the Saints set many other league and franchise season records on Sunday, there is one important state of note that should be cited Brees now has 40,742 career passing yards, moving him past Hall of Fame quarterback and eternal Saints nemesis Joe Montana for eleventh on the all-time passing yards list.

Brees can achieve first ballot induction status in Canton come February if he is able to add another piece of jewelry to his hand.