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.