New Orleans Saints

2011 NFL Season: Week 5, Ehh…Not So Much!

For the first time in a long time, I can say I was largely bored by the Week 5 action. There simply were not many great games played this week. Perhaps a bit of the separation between teams is beginning. Perhaps conditioning on older teams is beginning to kick in. Are the fogeys starting to get their legs?

If nothing else, I’m fairly certain that you’ll need garlic, silver, and a very, very, very long stake to kill the Packers this season. In fact, that might only kill off a few of them. Last year, they won with 38 guys and 15 “what’s his names.” This year, with 53 guys they’re just pounding the living daylights out of game plans, and opponents and their smack talking fans.

The Lions aren’t scared, but the Lions haven’t played this team.

The Falcons had the Packers by the holes in their Swiss speedos…and they let ’em off the hook.

Cam Newton threw the worst pass of his career on Sunday. It so happens that it was his first pass of the game. And, it so happens that instead of winding up in the waiting hands of Steve Smith, it wound up in the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The pass was returned deep into the red zone and led to an opening touchdown. The Panthers played uphill for the rest of the day. By the time they mustered up the strength to take the lead late in the 4th quarter, the defense was running on fumes and gave up a decisive score. The Panthers dropped another close game, 30-27. The team seems to be getting close. Losses this season have been by 7, 7, 5 and 3 points respectively. Next up, a desperate Atlanta Falcons team.

We’re going to find out a lot about the resiliency of these teams on Sunday. The Falcons are hosting and should win by 10-14 points, but the Panthers have exceeded expectations all season.

Do you want to play this team?

Frank Gore: Opening Up A Can of Whoop! on the Bucs

The Lions do. The Bucs didn’t. If you had high expectations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, it’s probably time to put those on the shelf until 2011. The team has three marginally impressive wins (I’m being kind) over Minnesota (1-4), Atlanta (outdoors), and Indianapolis (sans Peyton Manning). The Bucs lost an eagerly anticipated matchup with the Lions in their home opener and this weekend, they laid the egg of all eggs. Last year, Tampa was strong enough to go West and return with a 21-0 win over the Niners. This year, the Bucs were forced to walk the plank in an embarrassing 48-3 rout.

In other news around the league:

  • Quick Pass Roethlisberger passed for five touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans. Four different receivers caught touchdowns. Slow Pass Roethlisberger apparently missed the bus. Steelers 38, Titans 17. If he gets rid of the ball on time and uses all of his weapons, the Steelers will score lots of points for the rest of the season. Mike Tomlin’s fake punt call opened the floodgates. Kudos to the coach with the cojones.
  • The Giants figured out a way to do the unthinkable. Big Blue blew a chance to take tremendous strides in the division by losing a home conference game to the lowly Seattle Seahawks. While the Cowboys and Redskins watched at home, and the Eagles stuggled elsewhere in the state of New York, the Giants were busy finding inventive ways to put their guests in unique scoring positions. The Giants also hosted a Coming Out Party for Stanford’s Doug Baldwin (8 rec, 136 yds, 1 td).
  • The Andy Reid Reject Bowl took place between Arizona and Minnesota. There were no winners there, except for Donovan McNabb. Statistically, he did enough to keep the train on the track. Kevin Kolb was abysmal. Thankfully for Kolb, he is benefitting from a media white out that has yet to call for his head. Kolb may well be the NFL’s leading affirmative traction candidate.
  • Kolb, Part Deux.  The national media may have already been instrumental in duping the Cardinals into believing he was worthy of his juicy contract. Kolb is not a proven winner and he faces a significant up hill climb. It’s too bad he only has Larry Fitzgerald. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start reading articles about how Larry has lost a step or doesn’t know the playbook or gives up on plays or something — and if we do, they’re sure to come from ESPN (Chris Mortensen — Week 9?)
  • The Vikings need to get better at the QB and the WR position. McNabb’s not a Back Foot Betty (Favre, Romo, Kolb, etc.), but he just throws too many balls in places that defy explanation. Berrian is fast but he has not used his speed wisely in tight spaces. He isn’t getting separation and has demonstrated poor route running and pass catching over the first month of the season. He has to step his game up.
  • One thing that struck me about the San Diego Chargers is that Philip Rivers has always been blessed with well-rounded backs. LT2, Darren Sproles and Michael Turner were not one-dimensional. LT and Sproles were excellent blockers. Turner has been known to throw a knock-out block or two as well. Tolbert is solid, but he’s not as proficient as Turner across the board. Matthews is on the rise, but he has yet to arrive. The overall versatility of LT2, Sproles, and Turner gave the Chargers a much bigger matchup edge than they have now. The well has not run dry, but it is simply not as deep.
  • Matt Cassel’s ribs are healed. Four touchdowns and a close relationship with Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston mean big things for the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles isn’t there, but Jackie Battle has stepped in and played well. The Chiefs look a little different this season, but they have some pieces and are still in the fight. Following historically bad losses to Detroit and Buffalo, the Chiefs have rebounded with wins over mediocre teams and are in position to challenge in the AFC West.
  • The Chiefs and the Jets are both 2-3. The teams in the AFC West ahead of the Chiefs are Oakland and San Diego. The teams ahead of the Jets are New England and Buffalo. If the Chiefs are definitely out, so are the Jets. Right?
  • The Jets. Ehh!!! The Jets. Losers on the road at New England. Losers on the road at Baltimore. Losers on the road at Oakland. There is a reason why this was called “The Make or Break Portion of the Schedule.” Up next: Miami, San Diego, bye, @Buffalo, New England, @Tebow, Buffalo. And then there’s that Week 15 game vs. the Eagles. It’s early, but this team is going to be CHALLENGED to make the playoffs as a 3rd entry from the AFC East. Put simply, if the Jets get in, it will come at the expense of either the Steelers, Chargers, Raiders or Ravens. They’ve already lost to the Raiders and Ravens. It doesn’t look good.
  • I’ve got nothing on the Eagles.
  • Quiet as it’s kept, the Houston Texans dropped another game in which the performance of QB Matt Schaub was decisive. Last week, Arian Foster did the heavy lifting vs. the Steelers. Schaub has to prove he can get it done in big games. Next up: Rested Rapacious Ravens Relentlessly Ripping Ravaging and Rolling with Ray Rice.
  • Congratulations to the Raiders for beating the Houston Texans 25-20. “Just Win, Baby!” Nicely done.

Week 6 is sure to provide more fireworks. Looking forward to the Lions-Niners, Cowboys-Patriots, Panthers-Dirty Birds, among others.

2010 NFL Season: Week 17 Previews

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in need of help from the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers make the most interesting case for a compelling “must-see” game.  The Young Bucs will be in the Big Easy taking on the resurgent New Orleans Saints.  The Saints survived a sub-par performance by quarterback Drew Brees to win on the road in Atlanta last Monday night.  With the world watching, the Saints made a case for themselves as the team to beat in the NFC.  Today, the Bucs will bring the fight to a team that still has something to play for: a division title.  Both of these teams would love nothing more than for the front runners  to open the door with a loss at Carolina.  Regardless of the outcome of those games, both Tampa Bay and New Orleans have a lot to play for.  Pride!

In other games, the needy and the greedy will be separated for better or worse.  Green Bay just needs a win.  Will the Packers try to go for too many home runs to get the job done?  Will the slow and steady Bears win the race?

2010 NFL Season: Week 15 in Review

A game of inches, obscene noises, and definitive silence.

Antonio Cromartie, aka The Jersey Boy: Nice Grab

And this, too. (And it’s not a replay.)

Antonio Cromartie Masterfully Turns the Inside Shoulder

Um, and this one, too.

Antonio Cromartie Demonstrates Desperation

And this, too.

Dwight Lowery Snuggles Close to Emmanuel Sanders

Jets 22, Steelers 17.   “Emmanuel!! Wait!  Dont’ leave me this way.   I luuuuuuuv you, man!  Don’t go!  I need you.”

No whistles.  No biggie.  It all evens out in the end.

In other news: (more…)

2010 NFL Season: 6 Questions Before Week 3

After two weeks, there are many teams around the NFL with some tough, hard questions at hand.  For those teams that had high expectations entering the 2010 campaign, these questions better get answered quickly.

1.  Minnesota Vikings. Are you willing to meet the demands of the San Diego Chargers for wide receiver Vincent Jackson?  The Brett Favre Experiment concludes at the end of the 2010 regular season.  The Vikings will not compete for a Super Bowl (and may miss the playoffs) without the addition of a high-quality pass catching option like Vincent Jackson.  Sidney Rice, thinking optimistically, cannot be expected to be a force on the field until Week 8 or 9.  While management debates the value of a 3rd round pick in a season that may or may not happen (2011), your offense will gear up to get beat down by and/or keep pace with the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots.  It won’t be fun.  By Week 8, Brad Childress could be looking for a job as a color analyst on the NFL Network — covering Viking’s games.

2. Buffalo Bills. Are you willing to trade Marshawn Lynch to ensure that you make one positive contribution to the 2010 NFL season?  This team is going nowhere this season.  As you prepare to face the New England Patriots and their confounding defense, you’ve decided to ditch the “smart quarterback from Stanford” (Trent Edwards) for the “smarter quarterback from Harvard” (Ryan Fitzpatrick).  It won’t make a shred of difference.  If C.J. Spiller is supposed to be the Bills Most Valuable Player on the roster, Marshawn Lynch in the Most Valuable Player in trade. The Bills can retain Coe College’s Fred Jackson and then focus on figuring out a way to get these guys the ball.  The Packers could use a runner with Lynch’s power around the goal line.  It’s time to pull the trigger.

3.  Dallas Cowboys. Are you willing to reign in the Romo-Garrett Show and cede some time to the true triplets of Jones, Barber and Choice?  If the Dallas Cowboys are to win and compete for a Super Bowl title in 2010, they need to run the ball more, pass the ball less, and figure out a creative way to dump Roy Williams.

4.  Baltimore Ravens. Are you willing to start Marc Bulger ahead of Joe Flacco?  The Ravens signal caller ranks 32nd in passer rating at 41.2 and has a completion percentage of 48%.  At this rate, Flacco would have to throw something like 70 passes a game just to post mediocre numbers.  He has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions.  His receiving corps is as accomplished as any in the league.  Will the first matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4 determine the long-term fate of this franchise?

5.  Kansas City Chiefs. Are you ready to find out what is behind Door #1?  Over the next four weeks, you will host the hungry, angry San Francisco 49ers; have a bye week; then travel in consecutive weeks to Indianapolis and Houston.  Surely each of these opponents will take you lightly.  You will retain the element of surprise.  Are you ready?  If the Chiefs can get through this portion of the schedule, they have some “winnable games” ahead with Jacksonville, Buffalo and Oakland beginning in Week 7.

6.  New England Patriots. Are you leaning toward Julian Edelman or Aaron Hernandez to replace the injured Kevin Faulk?  The Patriots are going to need another reliable go-to-guy on 3rd down.  Edelman has the experience, but with Wes Welker healthy, are his services really just a duplication?  Is Hernandez flexibility as an in-line tight end and an outside receiver or H-back better suited to replacing Kevin Faulk?  After scoring a mere 14 points vs. the Jets, the Patriots need to come up with answers fast.  Everyone is pouring over that video tape and looking to replicate what New York was able to do.

2010 NFL Pre-Season: Early Thoughts

It’s that time of year again.  The NFL season opens on Thursday with a highly anticipated rematch of the defending champion New Orleans Saints and the team that thoroughly dominated them in the NFC Championship Game, the Minnesota Vikings.  Darrelle Revis is on the roster and ready for a visit from Anquan Boldin.  And Anquan’s not coming alone.  He’s bringing a 10,000 pound offensive line, that “other” defense, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  These are great bookends to the first week.

Anquan Boldin Discussing Exit Strategies

"Don't Leave Me Hanging on the Island!"

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I have a few takeaways from the pre-season.  Last pre-season, I was impressed by a few teams.  There was something about their intensity, passion and power that stood out.  The Jets were not on that list.  I did put a spotlight on the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals.  Not bad…those teams went 33-15.  That was much better than their combined 20-27-1 record in 2008.  I was also down on Denver.  When they started out 6-0, I was thinking — “Hmmm, might have missed on that one.”  When they finished 2-8, I felt better.

So, who do I think is the real deal this season? (more…)

Super Bowl XLIV: The (Other) Snap that Killed the Colts

Games always boil down to more than one play.  Pierre Garcon’s dropped pass on 3rd down near the 8 minute mark of the 2nd quarter was a big play.  Earlier this week, I showed how the Saints defense stepped up to halt the march of the Colts in the 4th quarter after Reggie Wayne converted a 4th down.  Those were not the only plays that mattered in Sunday’s game.

A Lesson in Clock Management

This clip shows how the Colts hurt themselves before the snap of the ball.  The defense had just stopped the Saints at the goal line on 4th down.  Indianapolis had secured the ball deep in their own territory.  The play that the Colts would run (pictured below) on 3rd down was the same play they ran for a few yards on first down.  In between these mirror plays, Joseph Addai ripped off a 7 yard run to get the Colts close to the Promised Land (halftime with a 10-3 lead).

With one minute remaining, the Colts had the ball and faced a 3rd and short.  The ball was on the 10-yard line.  If the Colts were going to be aggressive, they should have run a play as quickly as possible and tried to get into scoring position.  Indianapolis did not do that.  They didn’t rush to the line.  They didn’t call a pass play on this sequence to preserve the clock for their own drive.

Manning Snaps the Ball Too Soon

If the Colts were not going to attempt to score, the best decision would have been to do on 3rd down what they did on 2nd down: run the clock down.  Manning snaps the ball with :14 seconds remaining on the play clock.   It was this decision, as much as any other, that allowed the Saints the time to mount a scoring drive of their own and close the halftime gap to 10-6.  Michael Hart was tackled by Sedrick Ellis; the Saints called timeout; and Brees hit Devery Henderson deep down the seam to put the Saints in field goal range.  Peyton Manning gave the keys to Brees and he scored.

(The thinking behind the early snap may have been to catch the Saints defenders off guard.  Manning may have thought the Colts would have been at an advantage snapping at :14, rather than running the clock down to :01 where a quick snap or modified cadence would have no impact.  The Saints were prepared and capitalized on what must be classified as either an error or a calculated risk by Peyton Manning.)

2009 NFL Season: The Once and Future Colts

The 2009 NFL season has come to a close.  The New Orleans Saints, chronicled here often throughout the season, won Super Bowl XLIV in convincing fashion over the favored Indianapolis Colts.  For a team that began the season with 13 consecutive wins, the Saints were able to march through the playoffs under the radar because the national press fell out of love with this team following home defeats to the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Colts, conversely, faced increased scrutiny in the postseason because they chose a fate the Saints tried to avoid.  First year head coach and longtime quarterbacks coach of the Colts, Jim Caldwell, pulled his starters in Week 16 (vs. the New York Jets) and Week 17 (at the Buffalo Bills) in a bid to maintain health and build resolve for the playoffs.

"Back to the track...To the Wall...We are Tied."


Super Bowl XLIV: Three Downs to Remember

The Indianapolis Colts were defeated by the New Orleans Saints last night by a score of 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.  The signature plays of this game included an onside kick to start the second half by the Saints, an overturned 2 point conversion by Lance Moore and a brilliant 74-yard interception return for touchdown by Tracy Porter.  There were, however, a number of other plays that were just as critical to the outcome of this game — and they will be forgotten before long.  I am putting the spotlight on three plays to illustrate the point that momentum is sometimes really only as good as the next play.

Early in the 4th quarter, the Colts had the ball and a lead.  Indianapolis was about to go forward on the 8th play of a drive that began on their own 11-yard line.  It was 4th down with 2 yards to go from the New Orleans 46-yard line.  I remember saying at the time, “Caldwell’s telling the Saints, ‘I’m not scared of you’s!'”  Peyton Manning executed a slant pass to Reggie Wayne for 14 yards.  Wayne cut inside of Tracy Porter (something he was unable to do later in the game), bobbled the ball and held on just as he was crunched by free safety Darren Sharper.

Reggie Wayne Converts a 4th Down in the 4th Quarter


Super Bowl XLIV – Quick Postscript

The New Orleans Saints outplayed the Indianapolis Colts. Drew Brees outplayed Peyton Manning. Gregg Williams’ guys outplayed Larry Coyer’s’ guys. The Colts led 10-0, but were outscored 31-7 for the rest of the game.

On this historic night, Jim Nance twice mentioned the 1987 Washington Redskins, but was so overcome by the disease that he could not mention the name of the architect of that win – Doug Williams. Williams overcame a 10 point deficit against a “Golden Boy” (John Elway) and had one of the greatest Super Bowl performances of all time.

The Saints deserve a lot of credit for building the type of team that is more balanced than the experts think…more experienced, and just a bit tougher. For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding largely one-dimensional offenses run by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, both the Patriots and Colts were only able to muster 17 points.

That defense played better than I thought they could, but they gave us a glimpse of what was possible earlier this season. On offense, the Saints simply did what they do. The Saints were clearly the best team tonite.

END NOTE: It is ironic that in the past two seasons, where the Super Bowl featured three of the most prolific offensive teams in recent memory, the games have been decided (in large part) by interceptions returned for touchdowns.  That the passers were Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning makes this fact all the more intriguing.  Both were intercepted trying to make quick throws to the left side against a blitz.  Both quarterbacks were targeting a favorite receiver on a route to the inside that was successfully read and jumped by the defense.

Super Bowl XLIV: Keys to Victory – Indianapolis Colts

We’ve already looked at what the Saints need to do.  Now, lets look at the favored Indianapolis Colts.

Tom Moore and Peyton Manning

The Colts greatest strength is that they possess most stable offense in the NFL.  Offensive coordinator Tom Moore (a former wide receivers coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers) has been in Indianapolis for more than a decade.  When you look around the league, most offensive coordinators have been hired within the last year or two.  A handful have been around since 2006.  Aside from the Colts, only the Bengals have kept their coordinator around for  more than a “New York minute.”  It is precisely this aspect of stability and familiarity that allow the Colts to consistently make great in-game and in-drive adjustments to defenses.

The success of this team is predicated, largely (though not entirely), on the capacity of the offense to simply take what is given and squeeze more out of those concessions than most defenses ever think possible.  The definitive expression of that tool this season was the Week 2 win at Miami.  The Dolphins power run game cranked out over 200 yards and Miami dominated the clock.  The Colts had the ball for little more than a quarter, but managed to put together quick scoring drives that produced touchdowns and a victory.  Contrast that win with the AFC Championship Game victory over the top-ranked defense of the Jets.  The Colts overcame a 17-6 deficit, out rushed the Jets, and still threw for well over 300 yards.  The Colts make defenses give ’til it hurts.

The Keys:

1) Remember! The Colts played in this game in 2006.  They used an unconventional approach to win that game.  They used the surprising and powerful tandem of Dominic Rhodes (113 yards) and Joseph Addai (77 yards and 10 catches) to defeat the Chicago Bears.  Peyton Manning was not the star of that game.  The Colts were also the beneficiaries of five turnovers and many other errors committed by a quarterback clearly overwhelmed by the moment.  That game is not likely to be repeated by a player like Drew Brees.  The last MVP to get outfoxed in a Super Bowl was going up against the coach who wrote his playbook.  The Colts have to be ready for THIS game — but remember all the little non-football things that worked so well in 2006.

Kelvin Hayden Closes Out the Bears