Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Super Bowl?

On Sunday, gazillions of Americans will huddle around whichever acquaintance has procured the largest, supped-up high-definition televisions to watch the Super Bowl. Gazillions more in other countries will also tune in, not because they care about the game or for that matter understand the mechanics of American football, but because they perceive it to be the cool thing to do. Funny how this mentality has never acted in reverse concerning the World Cup, but as usual, I digress.
I will not be one of those pretending to be interested. Why might you ask? Because I am going to be on an airplane returning home from Washington, DC. Also if the Saints aren’t playing, then it’s not that big of a game for me.
Yes, I am cheering for the underdog, mainly because of Kurt Warner, a man whose story just gets that much more interesting as he extends his lucky break en route to future enshrinement in Canton. But I won’t be heartbroken if the Cardinals, the mascot of the playground I trudged through my lone season of organized football, lose. I’ll be sure to check out the final score on yahoosports.com some time on Sunday evening.
As the sports commentators have rambled in a patois that sounds awfully like the lingo of a used car salesman or the rhetoric of a three-card monte dealer, I have been racking the lobes of my brain on what the Saints need to do to make Super Bowl Sunday mean for me something more then a day to judge the talents of America’s leading ad agencies.
Like Linus beginning his vigil at the pumpkin patch on All Hallow’s Eve, I harbor great optimism for the new year. How couldn’t I?
The Saints’ offense was tops in the NFL in overall yards (2nd time in last three seasons), passing yards and touchdowns. So long as Drew Brees stays healthy and the team retains the bulk of its receiving corps in the off-season, the Saints should remain the league’s most dangerous passing offense.
And it seems that the team will have a much more balanced overall offense in 2009, though it will probably come at a bittersweet price.
According to a source close to the team, running-back Deuce McAllister has recovered from his last trip under the knife yet he had relatively few carries this season, which leads to the biggest question in the minds of fans: why has head coach Sean Payton used him sparingly?
There are theories out there that I will not go into at this moment, but one way or
the other, it appears that #26’s days with the Black and Gold are done, though that’s not to say his playing career is finished, as I tend to believe he has some gas left in the tank.
McAllister’s departure will signal Payton’s shift to a greater, though not dominant, use of the running game in 2009. Converting on third and one and clock control were two of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2008. By keeping the ball on the ground, the offense allows the underachieving defense to catch their breath. Too many of this season’s games looked like Arena Bowl contests in which the last team to score won, not typically in the Saints’ favor.
Example: I felt that the Saints needed to win the coin-toss in order to win in overtime in Chicago. The Saints’ inability to lay hands on the opposing team’s quarterback and lackluster secondary proved me right.
In the season finale against Carolina, I found myself entertaining the absurd theory that the Saints should simply let the Panthers get the ball into the end zone with enough time for the offense to march the ball back down the field in the final seconds.
But Carolina wasn’t biting and shrewdly ate up clock and settled for a dagger-through-the-heart field goal.
The most encouraging signs for Saints fans since was the firing of the much maligned defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and his replacement with Gregg Williams, one of the most sought-after defense coaches on the market.
While not a fan of Gibbs (or Payton for that matter), I would like to concur with the “Boy Blunder” on one point: just after announcing Gibbs’s termination, Payton spoke words of appreciation for his former defensive coordinator’s willingness to come to New Orleans in light of our city’s image just after Hurricane Katrina and with the franchise’s future in New Orleans up in the air. The head coach was right on the mark with that praise and I hope the Black and Gold faithful take it to heart and give Gibbs his due.
Though Gibbs was not as aggressive as many thought he should have been, one could argue that he lacked the pieces necessary to have that style executed on the field. That the domineering Payton would consent to bringing in an assertive coach shows maturity and a growing desire to trade control for success. Williams’s acceptance shows that he thinks that the New Orleans franchise can go all the way.
In what will be a lean draft for a team with more needs than picks, hopefully Williams can squeeze good players out of existing fat contracts.

What to look for:

Deuuuuuuuuuce Getting Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuut
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma Re-Signed Seconds after the Start of Free Agency
Saints Shipping a Starter, Most Likely Pro Bowl Tackle Jammal Brown, for a 2nd Rounder or Multiple Mid-Round Picks
Saints Trading Down from Their Current 14th Spot to Fill in Gaping Mid-Round Vacancies
Not Breaking the Bank by Signing a Mid-Level Safety in the Off-Season
Devery Henderson Gone, though They Will Come to Regret It

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