Monday, September 14, 2009

Saints First Week Review

You’d think starting out as the league’s leading team in scoring offense (at least going into Monday Night Football) would be cause to express satisfaction in the Black and Gold’s extension of the Detroit Lions’ losing streak, but what’s good enough for the Lions is not going to be good enough for the Eagles or many of the other higher caliber teams on the schedule.

The best way to describe the 45-27 victory is to call it an ugly landslide.

The Saints did assure any doubters that so long as quarterback Drew Brees is healthy, expect the franchise to be one of the leading if not the top offense once again. Granted the Detroit Lions aren’t the Pittsburgh Steelers, but then again most teams aren’t.

Through their draft, free agency and new head coach, the 2009 edition of the Lions are a much better team than the death rattling squad that sleepwalked through the end of a nightmarish 2008 season.

And while most people never for a second imagined it was possible, a loss to the Lions would have had a nasty psychological effect on the Saints that would have haunted them the rest of the season and could have marked the beginning of the end of Payton’s tenure in New Orleans if the Saints were to miss the playoffs again this season. No hyperbole here.

Interesting Stats

Though the Lions put 27 points on the board, 20 more than they did when the Saints demolished them last season, Detroit’s offense racked up 24 fewer yards in this contest, underscoring how a few turnovers and errors can translate into big points.

What I Liked

Sean Payton’s Play-Calling Here’s a first coming from this corner. The preseason games proved to be an omen that the pass-happy Payton is committed to a more balanced offense by investing more in a ground game that will wear down opposing defensive lines, give our own defense more of a breather and contribute towards better clock management. Nobody was shocked by the razzle-dazzle play that unsurprisingly resulted in an interception, however the overall offensive game plan was sane and shows that the head coach has turned a corner. Consequently, this means Brees won’t be chasing Dan Marino’s passing record this season, it could result in the Saints chasing a far more coveted record-first appearance in a Super Bowl.

The Secondary Didn’t figure I’d be saying this one either. The Achilles’ Heel of the much violated Saints’ defense had good coverage and largely contained Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who finished the game with three receptions for 90 yards- 64 of those yards being attributed to a play that will be cited later in this screed. Safety Darren Sharper added two notches to his interception post. Why did it take so long for Mickey Loomis to sign this guy again?

Thomas Morstead Fans called Mickey Loomis crazy for chasing a punter in the fifth round of this year’s NFL draft, not to mention trading up in the draft, to snag him. The front office caught grief for targeting a position that wasn’t considered a priority since the Saints only punted the ball 53 times in 2008, 27th in the NFL. However, punting is an important part of the game (it is called FOOTball…attention NFL Hall of Fame balloters) from the defensive standpoint. Get the ball high in the air and dropping where you want it is particularly helpful when you have a defensive squad that is lacking.

Since getting in the system, Morstead has not only unseated incumbent punter Glenn Pakulak but also showed in the regular season opener that he has the ability to drive the ball deep into the endzone, the very skill that Payton and the front office coveted so much they bounced reliable kicker John Carney in deference of a former player whose name none dare speak. The currently suspended Garrett Hartley might yet be latest victim of Morstead’s emergence when Payton weighs roster spots.

Bell Getting It Done, Coughing It Up Back-up running back Mike Bell made the most of his opportunity substituting for injured starting running back Pierre Thomas. Bell made a number of tough runs racking up 143 yards and helping his cause to get more touches when Thomas returns. Fans who would like to see a balanced offense throughout the season owe Bell much for being so productive against the Lions. Bell was impressive though not perfect, being responsible for a Detroit touchdown when he fumbled on one run. The tested Thomas should not be written-out the running act just yet.

Shockey Earns His Keep Nuff said.

What I Didn’t Like

Harper Not in the Game, Roby Not Being on the Roster When the Saints decided to part ways with proven kick-returner Courtney Roby in the final round of pre-season cuts, it was largely assumed because Rod Harper had taken the job from him. Lo and behold, Robert Meachem, not Harper, handled kick-returns against the Lions, very ably at that. Roby was not only a good kick returner but played well on special teams, something we could have used some serious help with on Sunday. While Harper has talent, I thought Roby could do more for the team.

Zero Sacks from Our Tandem of Overpaid Defensive Ends Nuff said.

Reggie, Reggie, Reggie Two dropped punts, one recovered, one not. Sunday was one of Reggie Bush’s worst games as a running back that did not end with him riding back to the x-ray room. That said, Bush is still a better value than Charles Grant.

First Installment of the Opportunity Cost of Malcolm Jenkins

The Buckeye cornerback (14th overall pick) had two plays of note: when Detroit’s Johnson slipped passed him on a botched tackle and when he ran down Detroit kick returner Aaron Brown a dozen yards short of the end zone. It was apparent the ball was coming to Johnson when Jenkins was assigned to cover him and it paid expected dividends.

Houston Texans’ outside linebacker Brian Cushing (15th overall pick) had five tackles and three assists in a losing effort against the New York Jets.

Next Week: Phlying into Philly

To borrow some Ignatius J. Reilly terminology, it seems Fortuna has spun her wheel very much in the Black and Gold’s favor this season in terms of schedule timing. Opening up against the hapless Lions and then facing the Philadelphia Eagles the weekend after quarterback Donovan McNabb sustained a rib injury and before Michael Vick can trade a luxury box for the sideline.

I don’t know what’s more amusing right now: listening to WWL sports-talk hosts “sincerely” share their thoughts about the need for McNabb to take it easy in light of his serious injury or Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid optimistically speculate that McNabb could very well play next weekend.

That’s the kind of selfless attitude that would have made Reid an excellent manager at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (wikipedia it).

Seriously, Philadelphia’s scoring offense doesn’t concern me nearly as much as their scoring defense, which had a field day with turnovers against Carolina. The Saints will not be able to get out of Lincoln Financial Field with a win committing the same mistakes they got away with against Detroit. Brees also threw a few passes into good coverage that some how found their mark though would have just as easily found themselves in the waiting hands of the Eagles’ secondary.

Philadelphia will mark a tougher test for the Saints and will show how far the team has come and perhaps how much further they still need to go.

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