Monday, September 21, 2009

Saints Second Week Review: Black & Gold Get Plucky in Philly

Addressing the Haterade Gulpers

Last week, critics, unbelievers and professional nay-sayers tried to rain on the Saints’ parade by discounting the team’s effort in their season opening win against Detroit. The Saints’ defense was mocked for giving up 27 points to the league’s worst team while the offense’s 45 points (the most scored by any team in first week play) was discounted because, well they were racked up against a franchise that hasn’t won since 2007.
For a team that has not accomplished much in their four decades of existence playing in one of the NFL’s smallest media markets, that kind of talk frustrates the fan base. It’s one thing for a team to take down Detroit but the Eagles would be a different matter. And the critics were right.
The Saints raised their score from against the Lions running up their tally to 48 against the vaunted Philadelphia defense while the New Orleans defense only allowed 22 points, of which two of those were generously donated to the Eagles in exchanged for better defensive positioning in the waning minutes of the game.
And what do the perpetual put-downing pundits have to say after one of the most impressive Saints wins in franchise history? Oh, had Donovan McNabb played things would have ended differently.
There’s no doubting that McNabb’s presence would have made a difference on the Eagles’ offense but unless the Philly quarterback had been moonlighting as either a cornerback or linebacker (or a bumbling kick returner), the Saints would almost certainly had prevailed with only the details being different. Saints fans will see their team get respect when it goes the distance instead of just showing the potential to being a playoff caliber team. Just having the talent didn’t put the Black and Gold into post-season. Until then, let Drew Brees, Mike Bell, Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston’s fantasy stats is earning the team respect with the hoi polloi.

What I Liked

Drew and the Crew Quarterback Drew Brees should name his children after his offensive line as they have a lot to do with his earning potential as an athlete and the fact he will be able to walk when he’s 60. Brees was only sacked twice by the same defense that a week before has people talking about the end of Jake Delhomme’s career. His one pick was a combination of a bad decision (the first down would have been Brees’s had he scrambled forward) and a lucky snag by linebacker Akeem Jordan. Brees’s three touchdown passes and 311 yards in the air show that he is the best quarterback in the league not wearing a certain ring. One commentator (I believe with NBC sports) commented that Brees might just be the best free agent acquisition in the history of the NFL.

Loomis’s Folly Hits Again Tom Morestead once again proved his worth on kickoffs and booming punts. The gnashing of teeth that came with his selection has disappeared. Morestead is so good at what he does that it almost makes watching your own team punt an enjoyable experience. Almost.
Bell Rings Up Another Big Game Third-string running back Mike Bell looked like the running back the Saints have been lacking since 2006. Bell ran for 86 yards and made an awkward leap for a touchdown. Though he suffered a sprain that took him out the game and may sideline him until after the bye week, Bell’s performance has helped cement early on in this season the balanced offensive attack the team lacked last year. Had Bell been a bust, there’s a good chance head coach Sean Payton would have quickly retreated to airing the ball more than a team should. Drew Brees’s chasing Dan Marino’s record didn’t result in the Saints making the playoffs.

Reggie Runs and Catches The Saints “celebri-thete” did not have a stellar day but he did produce when he needed catching a critical pass (with a little help from a blatant Jon Stinchcomb hold that somehow did not get called) and with an impressive run between the tackles into the end zone. Bush finished the day with 42 yards receiving and 33 on the ground though did not impress with his failure to break out when the Saints had to start out from their own end zone. To his credit, he was on the verge of being tackled for a safety on one run but had the presence of mind to just escape the end zone. Bush lives in a different world than his team-mates because of his superstar status, superstar girlfriend and expectations that only Adrian Peterson could have possibly matched. Bush did nothing more than not fumble the ball as a punt returner though neither did the Eagles’ own prized punt returner. This game will hopefully build up Bush’s confidence and with time the second over all pick in the 2006 draft will blossom and breakout this year. Though Saints fans should be forgiven for eroding patience.

The Saints Defense Steps Up The much-maligned (particularly by this writer) Scott Shanle picked up his second interception in consecutive games. Darren Sharper showed his talent (and age) with a pick six. Sure the Saints defense gave up 463 yards, 378 of them in the air, but at the end of the game they surrendered only 20 points. Fans should remember the Cincinnati game when Brees passed for 510 yards in a LOSING effort. The only winners that day were the Bengals and whoever had the Saints quarterback on their fantasy team. The Saints defense showed the bend don’t break performance that wins the close ones that the Black and Gold struggled with in 2008.

Other Praise When you score 48 points against the Eagles defense there’s generally no shortage of people to praise. I was happy that the Saints’ front office reacted decisively after the mishaps of the Detroit game by re-inking Courtney Roby, who’s an asset on Saints kick returns and kickoffs. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who tackled air in his infamous mismatch with Calvin Johnson last week, helped set the tone of the second half slaughter by forcing a fumble on the kickoff. Also credit safety Chris Reis for acting fast and picking up the ball. Colston has shown that he is back in a big way. Finally, in another much criticized Loomis move in the off-season, fullback Heath Evans, the successor to the cut and much beloved Mike Karney, proved his worth getting his second touchdown in consecutive games with an outstanding reception and sideline hop into the pylon.

What I Didn’t Like

Aside from the Bush punt returns for negative yards and the Brees interception, it seems the Saints are still struggling laying their hands on opposing quarterbacks. Two sacks against a first-time starter won’t inspire comparisons to the Dome Patrol but some credit should go to the losing quarterback Kevin Kolb being patient and showing no fear under pressure. Kolb had to put the ball up in the air a lot while playing catch up making the three interceptions almost inevitable. The Philly “phans” should not be calling for this guy’s head when there’s enough blame/excuses to go around.

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