Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saints Seventh Week Review: NEVER SURRENDER!!!

Last week I was beating myself up for skipping out on attending what was perhaps one of the most impressive wins in Saints history. After having gone to Miami, I now have no regrets.
In terms of intensity on the field and emotional anguish for the fans, the only game that compares to it in recent years was the Saints first post-season victory against the Saint Louis Rams.
Sure, less was on the line last Sunday afternoon in Land Shark Stadium when compared to the Saints’ historic win on December 30, 2000. That said, the win put the Saints a game ahead of the previously undefeated Minnesota Vikings for homefield advantage and with their loss against the Arizona Cardinals, three ahead of the New York Giants. The Black and Gold also go into their Monday Night Football showdown against the Atlanta Falcons with a two game edge for the NFC South.
What made this game special was how the team overcame adversity in a hostile environment.
Over the past few seasons, I saw first-hand how the team struggled getting out of hole that they themselves dug by committing errors. Thrice against Chicago. Twice against Washington. And then there were losses to Tampa Bay and Denver on the road last season.
With the exception of the sputtering home loss to the Redskins in 2006, the Saints faced tough teams and even tougher weather. In a lot of ways, the first half of the Miami game reminded me of the trip to Denver on the unseasonably warm day in Invesco Field at Mile High. The Saints found themselves behind 21-3 and though they rallied back, the Saints fell short thanks to two missed field goals and an inability to convert on short yardage.
In Miami the Saints trailed their opposition for the first time all season with the freefall resulting in a 24-3 deficit at one point. Yet, the Saints patiently and confidently got back into the game realizing despite the gulf, there was plenty of time to overtake a team that was dominating the game on both sides of the ball.
Unlike the numerous close ones they lost, the Saints made the plays in the second half. Following the word of the t-shirts they were handed at the start of the season, the Saints "finished" and preserved the streak that matters most: their winning streak.

What I Liked

The Man With the Golden Arm Uses His Legs Instead of running for first downs, Saints quarterback Drew Brees hopped and scurried for two touchdowns. Though he was picked three times (one of which was yanked from the hands of his receiver) and fumbled twice (one recovered by the Saints, the other by the Dolphins), Brees stayed in the game, had the guts to gamble at the end of the first half and passed for almost three hundred yards. Brees isn’t just a passer; he’s a winner.

The Saints’ “Second Line” Marches In Two pick-sixes, the first that started the second half shift to the Saints by safety (and future Hall of Famer) Darren Sharper and cornerback Tracy Porter, which put the Fins up and out the stadium. Strong safety Roman Harper forced a fumble recovered by linebacker Scott Shanle, who has silenced his numerous nay-sayers this season (yo!).

Mr. Second Chance Makes the Most of It Defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove has had a troubled NFL career, having had stormy experiences with his previous two teams and been suspended twice for drug violations. It has also been reported that he hears several voices in his head. Hargrove’s reinstatement in 2009 did not garner the same publicity and interest as the league’s most prominent “returnee”, but his potential led the Saints to give him a shot. The man who was notoriously disruptive with his former teammates has now managed to exclusively be disruptive to opposing offenses. The athletic Hargrove proved his value on Sunday stepping in for an injured Sedrick Ellis, getting the Black and Gold’s two sacks on the day. Expect more from this reformed beast of a player.

Run, Ricky, Run I know he’s no longer with the Saints, a fact that in no way displeases me, though I will admit it was good to see running back Ricky Williams remains a productive player a decade after then-Saints coach Mike Ditka gave the farm for him in the NFL draft. While the Williams for a gazillion draft picks was the most unbalanced trade in the history of the organization, if not the NFL. That said the trade was not the worst for the franchise, since the Saints actually got something out of it on the way in and out (unlike Jonathan Sullivan). Besides, Bill Kuharich would have just blown the traded picks on a bag of magic beans or shares in Eastern Airlines.

Though he was a drama queen during his time with the Saints, even when he wasn’t wearing a large frilly dress, Williams is perhaps the poster boy for the addictive power and damaging effects of marijuana, a drug society largely considers harmless.

Shockey Shocks ‘Em The other troubled soul that the character-obsessed front office successfully pursued is showing why he was worth the effort. Tight end Jeremy Shockey is having a great season, remaining healthy, being productive and largely keeping cool- with a little bull-riding dancing aside from the previous game. Shockey’s 66 yard reception was equally as amusing as it was impressive. If only there was a microphone in his helmet to document the jawing he was doing while running down field with the ball.

Roby Breaks Out The cut and rehired kick returner almost ran one back, getting 87 yards.

The Sight of Culpepper Miami Jerseys Self-explanatory.

Black and Gold Faithful Show One of the largest gatherings of Saints fans I’ve seen outside of Louisiana or Atlanta. The team responded at the end, returning the love by running and slapping hands along the visitor along side of the field.

What I Didn’t Like

Reggie, Reggie, Reggie I know he is on the cover of Sports Illustrated through there are about 6 other players more deserving of such recognition- including the punter. Bush has been a bust on punt returns this season and should be shifted to kick return duty where he would have the open space he needs and the running start that makes it harder for him to dance around. On a good note, the Sean Payton Trick-a-dickory play finally worked.

Reggie, Reggie, Reggie How many passes did he drop?

The Dracula Factor The Dolphins 12th Man isn’t the fans, it’s the sun. The bane of plutocrat C. Montgomery Burns did a fine job scorching a dome-centric team, whose bench was located in the sun’s rays while the Dolphins remained cool in the shade. It was not a coincidence that as the sun set, the Saints played better. See below for more on this.

Black Uniforms While walking to the stadium in the sweltering heat, I wondered if the Saints would be wearing their black jerseys today, hoping they wouldn’t. I was not pleased. The Saints need to employ a gold alternate jersey for days like this past Sunday, though this shouldn’t be an issue the remainder of the season.

Fins to the Left, Fins to the Right Dare I say I found something more annoying than BEAR DOWN after ever Chicago score and a pirate ship firing a canon after every Buccaneer first-down. It’s not that I dislike Jimmy Buffet; though I’m not a “parrothead”, I do like his music However, repeating “fins to the left, fins to the right” over and over and over and over after every score (not the full song but those lines!) ought to be against the law. Opposing defenses have extra incentive to shut down the Miami offense.

Celebrity Revelry With Los Angeles lacking a team and celebrities investing in the Miami franchise, it seems the Dolphins are trying to be. Nothing communicates grid iron toughness than superfluous footage and live shots of American Idol winners, Fergie, Mr. J-Lo and Lance Bass. All that was missing was Joan Rivers doing the play by play. The NFL is not the NBA; people attend football games to watch what happens on the field, not the rantings of celebrities on the sidelines.

Land Shark Stadium: $25 Parking, only four entrances to the nosebleeds, stands too far from the field and a stadium located in the middle of nowhere with no mass transit option. At least the parking areas are designed well for tailgating.

Interesting Facts Saints’ FIRST EVER win in Miami. Drew Brees’s first EVER win against Miami. At 6-0, Saints are having their best start since 1991.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Saints-Dolphins Preview: A Lot of History

Though they’re in different conferences, Louisiana football and the Miami pro-franchise have had somewhat of an intertwined history.
In 2002, it was a trade with the Dolphins that marked the end of the tumultuous Ricky Williams-New Orleans Saints saga that began with one of the most erratic, bizarre and lopsided (not to the Saints’ favor) draft moves in the history of the NFL. Unloading Williams to the Miami proved to be just as fortuitous of a move for the Saints as the original deal that led to him donning a fleur-de-lis helmet (and soon after a wedding dress) was unfortunate. Williams somehow provided even more drama with his new team, with failed drug tests, a surprise retirement, studying to be a holistic healer and a $9 million lawsuit.
Then on Christmas evening in 2004, LSU coach Nick Saban announced he was leaving to take the reins of the Dolphins.
The next year Randy Mueller, who as general manager rebuilt the Mike Ditka wrecked Saints operation, became the Dolphins’ general manager, albeit briefly.
Later in 2005, Nick Saban would lead the Dolphins into Tiger Stadium to play the first post-Katrina NFL game in Louisiana.
Then there was the most significant intersection between the two teams in 2006, when the Saints, in a Ditka-esque move, bet the franchise that former San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees had fully recovered from shoulder surgery. While Brees has since admitted he was leaning towards going to a much more stable franchise and city, the Saints front office pushed all of their chips on to the table while an overly cautious Saban blinked and opted to acquire Daunte Culpepper.
Four years later, the Dolphins have gone through multiple quarterbacks and a few coaches while the Saints continue to get giddy over the fantasy numbers posted by the team’s greatest quarterback…ever.
At least the Dolphins still have Ricky.

A Closer Look at the Fins

The defending AFC East Division champions are currently 2-3. Though New England last week flashed signs against the Tennessee Titans that they might have finally gotten back into their groove, it’s still too early to write off any team in that division, except maybe the Buffalo Bills.
The Dolphins are a running team, ranking first in the league, averaging 177 yards on the ground per game. The Dolphins are also believers in the wildcat formation, and while the Saints have defended against it in two games this season, Miami executes it better than anyone else.
Though 26th in passing, it should be noted that their sub-in quarterback Chad Henne completed 11 of his 16 passes against the Saints in the final preseason game. Henne did well against the New York Jets in week 5, connecting on 20 of his 26 passes for 241 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. While Henne is not Drew Brees, who watched the pre-season game from the sideline, he’s also not Mark Sanchez, and that is a good thing if you think aqua and orange is a beautiful combination of colors.
The Dolphins defense punished Saints third-string quarterback Joey Harrington in the pre-season game, sacking him eight times. In regular season play, the Dolphins defense has been stingy against the run, allowing the third least amount of yards. Miami is not as stout against the pass ranking 18th. They’re tied with the Saints at 17th with 12 sacks.

Overall View

The Dolphins game is one of the six tough games left on the Saints’ schedule. Miami almost added a blemish to the Indianapolis Colt’s perfect record in week 2. The Saints will look to exploit Miami’s weak secondary, though Brees might be limited in his ability to effectively put the ball in the air if the speculated bad weather dumps water on LandShark Stadium.
The Dolphins are going to try to win by wearing down the Saints’ defensive line by relentless pounding the ball. Henne is an underrated quarterback who could cause the Saints’ defense trouble. That said, the Saints’ run defense is ranked not far behind the Dolphins’ at 5th.
The Saints wide receiver corps deep threats Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson are going to be key players along with running back Mike Bell offensively. The front seven will be charged with shutting down (or at least containing) Miami’s potent rushing game, led by Ronnie Brown and followed closely by Ricky Williams.
The Saints should win though it might look more like the modest win in Buffalo than the blow outs against Detroit and the New York Giants(!).

So Sayeth the Odds Maker

Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 7-point favorite. The Black and Gold has yet to not beat the spread this season.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saints Sixth Week Review: The Empire State Sweep

Somewhere under one of the end zones in Giants Stadium, Jimmy Hoffa is turning over.
The New Orleans Saints pulled a hat trick, beating three New York state teams in a row. The New York Giants had the best defense in the NFL and a potent offense that had success running the ball.
The game between two of the NFL’s unbeaten teams had major post-season implications as it could determine homefield advantage in the NFC Championship game.
On Sunday afternoon, the Saints established that they were the best team in the NFL by soundly defeating the team many sports analysts had picked as number one in the unofficial power rankings by a score of 48-27. And .believe it or not, the margin is deceptive as the game was never really close with the Giants having to play catch-up early.

What I Liked

OK, just a warning, but this part is kind of long…for good reason.

Heeeeeeeeee’s Baaaaaaaack Number Nine returned to fantasy football fantasy form against the team’s most formidable opponent to date. Brees ended his two game touchdown drought with four against the vaunted Giants defense and completed 78% of his passes for 369 yards. I also enjoyed seeing the league’s most dangerous quarterback run for a first down.

Heeeeeeeee’s Baaaaaaaaack Deux Wide Receiver Lance Moore, in his first real game of the season, contributed in a big way. A favorite Brees target, Moore snagged six passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.

R-r-r-r-r-r-revenge! Tight end Jeremy Shockey did his best to play down his emotions going into a game he had circled since the G-men shipped him off to the Black and Gold. While largely refusing to take the tantalizing bait the media had dangled in front of him to trash a franchise that made him feel persona non grata at the Super Bowl, the former Giant let his actions on the field speak for himself, catching four passes for 37 yards, including one for a touchdown. Shockey couldn’t contain himself doing a “bull riding dance” after his touchdown reception.

Meachem Proves Value As regular readers are aware, I have a personal stake in the success of the third or fourth wide-out, being one of Robert Meachem’s few advocates in the 2007 draft. That rather exclusive club was reduced greatly after he sat out the first season. Meachem caught two passes, one for 36 and the other for 34 yards.

Mr. Reliable Hauls Them In Wide Receiver Marques Colston had an outstanding day making some incredible grabs, including a touchdown, and racking 166 yards. Though he is part of an offense that is a target rich environment, the 7th rounder from Hofstra once again showed that he has the best pair of hands on the team.

The Levee Holds Saints’ offensive line once again gives great protection to Brees, who was not sacked in the game.

Introducing the Chopper Whopper He kicks, he punts, he tackles. Thomas Morstead keeps dishing out blackened crow to those fans that doubted general manger Mickey Loomis’s lucidity in trading up to bag a punter in the 2009 draft. In addition to ably performing his punting duty…and the kickoffs that got tacked to his job board after kicker Garret Hartley was suspended, Morstead made two critical tackles against the Giants’ kick returner. Saints kick returner Courtney Roby had a decent game on special teams, as a defender and as a returner.

Ain’t Dere No Mo’ “What is Sean Payton’s losing streak after a bye week, Alex?”

Raiders Win; Eagles Lose In a match between the franchises with the most violent-prone fans, the hapless Oakland Raiders upset the Philadelphia Eagles. As the Saints have a head-up win and a better record, this game probably won’t matter in the still way off grand scheme of homefield seeding, though it is nice to see a team whose fans are known to be so unruly a jail was installed at Lincoln Financial Field during construction.

Saints “Second Line” Does It Again The most glaring weakness in the Saints defense has become a major strength in the revamped squad. Cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter played well, with the former getting a pick and leading the team in tackles with five. Safety Roman Harper got a sack and forced a fumble. Last but not least, safety Darren Sharper picked off Manning and ran the interception to the end zone only to have it called back due to inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s roughing the passer penalty.

What I Didn’t Like

Going for It on Fourth and Goal Yes, I know the benefits it paid against the Jets. Yes, I know that it didn’t blow up in our face thanks again to a great play by our defense, but the game is called FOOTball and kicking is an integral part to it. So far, the Saints have been able to beat the spread and then some but ask the Minnesota Vikings about their close win on Sunday. Field goals can win games. Sometimes taking a risk is the smart move; however, getting points on the board is always a good thing. Our luck is going to run out one game at a most inopportune moment.

Kicking Coverage Aside from Roby and Morstead’s efforts, the Saints gave the Giants great field position despite four of the eight kickoffs went into the end zone. Poor kickoff coverage tempts fate as much as going for it on fourth down.

Worst Advice of the Week
While talking to a friend of mine who had Drew Brees on her fantasy team, I mentioned Brees’s lack of success in getting the ball to the end zone against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets and suggested she start someone else as the Saints quarterback would be facing the stoutest defense to date. I hope she ignored my decidedly unwise counsel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saints-Giants Preview; NFC Championship Preview?

Home turf vs. home tundra.

That is what could be at stake this Sunday when the New Orleans Saints face the visiting New York Giants in what could be the most important game of the year for the Black and Gold.

Of course, this is predicated on the Saints beating out the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South, which the Dirty Birds played against the Niners is not a lock. But back to getting ahead of myself.

Currently there are three undefeated teams in the NFC: the Saints, the Giants and the Minnesota Vikings.

In the arbitrary art of “power rankings”, which have less significance than the WWE rankings one can find in Pro Wrestling Illustrated, sports publications and blogs rank the Giants and Saints (generally in that order) at the top of their conference. Assuming the Vikings falter, conference homefield advantage could be decided on Sunday, as the winner would have a two game lead going into Week Seven the head-up tie-breaker.

As the NFL season trudges deeper into the winter months, northern teams playing in outdoor stadiums gain an edge over warm weather, dome teams.

You don’t need to be Dawn Brown to understand the difference between the Saints playing the Bears at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship versus playing them in the Superdome.

The Meadowlands are not a good place to be in late January.

The Match-Up

The New York Giants is the best team in the NFC, if not the NFL. The G-men have the best defense and the second best offense. The upside is that they have garnered this distinction against the league’s versions of the Washington Generals. (Google it!)

That said, the Giants are very much a tough team with the Saints being their first test.

The Saints have the third best offense in terms of yardage, ranking second in rushing and eleventh in passing. Most importantly, they are first in points, averaging 36 a game. The Giants are allowing an average of 14.2 points from their opponents.

Defensively, the Saints rank 6th in yards and 7th in points allowed per games (16.5). While they’re 11th in defending against the pass, the Saints are 7th in rush defense, especially relevant as the Giants like to run the ball (4th in rushing offense).

Two important facts about the Saints defense not necessarily reflected in the stats: they don’t give up the big plays while also making big plays themselves. Turnovers and a bend, don’t break mentality have ably contained opposing offenses. Though their 14th ranking in sacks do not conjure images of the Dome Patrol, there’s no doubting that the Saints defense, particularly the secondary and as of late the defensive ends, have been getting the job done.

Good Bye

One other big plus from the early bye weeks for the Black and Gold is that they’re going into the toughest game of the season finally operating at near full health. The Times Picayune reported that injured tight end Darnell Dinkins, defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, running back Mike Bell, left tackle Jermon Bushrod and wide receiver Lance Moore fully practiced. Moore and Bell are key players to have back for the match-up with the Giants.

Bad Bye

While equaling and surpassing all of former coach Jim Haslett’s benchmarks would not seem to be a formidable task, especially the positive ones, there is one accomplishment he has over Sean Payton: Haslett has won a game after a bye week.

Quarterback Drew Brees and fullback Heath Evans have tasted victory after a Saints’ bye week, though they were wearing different uniforms.

The last time the Saints have won a game after a bye was in 2003 against Atlanta.

The Oddsmaker’s Choice

Danny Sheridan of USA Today has the Saints as 3.5 favorite.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

An Ignoble Gesture

A question: if President Barack Obama truly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, then why was there so much surprise when he was announced as the 2009 recipient?

Is Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize good for America if nobody can point to anything he’s accomplished during his brief time in the Oval Office that would merit such an award?

With the exception of extreme sycophants, nobody in the world is buying Obama’s peace prize “nobility”.

Adding to the absurdity of it all is that nominations were due only two weeks after Obama was inaugurated, further shortening the scope to unearth mighty deeds.

In an attempt to explain/justify/provide a good story, the award has, like the U.S. Constitution, assumed “living” status, in that it has grown from being given in recognition for having actually done something to a “pep talk” with Alfred Nobel’s profile.

Some have also tried to argue that he has already effected change in his nine months in office. Because President Obama immediately refined America’s tone in global affairs, the world is already a better place and peace in our time is imminent.

But shouldn’t the American voters get the credit for making the collective decision to shift the tone through the ballot box and not simply the messenger?

Rather than sifting through the crapulent excuses being offered in defense of the indefensible, let’s explore other possible reasons for Obama receiving what used to be a prestigious award that is now worth far less than the ten million kroner check that comes with it.

The body that actually decides who wins the annual peace award is the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which consists of five members selected by the Norwegian parliament, who all just so happen to be former members of the body. Three of the five members are associated with leftist Norwegian political parties with the other two associated with conservative groups.
Picture the House Ways and Means Committee having Oscar duties tacked to their responsibilities.

With such a composition, few objective people should be shocked that the likes of Jimmy Carter and Al Gore have been bestowed this accolade with Obama’s selection just completing the “go to hell” hat trick to former president George W. Bush.

Another possible reason for the premature award is that the Norwegians wanted the American celebrity-president to bless their capital with an appearance and they simply could not contain themselves to wait any further.

Europeans have been tripping over themselves for Obama much the same way they used to for the late Michael Jackson.

In 2008 I attended a conference of Denmark’s Venstre Ungdom, the youth wing of the country’s pro-market/pro-US governing party and was surprised how many of the attendees were euphoric for Obama. When I queried why people who are trying to move their socialist country in the opposite direction the Democratic nominee was trying to move the U.S., I couldn’t get an answer that conformed to their ideology. They couldn’t enunciate why they liked Obama, they only knew that they liked him.

Early on in his White House bid, Obama attempted to present himself in the aura of John F. Kennedy, our nation’s only deified president. Perhaps the Norwegians were hoping to get an “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment outside of Oslo city hall when Obama picks up the “other” medal being handed out in Scandinavia this year. Ever since the committee gave an award to Yasser Arafat, it could be assumed that the Nobel Peace Prize has depreciated enough in value to “key to the city” status…or DNC Party Service Award.

At this rate and if his health holds up, George McGovern might even have a crack at landing one. At least the former South Dakota senator has a legitimate claim through his service in his global school lunch program.

Instead of shedding light on a cause being championed by a human rights leader languishing in a labor camp somewhere, the Nobel Peace Prize committee chose to bask in the glow of someone whose face is already on enough magazine covers.

If they wanted to meet Obama so bad, the Norwegian panel would have done world peace and social justice a greater favor by just paying $5,000 a head to attend a rubber chicken Democratic campaign fundraiser.

If Obama wanted to extract himself from this public relations debacle while honoring the legacy of the worthy recipients of the past, the president should emulate Beyonce Knowles, who gracefully stepped aside in deference to a young lady whose moment in the sun had been denied by a egotistical thug, though one sans olive drab military uniform.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Some Early Predictions for 2011

Though roughly two years away from Louisiana’s state elections, here are a few predictions and scenarios that I can see playing out.

1) Return of the Pay Raise Furor Though every recall attempt targeting legislators who voted to significantly raise their salary fizzled, the radioactive issue will almost certainly be resurrected at an inconvenient time for incumbents able to run again.

Expect the appearance of protest candidates on shoestring budgets that will almost exclusively run on the pay raise. While few of these single-issue contenders will be successful themselves, the “anybody but the guy who voted to raise his own salary” candidates could tip the scales to other challengers running broader, better financed campaigns.

2) Jindal for Governor…NOT President The frontloaded primary and caucus calendar combined with Louisiana’s current odd-year election schedule means Governor Bobby Jindal can’t run for re-election as governor in 2011 and then go for president in 2012 as he would be getting sworn in for a second term a week after the New Hampshire primary.

If anything, the recent flap over Governor Bobby Jindal’s weekend sojourns to protestant churches in northern Louisiana is the biggest tell that the Republican will be spending his 2011 summer working the cotton fields outside of Rayville and not the cornrows of Iowa.

Though the news reports of his “community outreach” via helicopter were not favorable, the stories have done him the favor of broadcasting to all of north Louisiana that he has been spending a great deal of time in a region that broke him in 2003, made him in 2007 and he’ll desperately need in 2011.

3) Landrieu for Governor…NOT Lieutenant Governor It’s with good reason that Jindal has spent so much time raising money out of state and it has little to do with a presidential run, as dollars raised for a state race cannot be spent in a federal election.

The national Democrats have a history of aggressively going after the GOP’s farm-team and there’s no more coveted trophy out there than that of the young, Ivy League-educated Indian-American governor. Jindal knows the DNC is targeting him and has bused himself with securing the kind of campaign financing that cannot be generated solely within Louisiana’s borders.

With control of the White House and the Congress, the Democrats can raise loads of money for any candidate, though their options are limited. The state’s lone Democrat in the US House of Representatives will either have been elected or defeated for US Senator leaving the two Democrats holding statewide office: Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

Landrieu, who recently decided not to run for mayor of New Orleans- a race where he was the heavy favorite, would be the stronger candidate and figuring that he would not have the luxury of being opposed by a weak field as was the case in his last two campaigns, the lieutenant governor might as well gun for the top office if he is going to have a fight anyway.

4) Ma-Maw’s Revenge The biggest drawback to Jindal serving as McCain’s running mate was the prospect of Landrieu moving up if the GOP ticket won. McCain operatives were astonished by the protests by Louisiana party leaders and activists concerning the possibility of Jindal joining the ticket.

Neither Jindal nor the national GOP will make the same mistake of ignoring an office that could very well limit the governor’s national ambitions. Unfortunately the GOP hasn’t run a serious candidate for the job since Paul Hardy in 1991, mainly because it’s a hard to raise campaign funds for the office.

But for one potential candidate, fundraising won’t be a problem.

As of the last campaign finance reporting period, former governor Kathleen Blanco has $2.3 million in her campaign account. Though it was raised under the presumption of a re-election bid for governor, the money that can be used in any non-judicial state. Including lieutenant governor.

And here is where it gets interesting.

Had Blanco gone for a second term, there is a good chance Jindal would have beaten her. And though there are parts of the state where one spits on the ground upon uttering her name, the former governor isn’t a pariah everywhere. It was north Louisiana that elected her over Jindal in 2003, which is the region a Republican has to win big to offset the solid urban Democratic vote.

As part of her political rehabilitation, Blanco has re-emerged in the spotlight, speaking out on the need to protect higher education, appearing at political functions and working on a book telling her side of the Katrina story.

And if her return to the political arena is not greeted with alleluias, Blanco will be armed with a potent political weapon: she could boast that her return to the relatively innocuous position of lieutenant governor would be the political equivalent of chaining Jindal to a radiator in the basement of the State Capitol.

Jindal’s frequent out of state trips would end on inauguration day; his vice-presidential aspirations D.O.A.
If Blanco runs for lieutenant governor, the race for Louisiana’s second highest office could overshadow the contest for the highest, potentially putting Jindal’s political future in the hands of the Democrat who successfully stymied his ambitions eight years before.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saints Fourth Week Review: I-N-T-Cept...CEPT...CEPT...CEPT!!!

The Black and Gold defense and Pierre Thomas stepped up again showing the 2009 edition of the New Orleans Saints are not solely reliant on the pass to win games. What’s more, the win came through uncharacteristic circumstances as the defense outscored the offense.
For the second straight week, the Saints defense held their opponents to less than two touchdowns, largely contained the New York Jets’ running game and punished rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez with sacks and interceptions. Sanchez completed just over 50% of his passes for 138 yards.
To their credit, the Jets’ defense did show up big, limiting the prolific Saints offense to only 10 points in their own stadium; the Jets’s widely touted offensive line, not so impressive.
In fact LSU’s o-line might have been under the green and white gear.
Sanchez was sacked four times, picked off three times (one for a touchdown, one other just shy of a touchdown) and fumbled the ball in his own end zone resulting in a Saints defensive score.

What I Liked

The Ends Earn Their Considerable Pay If the Saints go all the way this season, an important milestone would be the NFL agreeing to forestall the suspensions of defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. The much-maligned duo has caught justified heat from the fans for their lack of production over the past two seasons. But they’re making up for it quick. Grant and Smith each had a pair of sacks and the latter forced the end zone fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Remi Ayodele for a touchdown.

Smith has already tied his sack mark from last season in game four of this season (3) while Grant has already exceeded his sack total from last season (3) with his fourth sack in 2009.

P.T. Cruises Again While the Crescent City has fallen hard for running back Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, who was set to start before he got injured in pre-season, has reminded the public that the running game is not lacking with Bell out. In his second game, Thomas ran for 86 yards (including a touchdown) and caught for 46 yards (leading the team in both categories). Thomas did fumble though the Saints recovered it. Once again this Saints fan is happy to not see Beanie Wells or Edgerrin James in a black and gold uniform as we already have the talent at a discount.

Why Drew Brees IS a Winner Funny how this is the first time I am mentioning Drew Brees in a game review. Once again fantasy football “owners” were crying on their laptops as Brees had a statistically modest day. That said, the Saints quarterback was a big factor throwing a good block for running back Reggie Bush and scrambling for a first down. Just as significantly he jumped on Thomas’s fumble. I was remiss in neglecting to note Brees’s running last week as the quarterback shows that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get a “W”, even if it comes at the opportunity cost of not racking up juiced up passing numbers.

Sharper Gets 2nd Pick-6 I am tempted to nominate the thirty-three year old safety for the People’s Choice weekly senior nominee. Darren Sharper is proving to be the team’s second best free-agent acquisition in recent history (Brees naturally being the greatest…EVER). Sharper’s two interceptions against the Jets give him five for the season and 59 for his career. It’s nice to have a future Canton inductee on the team.

Once again, why the hell did Mickey Loomis drag his feet on signing this guy?

O-Line Allows 0 Sacks Nuff said.

What I Didn’t Like

Go(h) For It Saints were 0 for 2 on fourth down. Granted a third attempt drew the Jets offsides which gave the Saints a first down and the goal-line 4th down attempt was parlayed into a forced fumble that gave the Saints defense the touchdown the Jets defense had denied the offense. Still with me? Admittedly I am a fan of conservative football and while the 1 yard line stance and an attempt to draw the opposing defense offside is smart strategy, the time the Saints got nothing for their troubles was a bad call. Field goals can and do win games and swashbuckling playcalling can just as easily blow a lead as it can build one.

reggie, reggie, reggie The celebrithete had a few impressive runs and averaged six yards per carry. But people aren’t going to recall that from this game. A costly fumble that would set the Eagles up for their lone touchdown and continued shaky punt returning has not endeared him with the crowd. The chanting of his name has been replaced with a collective gasp of anxiety whenever the other team is about to punt.

Dirty Sanchez I find the moniker irreligious Jets’ fans use to honor their quarterback more offensive than the aforementioned less flattering sobriquet. Sanchez had a miserable day after a charmed 3-0 start. Sanchez was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and had a fumble in his own end zone, though perhaps his most egregious sin was his chop-block to former Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma while he was protecting Sharper’s 99 yard interception for a touchdown. The “dirty” chop block resulted in a penalty and hopefully slapped with a stiff fine for Sanchez.

To quote Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. from Last Crusade, THAT’S for blasphemy.

Interesting Stat 1st The Saints currently lead the league in interceptions with 10. After some free agent signings and some cuts the team’s secondary is no longer a gapping weakness to be exploited.

An Appeal for Carney

With Garrett Hartley’s four game suspension for taking stimulants ending, the Saints front office is going to have to make a roster move. Keeping two kickers on the roster is unlikely, meaning kicker John Carney has probably played his last game in a Saints uniform.

The forty-five year old Carney went to the Pro Bowl last year as a fill-in kicker with the New York Giants and has been a reliable and consistent in a position that has been infuriatingly chaotic since he was released in 2007.

While Hartley has more leg strength, making him on paper an upgrade (we’ve heard that one before), Carney has gotten the job done, being 6 for 7 on field goals and perfect in extra points. Furthermore punter Thomas Morestead has booted some of the best kick-offs in years.

While I understand Carney is approaching the end of his career and that the team needs a kicker that can make the long-distance field goals Carney can’t, I am concerned about Hartley’s judgment. Oh, I’m also superstitious about cutting Carney.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saints vs. Jets Preview; Super Bowl Preview?

The Saints will play the last of their pre-bye week games against the New York Jets in the Superdome this Sunday afternoon, pitting an undefeated offensive juggernaut against an undefeated defensive powerhouse.

After two more difficult than the final score relates road games against mid-level teams, the Black and Gold will face its most formidable opponent thus far and perhaps one of the team’s three toughest games of the season (the other two being New York’s “other” team and the Patriots).

While the Jets were probably handicapped in the pre-pre-season as a probably win by the hoi polloi (including this self-anointed “expert”) because they are lead by a rookie quarterback, the 3-0 Jets have at this point shown the capacity to not just make the playoffs but go deep in post-season.

The New York Jets have one of the stingiest defenses in the league, giving up an average of 11 points (2nd in the league) per game, 256 yards (3rd), with an average of 173 yards (5th) against the pass. Their greatest trophy yet is their defeat of intra-division rival the hated New England Patriots, whom they limited to a whopping 9 points.

The Jets have been moderately less effective against the run, giving up 82 yards per game (9th).

The Jets offense has been adequate, led by rookie quarterback Alex Sanchez, who has become the toast of the town and heralded with a blasphemous nickname by the Green and White Devout. The team is 13th in points (21), 21st in yards (315) with a better running game (11th in the league with an average of 130) than a passing game (25th in the league with 185- an off game for Drew Brees).

The key for the Saints defense is to contain the run and make Sanchez carry the team, thus opening opportunities for picks. For all of his hype, Sanchez is a better leader than he is a quarterback at this juncture of his career.

Though Brees didn’t rack up in Buffalo his usual spectacular passing yardage, part of that had to do with the weather conditions at Ralph Wilson, which was windy for much of the game. Brees will be in his element on Sunday in terms of climate but will be facing a very aggressive defense. The blitz happy Jets are going to try to get inside his head and on top of his body early.

The key players in this game will be the linebacker corps on stopping the Jets’ running game, Reggie Bush and Lance Moore for their ability to get big yards off of short passes and Zach Strief, who will be playing in place of injured Jermon Bushrod, who himself was starting in place of injured Pro-Bowl tackle Jammal Brown, who has since been placed on the injured reserve list. Strief is going to be getting a lot of attention/pressure from the Jets’ front giving him an opportunity to demonstrate his worth and talent.

Odds maker Danny Sheridan favors the Saints by 7.