Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Road to the Super Bowl: Saints Wild Card and Divisional Playoff Scenarios for Week 12

Let me drop something crazy on you for a second. As of right now, it is conceivable for the New Orleans Saints to NOT make the playoffs. Sure it’s unlikely but it IS possible.

With the Saints’ win over Tampa Bay this past Sunday combined with losses by their other division rivals, the outlook is admittedly sunny…as in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Fl. sunny.

Below are wild card and divisional playoff scenarios:

Wild Card

Yes, I am cognizant that running through this exercise at this juncture of the season is about as absurd as doing a credit check on Bill Gates but I am going do it anyway. Why? Because it’s amusing to do so without beads of perspiration across my brow when evaluating such circumstances unlike almost every time the Saints were within striking distance of post-season.

The Saints can clinch a wild-card spot on Monday Night Football if they beat the New England Patriots combined with losses by the New York Giants (who are playing at Denver) and the Philadelphia Eagles (who are hosting Washington). Having defeated both the Giants and Eagles, the Saints have the straight-up tie-breaker advantage.

The Saints are assured of securing a wild-card spot if the Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and the Giants lose two games and the San Francisco Forty-Niners and Carolina Panthers lose one or if the Black and Gold win two games.

A loss by the Green Bay Packers (who are playing at Detroit) wouldn’t affect the Saints this week and it’s highly unlikely (the Lions haven’t beaten the Packers since 2005).

NFC South

As the Saints’ closest divisional competition are the 5-5 Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans least complicated lock on a playoff spot is by winning the division. A win by the Saints on MNF combined with a loss by the Falcons (who are hosting Tampa Bay on Sunday), would send the Saints into post-season. And while Atlanta is struggling, they’re not as bad off as the rebuilding Buccaneers, so a Saints loss is more probable than a Falcons defeat.

If the Saints win two of their remaining six games, then they win the division. If Atlanta loses two of their next six games, then they’re eliminated and the Saints win the division by default. The same goes if the Saints win one game and Atlanta loses one game.

Atlanta’s hopes at winning the division could be compared to someone clutching lottery tickets. Here are the scenarios by which Atlanta can overtake New Orleans for the NFC South:

1) straight up in which the Saints drop their next 6 while Atlanta runs the table, thus edging out the Saints by a game;
2) the first of the more complicated routes, where the Saints beat the Patriots and drop games to the rest of their NFC opponents while the Falcons win the rest of the games. This scenario would give Atlanta the division (at 4-2) and conference (8-4) tie breakers over the Saints, which would be 3-3 in their division with a 7-5 conference record;
3) if Atlanta won five games and ended one in a tie with the Saints dropping six in a row;
4) if the Saints drop their next six and Atlanta goes 5-1 with their one loss being to an AFC opponent, thus giving the Falcons the conference tie-breaker;
5) if the Saints lose their next six games and Atlanta wins five of their next six with their one loss being to an opponent from outside the division;
6) if Atlanta runs the table and the Saints only win in the next six games is against an NFC opponent not from the NFC South.

The strength of victory tie-breaker goes against Atlanta since the Saints beat the New York Giants while the “trade-off” loss by the Saints would be against Washington, a squad that is three games behind the G-men, necessitating collapses by both the Giants and the Saints plus a surge by the Redskins for Atlanta to benefit from this scenario.

The 4-6 Carolina Panthers could also beat out the Saints for the division if they won their next six games and the Saints drop their next six. A win or tie by the Saints or a loss or tie by Panthers would eliminate the latter from the division.

If I missed a potential scenario or if I botched a rule interpretation, I am sure some blogger would be most happy to scold me across the world wide web though I do believe this covers the NFC South scenarios.

Saints Week Eleven Review: Ten-Acious

Originally I was going to title this one “Perfect Ten” but as the Times Picayune ran that headline before I got this column out, I figured it would be more appropriate to develop a different pun for a headline.

It would have been fitting though as the Black and Gold returned to the dominating form after struggling (relatively speaking of course) since their road trip to Miami. After a first half that was starting to resemble the Saint Louis and Carolina quagmire-like contests, the Saints snapped out of it, made Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman look like a rookie for the first time after his previous impressive starts (once again, a relative assessment) and ran roughshod over the Bucs on both sides of the ball.

What was more impressive is that the Saints did so with some of their marquee starters ( CBs Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer, DT Sedrick Ellis and RB Reggie Bush) inactive.

With the Buccaneer season having ended long before the Saints arrived, the Black and Gold used the opportunity to expand their division lead over the Atlanta Falcons while maintaining the one game advantage with the Minnesota Vikings for homefield advantage in the playoffs and to rest some of their banged up players before the team’s biggest test this season when they face the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

What I Liked

Sean Payton’s Conservative Play-Calling Returning to the very field where the once pass-obsessed Saints head coach had his revelation in the midst of torrential downpour, Payton’s balanced offense put up points and controlled the tempo of the game.

Brees Finds Colston Saints quarterback Drew Brees reconnected with wide receiver Marques Colston after the team’s star receiver had an off-game in Saint Louis. Colston had five receptions for 74 yards.

Welcome Back Comrade Fujita Saints linebacker and Cal Berkley product Scott Fujita had a big impact in his second game back from injury. Fujita had 5 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove.

Special Teams Steps Up Of Thomas Morstead’s four punts, two were inside the Buccaneer 20 yard line with one being downed on the one yard line. Three Morestead kick-offs were touchbacks, limiting Tampa Bay’s one strong point.

Second-String Second-Line Continues to Gobble Passes Even with both starting cornerbacks out the Saints rookie cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and backup safety Chris Reis snagged picks.

Saints O-Line Gives Up NO Sacks Self-explanatory.
Meachem Haters Have a Bad Day Saints number one pick in the 2007 draft had two touchdown receptions.

No Breakout Runs This Week Unlike the Saints’ past four opponents, the Buccaneers ground game didn’t rack up big yards. Tampa Bay’s leading rusher that day, running back Cadillac Williams, ran for a total of 32 yards with his longest being 6 yards. Saints allowed 119 rushing yards on the day, far less than what Saint Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson accumulated on his own the week before.

What I Didn’t Like

Rookie Errors It was disappointing to see such poor time management and wasteful challenges made by Buccaneer coach Raheem Morris. Sure it hurt the opponents, but after suffering through the LSU-Ole Miss game, poor coaching bothers me in general. While it’s understandable for Morris to be desperate considering his opponent and the way the season has unfolded for Tampa Bay, such mistakes are inexcusable on this level and a possible omen that Morris is not the man to get the job done in Tampa. Blame immaturity though Morris, who is two years younger than me, can’t afford to make similar mistakes in the future.

Sticks and Stones- 15 Yards The penalty called on Saints running back Mike Bell for unsportsmanlike conduct after an impressive run seems ridiculous for talking smack to a Buccaneer defender. How far off are we from the day that all people who play this sport need to become eunuchs to avoid BS penalties. They must have had the SEC ref squad calling this game.

42’s Nonchalant Fair Catch With Bush and wide receiver Lance Moore out, the Saints put in three different returners. While none of the three did much, free safety Darren Sharper’s sloppy almost over the should fair catch could have resulted in a fumble deep in Saints territory.
Maybe I’m wrong on this one especially since I would be lucky to get through the first rung of the Coca-Cola Cash Catch, but from what I saw, Sharper did not properly field the ball during his one time up as punt returner.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Week Eleven Preview: The Important Game Is THIS Sunday, NOT Next Sunday

The early “10-0 to New England” talk from two weeks ago has subsided with the scare the one win Saint Louis Rams gave the undefeated New Orleans Saints this past Sunday.

After last week, a one-and-eight opponent is as worrisome to Saints fans in 2009 as third-and-one for a first down was for them in 2008.

And while the game on everyone’s mind is against the vaunted New England Patriots, a team the Saints play at home only once every eight years, the seemingly lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a far more important opponent than the supermen of the northeast if only because of the post-season consequences.

Though the Saints are virtually a lock to win the NFC South as the Atlanta Falcons trail the Black and Gold by 4.5 games with only 7 left in the season, the Dirty Birds are still in contention and if they were to run the tables and the Saints were to collapse then the division record tie-breaker could drop New Orleans to wild-card status.

I know this is as likely as Jonathan Sullivan being inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame but I’m also the kind of Saints fan that won’t yell “Who Dat” at a game until it’s practically over.

I’ve seen the Joe Montana-era Forty-Niners do far too many dreadful things to the Saints of my youth to take anything for granted.

The Tampa Bay contest counts more than the New England MNF match-up because it’s a conference game. Currently the Saints have a one game lead over the Minnesota Vikings for home-field advantage in the NFC. Unfortunately for the Saints, Minnesota’s single loss is to an AFC opponent so in the event the Saints lose to the Buccaneers and the Vikings win on Sunday, New Orleans would drop to second in the NFC because of the conference tie-breaker rule.

The Match-Up

Despite struggling with turnover and failing to make first downs late in the game against the Rams, the New Orleans Saints have the top offense in the NFL. Tampa Bay has the 28th ranked offense. The Saints’ defensive woes have them rated 21st in defense, though the squad is still better than the 29th ranked defense. The Buccaneers rank 25th in points scored with an average of 17.4 per game.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees needs to be wary of cornerback Aquib Talib, who has snagged 5 interceptions this season, 2 fewer than Saints safety Darren Sharper.

The Black and Gold defense needs to contain tight end Kellen Winslow, who leads the Buccaneers in receptions with 42 (twice as many than the team’s second leading receiver) and in yards with 454. Winslow also leads the team in touchdowns scored with 5.
The good news is that Tampa Bay’s running game isn’t as fearsome as that of the Saints’ last three opponents. The Buccaneers’ leading running back is Cadillac Williams with 418 yards, averaging an unimpressive 3.9 yards per carry. Williams’s longest run for the season is 35 yards so the Saints’ first-half run defense won’t be as challenged as they were against the likes of Michael Turner, Ricky Williams, DeAngelo Williams and Steven Jackson.

The biggest run threat the Saints have to worry about is that of Tampa Bay’s rookie starting quarterback Josh Freeman. The 21-year old first-round draft pick has lit a fire under the team since starting two weeks ago, picking up the Buccaneer’s only win against the Green Bay Packers.

Freeman has run for 60 yards in his last 3 games. Expect a few Tampa Bay first-downs to be made by Freeman’s feet and not his arm against a Saints defense that has not brought a whole lot of pressure against opposing quarterbacks.

Freeman has completed half of his passes, thrown 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The Kansas State product has also been sacked 7 times in his last 3 games.

The Oddsmaker’s Take: To Lay or Not to Lay the Points

Danny Sheridan has the Saints as an eleven-point favorite. On one hand, Tampa Bay’s lack of an offensive threat (at least the Rams have a top-tier running back in Jackson) and poor defense screams of a Saints rout, with so much of the Saints’ scoring defense probably riding the pine and their recent turnover struggles, a double-digit spread can make a betting man uneasy.

The Saints should have done victory laps around the Edward Jones Dome last week but costly errors, including two Brees picks and wide receiver Marques Colston’s fumble into the endzone made the game closer than it should have been.

That said, Tampa Bay is not as good of a team as Saint Louis. What should be of concern is the weather: a 30% chance of thunderstorms on Sunday. The Saints debacle in Raymond James Stadium last year was in the midst of a small monsoon where head coach Sean Payton unwisely called for passes that led to multiple Brees interceptions in the final minutes of the game.

As Tampa is 31st in run defense, giving up an average of 167.3 yards on the ground, running backs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell have an opportunity to rebound from their disappointing performances in Saint Louis. Running back Reggie Bush, who had his best game of the season against the Rams, will see little if any action on Sunday as he continues to deal with knee issues.

The Saints are due for a breakout game and if the defense can cover Winslow and not make Freeman look like Michael Vick, then the Black and Gold should beat the spread even with some of their defensive stars healing up on the sideline.

Last week’s game wasn’t supposed to be close; this one shouldn’t be close.

Getting By with a Little Help from the ‘Fins

The Miami Dolphins’ defeat of Carolina Panthers on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football puts the Cats 5.5 games behind the Saints in the NFC South and all-but ending whatever shot they had at winning the division. Carolina will join Tampa Bay as officially eliminated if the Saints win two games or if the Panthers lose one more. In the best case scenario, the Panthers will need to run the table or go 5-1 with help just to get a wild card spot.

The “sick old man” of the NFC South is likely heading to “rebuilding” status next season with major changes in store.

Tie-Breakers Galore

If the Saints beat the Bucs, I’ll provide a list of home-field tie-breaker scenarios next week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Week 10 Review: Saints Are 9 and Oh Hell...

The New Orleans Saints have set a new franchise record, starting the 2009 season with a 9-0 start and have equaled the longest consecutive winning streak in team history, as the Black and Gold has won nine straight during the 1987 season and through the 1990-1991 seasons.
Whether they set a new record will largely be determined by adjustments that need to be made in order to more effectively stop opposing teams’ running game and the ability of their battered secondary to heal quickly.
As alluded in the preview to this game, a streaking Saints squad faced a spiraling Saint Louis Rams team in 2007 with disappointing results. The difference this time is that the Saints managed to barely escape what in no way could have been considered a “trap game”.
The Rams, to their credit, anticipated much of the Saints’ offensive moves, exploited the Saints’ weak defense against the run and took advantage of a once dominant, now depleted Saints secondary. The Rams also managed to win the time of possession war and went into the second half tied with the undefeated Saints, something equally shocking to fans both donning black and gold and blue and gold in attendance at Edward Jones Dome.
Even the historic victory guaranteeing the Saints a winning season and keeping pace with the primary playoff home-field threat Minnesota Vikings cannot put a happy face on matters. The stadium was as quiet as a mausoleum for most of the game with the crowd not coming alive until the last few minutes of the game. With the stands far off from the field, the Saints offense should have had an easy time communicating.

What I Liked

Not a Whole Hell of a Lot The Saints played one of THE worst teams in the NFL and the game went down to the last pass. The winning team can largely thank the losing team’s quarterback for bad clock-management in the waning seconds of the game. Had there been another thirty seconds or if the Rams had two time-outs, the results would have sent visiting Saints fans somberly walking out of the Edward Jones Dome to a funeral dirge.

The Underrated Get It Done It was a case of the black and gold “goats” beating the Rams on Sunday afternoon, with the wide-receiver nobody wanted picked in the first round of the 2007 draft , a sub-in tight end, the running back everyone wants to see traded and the kick return who was cut, though later resigned, coming through for the Saints.

Wide receiver Robert Meachem had a great 27-yard touchdown reception and 41 yards rushing. Meachem, who has amassed 71 yards rushing the ball this season, seems to be the player most skilled at executed those hated Sean Payton “trick-a-dickory” plays.

Running back Reggie Bush had the finest game of his season with two touchdowns, one on the ground and the other a reception and averaged 5.6 yards per carry AFTER you take out his impressive 55 yard dash. Kick returner Courtney Roby took the opening kick-off of the second half 97 yards for a touchdown, avenging his stumble in Miami.

Tight end David Thomas hauled in five passes for 45 yards, eclipsing starter Jeremy Shockey, who was covered as if he were the president, by three yards.

And finally back-up safety Usama Young, filling in for an injured Darren Sharper, picked off a pass deep in Saints territory. Had Young not also accidentally injured fellow team-mate Tracy Porter on a play, many fans might have forgiven that handicapped parking ticket after this game.

Saint Louis Hospitality Maybe it’s the humility kicking-in during a rough season or perhaps they’re just nice people, but Rams fans should be considered as some of the nicest in the league. Furthermore, the operators of the facility gave the Saints the courtesy of announcing their starters prior to the game in addition to other minor though noticed kindnesses.

Carolina Beats Atlanta The Saints now have a 4.5 lead over the Dirty Birds for the NFC South and the loss will hopefully drive down the price of tickets for when the Saints squad visits the ATL in December. The black and gold could potentially wrap up the division in two weeks.

O-Line Has a Solid Game Quarterback Drew Brees had more time to throw against the Rams than he has had in the previous few games. Though Brees’s numbers were not outstanding, the quarterback had the protection to make key plays.

$10 Parking under the Saint Louis Arch Hard not to remember where you parked your car, only a few blocks away from the Edward Jones Dome and a relatively low price.

What I Didn’t Like

Jekyll and Hyde Defense Running back Steven Jackson amassed 100 yards in the first half alone. In the second half, the Jackson was held to 31. Whether due to Jackson’s exhaustion or changes in the Saints defense, the Rams’ running game ground to a halt after half-time. Some solace could be found in that Jackson ran for even more yards against the Indianapolis Colts defense in week 7.

Conservative Play Calling I would have never thought such a condemnation would ever come from me regarding a Sean Payton team but when it came apparent that the Saints were not having much luck running up the middle against the Rams, Brees should have taken his chances throwing the ball more. While incompletions can stop the clock, a first down would’ve ended the game with the Saints’ offense kneeling the ball instead of their defense trying to swat away deep shots to the end zone. Maybe the two picks made Payton and Brees gun-shy about passing the ball towards the end of the game, though the futility of running up the middle against the Rams’ line made turning over the ball via punt or downs (as was the case) more of a likelihood.

Ain’t Going Nowhere Fast Saints running backs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Which begs the question, why Payton didn’t greater utilize Bush against a clearly winded Rams defense?

Marques’s Worst Game/Best Play Wide receiver Marques Colston had two catches for 17 yards and the end zone fumble that resulted in a touchback that gave the Rams new life. Colston’s play of the game was catching the Rams’ onside kick with less than three minutes left.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Week Ten Preview: Saints Hobble in to Saint Louis

One of the most regrettable aspects of the realignment of NFL teams for the 2002 season was the removal of the Saint Louis Rams from the New Orleans Saints’ schedule. While the Black and Gold’s big rival are the ATL Dirty Birds, the Saints have a special history with the Rams. The two teams have faced off 67 times since 1967 with only the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco Forty-Niners having played the Saints in more games.
Two of the Saints’ biggest games were against the Rams.
I remember the excitement in the Superdome on New Year’s Eve 1990 when kicker Morten Andersen booted the game winning field goal against the then-Los Angels Rams that earned the Saints a wild-card berth in the playoffs.
I was also there ten years later, when (Saint Louis Rams punt returner) “Hakim dropped the ball” and the Saints won their first ever playoff game.
The two teams had an intense rivalry developing during the Saints’ last days as part of the NFC West, a division they had been a part of since 1970.
The former twice-a-year opponents have only met twice after the Saints and Falcons went to the NFC South. The first match-up was a Rams 28-17 win during the ugly Katrina season when the Saints won a total of three games.
The other was an ugly loss by the Saints during what was an ugly season for Saint Louis.
After dropping their first four games in the Black and Gold’s bid to have a strong follow-up to their relatively successful 2006 season, the Saints had won four in a row to even out their record going into a hapless opponent. At that time, the Rams had dropped eight in a row and the Saints were expected to extend their winning streak to five against a weak team.
Unfortunately for the Saints, things didn’t work out that way.
New Orleans suffered a demoralizing defeat at home and gave the Rams their first win of the season.
If you wanted to know why so many seasoned Saints fans were so nervous going into the Detroit season-opener, it’s because bad teams generally end their losing streaks at the Saints’ expense, with the most infamous example being the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977, which ended their 26 game skid, a loss that cost Saints coach Hank Stram his job.
Though the Rams were spiraling, it was a game where the winless squad looked like all-stars: quarterback Marc Bulger had a completion rate of 82%, passed for 302 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Running back Steven Jackson ran for 76 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps adding the greatest insult to injury, Jackson also passed for a touchdown and running back Antonio Pittman, who had been drafted and cut by the Saints in 2007, had a 43-yard run against them.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees passed for 272 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The most telling statistic for the Saints failure was in their running game: the Black and Gold had only 11 rushing attempts compared to 34 by the Rams, signifying coach Sean Payton’s obsession with the passing game that for all intents and purposes resulted in scuttling two promising seasons.

Key Differences in 2009
The undefeated Saints will travel to Saint Louis to face an opponent whose record is not much better than the one they faced two years ago. The Rams are 1-7 and have scored a whopping 77 points, the least in the NFL. It should be noted that the Saints have scored more points in their first two games.
Though on the road, Brees will be playing indoors against a team whose defense is ranked 23rd against the pass. Even better for the Saints’ Committee on Rushing and Fleur-de-Leaping, the Rams are 27th at stopping the run.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams have given up the fourth most points in the league with 221.
Where the Rams have done well this season is on the ground, where Jackson has racked up the third most rushing yards in the league. The biggest weakness in the Saints’ defense this season, especially in the last three games, has been giving up big running plays. If Jackson has a game similar to Ricky Williams, Michael Turner and DeAngelo Williams, then Who Dat fans should keep smelling salts and IVs handy this Sunday.
There should be no reason for the team to have to “escape” Saint Louis with a win and I would be disappointed if the Saints don’t pummel the Rams the same way they stomped the Lions in Detroit last season, though the Saints’ injury list going into the game should make Saints fans nervous.

Odds and End

Odds maker Danny Sheridan currently has the Saints as 13.5 favorites. Though they are facing a weak opponent and that the Saints have covered the spread in 6 of 8 games, the Black and Gold have failed to cover in their last two games, though the Atlanta game was somewhat of an aberration since running back Mike Bell failed to hold on to the ball on what should have been a standard clock-run down carry.
The biggest question about the Saints’ ability to cover the spread is related to their most recent injury update: eight players did not practice on Wednesday, most notably defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who is still nursing an injury from the Miami game and is likely out until the New England Monday Night Football game; cornerback Jabari Greer, who injured his groin against Carolina; safety Darren Sharper, who has a knee injury; wide receiver Marques Colston, who has the flu; and wide receiver Lance Moore and center Jonathan Goodwin, who are both dealing with ankle injuries.
If Sharper, Greer and Colston play then I would be tempted to give the points. However, if the two star defensive backs are out, then we might see what we got out of this year’s first round draft pick aside from his play on special teams. If Colston and Moore are out, running back Reggie Bush will have his chance to shine or give more fodder to the legion of haters out there.
The only good news is that linebacker Scott Fujita had a limited practice.
If you’re a betting man, the question is this: are the Saints’ scrubs better than the Rams’ first-string players? Good enough to win straight up? Probably. Good enough to win by two touchdowns? Perhaps, but I felt a hell of a lot more confident taking the 14 points in the Carolina game than I do giving them against the Rams.

Monday, November 9, 2009

GOP Has Cow Over Cao Health Vote

“How dare thou Joe Cao?” asks displeased Republicans around the country in reaction to the New Orleans congressman’s vote for the Democratic national health care plan on Saturday night.
The Republican first-term U.S. Representative from a decidedly Democratic district has gone from being the future of the GOP, according to a then-euphoric House minority leader John Boehner, to quisling for crossing party lines on a number of occasions, most notably by providing the lone GOP vote for the ObamaCare.
That said, I’ll explain Cao’s vote, though not defend it. While I would not have voted that way, I also would’ve never been elected to represent Louisiana’s Second District in Congress.
Most observers felt that the Justice Department had a better chance of getting Jefferson out of office than Cao. But barely enough New Orleans voters (The Gambit excepted) had had enough of the stench of Jefferson’s political success in spite of marked bills found in his freezer. Republicans, independents, white liberals and a smattering of black voters combined to give Republican a modest 1,814 vote margin over the tainted Democratic congressman.
For all practical purposes, Joseph Cao’s name that day was “Anybody But Jefferson”.
The eyes of the national party, still swollen from the beating delivered by Obama and the Democrats the month before, could only make out through the haze a historic win by a Republican in a black-majority district, leading to Boehner’s now infamous ejaculation.
While hardly a seasoned politician, Cao was wise enough to recognize the circumstances of his win.
If Cao were to survive to redistricting in 2011, he could not afford to march lock step in one of the nation’s most hostile congressional districts for a Republican candidate.
Cao the Catholic announced he would not budge on the issue of abortion; Cao the congressman who would like to have a shot in hell at another term would be flexible on other matters under the guise of representing his constituents, who are mostly black and Democrat.
So what is the significance of Cao’s vote for ObamaCare? Well if you’re of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mindset, you can publicly grasp at the straw of bipartisan support, then again from her perspective last Tuesday was a Democratic success.
Cao’s lone vote would not have made the difference in the passage of the ObamaCare and hardly gives the legislation the distinction of being “bipartisan”. If anything, the opposition to it was far more bipartisan as 39 Democrats joined with 99.5% of House Republicans in voting against it.
What is the upside for Cao? There might not be one short of a few invitations to White House dinners and perhaps arriving back in his home country via Air Force One if the president invites him to tag along on a diplomatic run to Hanoi.
Politically this move that isn’t going to win any more votes he didn’t receive in 2008. The stark reality of the Second Congressional District is that a whopping 46.8% of the electorate in a low-turnout race voted to maintain the embarrassment of having an ineffective crook occupying a seat in Congress during New Orleans’ continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
If Cao’s vote on health care moved just ten of Jefferson’s 31,318 votes then that’s plenty though not nearly enough to survive a turnout spiked by US Senator David Vitter’s presence on the ballot and the reality that the national Democrats are going to make it rain in the Second District in order to take back the seat.
Procedural votes reflecting and policy posturing reflecting the views of his constituents won’t counter the fact he is a Republican, even if not a stalwart.
Democratic State Representative Cedric Richmond, who talked tough against Jefferson when he ran against him in the Democratic primary but lost his voice when “Dollar Bill” was in the runoff with someone else, immediately piped up, issuing a statement condemning Cao for previous votes that hampered the passage of the health care bill. Richmond has already announced his intention to run against Cao in 2010.
Another consequence of Cao’s ObamaCare vote is that the embattled congressman will have trouble raising money via direct mail solicitations from Republican donors outside of his district. In this partisan-charged environment, Ronald Reagan’s “80-20 adage” is an anachronism.
Since taking office, Cao has walked an ideological tightrope, supporting hate-crimes legislation with expanded protection for gays, which is an accurate reflection of a district that includes the French Quarter and the Marigny, while opposing Cap and Trade and the stimulus. But the latter is forgotten by conservatives but not by Democrats who will be sure to bring up those votes at a time of Cao’s least convenience.
The phrase “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” could not better describe Cao’s political situation.
Rather than react with rage, Republicans should happily accept whatever conservative votes Cao casts between now and the end of his two-year term, for they are far more in number than those cast by his predecessor and far more than those that will be cast by the Democrat who succeeds him.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Week Nine Review: Saints Keep It Interesting, Unbeaten

The Black and Gold are in unchartered waters as they've notched their first ever 8-0 start in the franchse history. Aside from the obvious (no losing season and they can assure themselves a winning season by defeating the hapless Rams in Saint Louis next Sunday), the Saints continue their 3.5 lead over the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South, are now 2-0 in their division and maintain their one game lead over the Minnesota Vikings, who were off this week, for first in the conference.
Going into the Miami game, the Saints had an impressive streak of having never trailed throughout the season. Since then the team has had to dig itself out of a hole caused by offensive errors and bad tackling against the run by the defense.
The Carolina Panthers' convincing win over the Arizona Cardinals last week showed that they were a better team than their 3-4 record indicated and ended their quarterback speculation with their strong running game and Jake Delhomme's improved playing.
Though the Saints rallied to defeat two teams whose running backs had frustrated their defense, the Panthers proved to be more methodical, keeping the ball on the ground at all costs thus minimizing the potential for a pick-6 from the Saints' wolf-pack secondary.
Eventually the Saints defense improved against Carolina's running attack in the second half, putting the game on Delhomme's shoulders. To his credit, the Panthers qb didn't through a single interception, which he had distributed generously at the start of the season, though it would not be enough after the Panthers fell prey to a critical error at the end of the game.

The Unusual Suspects

The heroes of this game were players that don't generally stand out. Though quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jeremy Shockey, wide receiver Marques Colston and free safety Darren Sharper did not have awful games, the big plays were made by lower profile personnel and others who have been criticized for their lack of production in the past season.

Wide Receiver Robert Meachem, the man nobody wanted drafted and who has taken a beaten in the blogosphere, came up big today with wideout Lance Moore injured, with five receptions for 98 yards, including a touchdown.

Running Back Reggie Bush Sure he didn't go flying like Superman but he did his job with plays that moved the ball. Bush had seven receptions for 37 yards (including an impressive one handed snag) and two runs for 16 yards.

Running Back Pierre Thomas scrambled for an impressive touchdownand fifty yards and five receptions for 31 yards, including one for 17 yards.

Kicker John Carney Sunday could have been his last day with the organization had he muffed a potential game winning field goal. Instead the vetertan booted in three that kept the Saints in the game and gave the team its first lead on a day when Saints and NFL all-time leading scorer kicker Morten Andersen was honored as an inductee in the Saints' Hall of Fame.

Defensive Tackle Anthony Hargrove forced a fumble and had two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.

Defensive End Will Smith sacked Delhomme twice.

Cornerback Tracy Porter forced two fumbles and safety Pierson Prioleau also recovered a fumble.

Strong Safety Roman Harper and linebacker Jonathan Vilma each had 12 tackles on the day.

Did You Notice?

After wide receiver Marques Colston's reception in the end zone was ruled incomplete, the Saints sideline was animated with Brees insisting coach Sean Payton throw the red challenge flag while one of the coaches near Payton was flailing his arms down, insisting it was incomplete and not to risk losing a timeout. Payton hesistated but stood by his qb who did not have the advantage as others watching from above. The ruling on the field was confirmed though the gesticulating was noticeable even from row 30 in the Terrace level.

Another Monkey Off His Back

Payton, who earlier this season coached his first successful game after a bye week, got to snap another unpleasant streak finally defeating the Panthers in the Superdome. Consequently, Delhomme's unbeaten record as a starting quarterback in the dome came to an end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Saints vs. Panthers Preview: The Admiral Ackbar Bowl?

“It’s a trap!” exclaimed Rebel armada commander Admiral Ackbar when facing what he did realize was an armed and fully operational Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
The New Orleans Saints open up a 14 point favorite against the Carolina Panthers this Sunday afternoon in the Superdome. Though the Black and Gold had covered the spread in every game going into Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons (and would have covered in that game as well had Saints running back Mike Bell had better ball control), two full-touchdowns sounds like a lot against a team Sean Payton has yet to beat in the Superdome (Saints haven’t beaten the Panthers in New Orleans since 2001).
Despite a 3-4 record, the Panthers have shown signs of life as of late. Last Sunday, they defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the desert by score of 34-21. The Panthers also have the fifth best running game in the league and the top passing defense in football.
The Saints struggled against Falcons running back Michael Turner on Monday night. Turner, who wasn’t having that good of a season until then, racked up 151 ground yards against the Saints’ run defense.
Former Saints back-up quarterback Jake Delhomme’s tenure as quarterback has been questioned for much of the early part of the 2009 season, having thrown 13 interceptions and lost two fumbles already. Looking to avoid giving the game to the Saints’ very dangerous secondary, expect the Panthers to keep the ball on the ground for much of the game, taking their chances against a Sedrick Ellis-less Saints defensive line.
Turnovers will largely decide this game: can the Saints jump to an early lead to put the fate of the game on Delhomme’s shoulders or will Saints quarterback Drew Brees be forced into making bad throws.
An advantage the Saints have is that the Carolina defense has not had much success stopping the run, ranking 24th in the NFL allowing 127.6 yards per game on the ground. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Bell need to establish the ground game early to wear down the Carolina defense but also give Brees some breathing room, something he didn’t have much of in the first half of the Falcons game.
Carolina is trying to return to playoff contention: a loss to a division rival will complicate matters for the Panthers. The road doesn’t get any easier for them with the Patriots, Falcons, Jets, Giants, Dolphins, Vikings and a rematch against the Saints in Bank of America Stadium in the season finale. A loss on Sunday could mean the beginning of the end of their season.
Sean Payton has gotten the bye-week monkey off his back; will he finally beat the Panthers under the dome? Probably. But not by 14 points or more.
Carolina represents the Saints toughest opponent until after Thanksgiving, when they face the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. With Minnesota having lost only one game so far, and then to an AFC team, the Saints cannot afford to lose any NFC games until the Vikings start to stumble- and they have a fairly easy schedule for the remainder of the season. A loss to Carolina drops the Saints below the Vikings as the second team in the NFC. If the Saints want to host the NFC Championship game, the Saints need to be perfect and avoid re-enacting the sloppy play against Atlanta.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week Eight Review: Saints Are 7-0, But Not Perfect

Against Miami last week, the Black and Gold found a way to win. Against Atlanta on Monday night, they almost found a way to lose.
There’s no denying the importance of a win against Atlanta, no matter how ugly it was. The Saints record their first divisional win and against their biggest threat for the NFC West. With the victory, the Saints enjoy a 3.5 game lead over the ATL and in the big picture, one game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Saints played sloppy presenting the desperate Dirty Birds with opportunities to climb back into a game that the home team should have put away well before the final seconds ticked down.

What I Liked

Sean Payton’s Play-Calling Saints hit a near even balance with quarterback Drew Brees passing 33 times and the Saints running the ball 35 and not force-feeding the ball running back Reggie Bush, who has struggled as receiver, punter returner and running back this season.

Drew Dat Brees connects on 25 of his 33 passing attempts for a 76% completion rate with two touchdowns and a scramble for four yards. Brees spread the ball to eight different receivers for 308 yards with wide receiver Marquis Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey combining for 157 yards.

Pierre Thomas Keeps Making a Name for Himself Maybe the Saints’ resident superstar should take some notes on the play of the undrafted Thomas? Number twenty-three ran for 91 yards, including a 22 yard touchdown and made two catches for nine yards, including a one yard touchdown reception.

Saints’ “Second-Line” Marches In (Again) Though some big plays were given up, the defensive backs snared three of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s passes with cornerback Jabari Greer taking one back to the house for six and cornerback Tracy Porter, with help from linebacker Jonathan Vilma, stopped an Atlanta score with a pick deep in Saints territory. Strong safety Roman Harper had seven tackles. If the Saints go to the Super Bowl, it’ll be not just because of Brees’s arm but the secondary’s hands.

Smith Earns His Pay Today Defensive end Will Smith had a great game had two sacks.

SupaFreak69 Strikes Again Fill-in defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove gets a sack.

Poor Atlanta Clock Management Towards the Close of he First Half

What I Didn’t Like

Ding-Bell Plays WWL radio sports commentators encouraged the Saints gambling community to lay down the ten points and with two minutes left it looked like those who gave the points were going to collect…up until running back Mike Bell’s poor ball control during what was supposed to be a standard clock burning run. Running back Pierre Thomas turned over the ball as did Brees, once on a fumble that was run back for an Atlanta touchdown and an interception. Thomas’s celebratory extended-hula dance drew a flag. There’s nothing amusing about giving your opponents good field position due to unnecessary monkey-shining, one of seven penalties the Saints incurred for 65 yards.

Not So Special Teams Kick-off coverage was poor. Kicker John Carney missed a field goal. Atlanta recovers their on-side kick late in the fourth quarter after the ball bounced out of tight end Dave Thomas’s hands. On the upside, kick returner Courtney Roby averaged 29 yards on his three returns and punter Thomas Morstead averaged 40 yards on his two punts.

Turner Runeth Over Atlanta running back Michael Turner was having a disappointing season up until the Monday night game. Turner racked up 151 yards on the ground, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. The Saints’ run defense needs to be improved going into a run-happy Carolina Panthers team this Sunday.

Facts of the Week

The last time the Saints started 7-0 was in 1991 when the Black and Gold won the NFC West with an 11-5 record.

As of Week 9, six of the Saints’ next nine opponents have losing records.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bidding Farewell to My Political "Grandfather"

Last Thursday, I lost a good friend, Republicans lost the trailblazing leader most responsible of getting the party “out of the phone booth” and Louisiana lost one of the most honorable leaders to hold high office with the passing of Dave Treen.
The first time I had a conversation with the former governor was in 1992, when he was running then-President George H.W.Bush’s re-election campaign. Our talk pertained to the Louisiana Republican State Committee, a board that I had planned on running for that Fall but couldn’t as I missed the minimum age requirement by a few days.
Treen went into great detail, something he was known to do on virtually any matter, about the mechanics of the governing board and even mailed me information on the subject.
After the Bush defeat, I made a point of keeping in touch with the former governor, inviting him to speak to the LSU College Republicans, something he graciously did on a regular basis. During a dinner with the leadership at The Chimes before his speech, Treen had mentioned that he had regretted winning governor in 1979 as he was happiest when serving in Congress.
After US Representative Bob Livingston resigned from office during the Clinton impeachment debate, I wrote a letter to the editor in the Times Picayune arguing that the former governor would be the most logical successor to Livingston as Treen knew the system and would be an ideal compromise candidate for the staunch Republican district. Treen called me up the morning it appeared to thank me for the gesture and asked that I help him if he entered the race.
The Treen for Congress campaign seemed unstoppable: it had the most political endorsements, media support and national backing from both Livingston and some of Treen’s former colleagues who had moved up the ladder with Newt Gingrich’s take over of Congress. Unfortunately, people who didn’t understand the new political environment and the dynamics of a special election ran the show.
While Treen’s advisors were encouraging the former governor to base his message on Washington contacts, opposing term-limits (!) and “bringing home the bacon”, I strongly urged that he run hard to the right to outflank David Vitter, who had “burned his ships” by resigning his seat in the state House of Representatives to drive out turn out in his district and heavily invested in his long-shot bid.
My voice was generally drowned out by the professionals and civic leaders and from then on I mailed Treen weekly memos pleading to establish himself more as a conservative candidate, something he was but whose credentials as such were often lost in his “qualified answers”. After the campaign ended, Treen sent me a letter thanking me for my unsolicited advice and asked me to keep in touch.
I took the man at his word.
The next year when I was seeking re-election to the Louisiana Republican State Committee, Governor Treen happily signed a letter of endorsement, which proved essential in countering the opposition I had to contend with from a millionaire social moderate State Senator.
Treen once again came to my aid when I sought a seat on the Saint Bernard Parish Council. Treen’s support proved crucial as voters who would not ordinarily take a twenty-six year old candidate seriously were more inclined to do so at the recommendation of a former governor. Treen also supported me in two unsuccessful runs for the state legislature and headlined a fundraiser for me in my 2007 run.
Treen didn’t have to do any of these things.
That he was willing to sign his name next to that of a supporter shows how much he valued loyalty and that it was a two-way street. Treen never let the prestige of the high offices he once held or his historical significance in Louisiana politics stop him from helping out others in small races, which made him different from not just most, but almost all other politicians, in Louisiana and elsewhere.
It’s that kind of unconventional thinking that led Treen to put his name out there on behalf someone else: convicted Democratic governor Edwin Edwards, a move has baffled many fellow Republicans and almost led to a censure from the state GOP that was mercifully and quietly quashed by the Louisiana Republican leadership.
While many people look at the imprisoned Edwards as just a crooked politician who finally got his just desserts, Treen viewed the continued incarceration fellow ex-governor as unconscionable because of Edwards’s advanced age.
To truly appreciate Treen’s public position on this matter one should be cognizant of the history between these two rival politicians.
Edwards defeated Treen twice for the state’s top office and on the second occasion tormented the Republican incumbent with brutal taunts (example: “Dave Treen is so slow that it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes”) and unseated him by a landslide.
While many petty politicians would be inclined to dance on the graves of their enemies, there was Treen, risking his personal reputation and his stature as a Republican leader on behalf of a man who made his political life a living hell.
Regardless of your opinion concerning whether Edwards’s prison sentence should be commuted (a pardon was never advocated by Treen), one must admire the former governor’s capacity to personally forgive his opponent and willingness to risk his public standing due to his conscience.
It could be said that Dave Treen was a better Christian than he was a Republican, and that in no way is a bad thing.