Saints Lose (Part II) Tuesday, Dec 29 2009 

When I saw the Saints/Bucs score Sunday morning, I was relieved–Saints 17, Tampa 0.  My first thought was that the loss to the Cowboys paid off.  The Saints have been struggling at the beginning of the last few games, and consequently, have fallen considerably behind.  With Drew Bress commanding that potent offense they have been able to surmount comebacks in most of those games.

But this week, they were able to put up 17 first half points, and I felt very confident about the outcome.  What did I need to be worried about?

But lo and behold, when I went to ESPN.com to see the carnage the Saints unleashed on the Bucs, I saw this headline instead: “Bucs Stun Saints in OT.”  They lost.  Again.  To another mediocre team.

I don’t like to disparage other teams–tends to come back to haunt me–but the Bucs are not a very good team this year.  How could the Saints lose?  That’s a rhetorical question of course, and I know the answer…

I don’t feel as devastated as I did last week.  I kind of accepted that despite what all the NFL experts were saying for the last few weeks, the Saints’ opponents had exposed some of their weaknesses.  I think the game against the Dolphins was the first that indicated there were some issues on defense.  Had it not been for a quick-strike offense, I think the Saints would have had a couple more losses this year (the Redskins’ game for sure).

Sean Peyton may want to consider shoring up the D a little before the playoffs.  I’m not too sure who is available, but they need to get more pressure up the middle.  The secondary has been getting a lot of blame for the Saints porous D, but I think the problem is deeper than poor secondary play.  QBs seem to be able to roam the pocket against the Saints’ D, and running backs have been having career games.  The D did get a few sacks this week, but in general the pressure isn’t consistent enough.

But it’s not just the defense that needs to make adjustments.  There are a couple of key areas where the Saints’ offense needs to improve: first, the running game, and two, 3rd. down conversions.

The lack of a running game has definitely hurt the overall offense.  Drew Bress had been looking godlike all year long, but since the first Falcons game, has been pressing a bit.  He hasn’t looked as efficient, and I believe he’s trying to make up for the struggling running game.  I’m not taking anything away from the running backs; I think Heath Evans, Pierre Thomas, and Mike Bell have done a particularly good job this year.  (And it is unfortunate that they have all gotten hurt at some point.)  However, in recent games, they haven’t been able to assert themselves quite as well as in the beginning of the season.  I think opposing D-lines are hedging a bit.  Have you noticed how many batted balls Bress has thrown recently?  Have you noticed that he’s given up more INTs?  Although the NFL has become a pass-happy league, you still need a running threat to keep defenses honest.

And these issues lead into my next point: 3rd. down conversions.  Because opposing Ds have been able to play the pass, the Saints have begun to struggle with 3rd. down conversions.  In fact, I have noticed an increase in 3-and-outs.  Again, a running game that would keep defenses home would help them considerably.

Now, I’ll admit; I’m not working from any kind of careful statistical analysis, and basing my opinions on what I personally witnessed.  I haven’t studied statistics and quite frankly, hope I’m completely wrong.  I hope that without a whole lot of tinkering, the Saints will march right into South Florida and take the Superbowl with a dominating performance.

The only thing I do know is that I’m nervous.  I’d feel much better if the Saints handily beat the Panthers this week.  And not in a shootout where both teams put up 300+ yards passing and score over 20 points.  But a game in which the Saints dominate on offense, both on the ground and through the air, and on D by holding the Panthers under 10 points.

The Saints really need to get going and regain some momentum going into the playoffs.  I know they are capable!  Go Saints….

Saints Lose–Hula & Children Help Monday, Dec 21 2009 

I purposely waited to write this.  I needed to give myself space, an opportunity to let the pain from the venomous sting subside.

I haven’t watched ESPN since Saturday, nor a single game on Sunday.  I didn’t want any reminders or opportunities to ruminate about the Saints loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys.  The team that almost every NFL expert wrote off before the game.  The ESPN Sunday Night Football prognosticators unanimously picked the Saints over the Boys.  (Yes, even Ditka.)

I was initially peeved that the NFL Network picked the game up.  Apparently, you need DirecTV or Dish Network in order to watch NFL Network games in Hawaii.  (I wonder how long it takes before we’ll be watching the Super Bowl on a pay-per-view basis.  More on that rant another time….)  But in actuality, it was godsend.  I had other things to do, and considering how things turned out, I would’ve been more wound-up had I actually witnessed what transpired.

At the beginning of the game, I was monitoring the score on TV and couldn’t believe me eyes when it was 14-0 in favor of the Cowboys.  How could that be? It only got worse as I watched the live ticker on ESPN; it was 17-3 at the half.  I had to stop watching.  By the time I saw the score again (at the end of the 3rd. quarter), the Saints were losing 24-3.  I fired up my laptop and went to ESPN.com to get live coverage of the game.  By the time I logged on, the score had changed to 24-10, and then 24-17.  Was it going to happen again? The Saints were coming back.

The Cowboys were pinned deep on their side of the field; it was 3rd. down and they needed 17 yards for a first down.  The magic was beginning to work.  The Cowboys would have to punt, and Drew Brees would march down the field, score a touchdown, and send the game into overtime.

But the unthinkable happened; the Cowboys not only got a first down, but marched the ball to midfield on one play.  It didn’t get any better, and the Boys soon had the ball knocking on the Saints end-zone–well within any decent NFL kicker’s range.  So with just about 2 minutes left, the Cowboys sent place-kicker, Nick Folk, out to kick a 24 yard field goal (almost the equivalent of a PAT) to lock the game up.  The magic did happen; Folk shanked his kick and it bounced off of the right upright.

By this time, my wife and children were waiting for me to get off of the computer so we could all head down to the swimming pool.  We were staying at the local Marriot because my daughters had their holiday hula ho’ike (hula recital) on Sunday night.  But because there was a final rehearsal, picture-taking, and preparation to happen Sunday morning and afternoon, my wife and I decided to stay at the hotel instead of commuting with all of the kids back and forth from all of the different activities.

So I asked them to wait.  Drew Brees was able to overcome two 4th. downs and drive the Saints into Dallas territory.  My wife and kids were getting agitated waiting for me, and I was getting agitated because the game was too close–again! But, was the mojo there?  Was it going to happen again? And then the inevitable…Brees got sacked by DeMarcus Ware and lost the ball….

I haven’t felt that kind of pain I felt at that moment for a long, long, long time.  I remember being so consumed by a loss in the past that my entire day would be ruined.  Pretty sad when you think about it.  As I got older–say when I was in my mid-twenties–I was able to put the losses on the side and go on with the rest of my day.  Aside from some special ones (like the Saints loss to the Jags in 2003), I’ve been very good at accepting and moving on.  After all, I have a wife and children that need my attention, and other responsibilities to focus my time and energy on.

I was a little nervous about this one.  I thought I was going to get derailed.  Those old feelings were bubbling up from the depths of my youth….

But I realized something.  Here I was, at a nice hotel with my wife and children, which never happens.  My children, who are all very young, were so excited about being there, and I was feeling like moping around.  What the heck was I thinking?

I am happy to say that I was able to go to the pool with the family without being an ornery grouch.  Once we got back upstairs, had dinner, and watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which my children really enjoyed, I kind of forgot about the loss.  I told myself to let it go and enjoy the time with my family.  That’s why I decided I didn’t want to see, hear, or think about sports for the rest of the weekend.

By the next morning, we were all clamoring about to get to the dress-rehearsal and picture-taking on time.  The game was the furthest thing in my mind.  By the time evening rolled around, all I could think about was getting some nice pictures of my daughters dancing on stage.  When my sons and I went into the ballroom to sit down, we met my in-laws who were already there.  When we joined them, I noticed a guy who was sitting a couple of rows in front of us.  He had a Dallas Cowboys hat on.  I rolled my eyes.  What’s the chances of that? I thought.

By then, the show was to begin.  My oldest daughter was invited to perform a special dance that evening, so I had to rush to the front to get some pictures.  I felt so proud when she came out on stage and performed.  I was caught up in the moment.  I waited near the side and rushed to the front to get pictures of my youngest daughter when she came out to dance.  And then again, when my oldest girl came out again.  After my daughters’ last dance, I went back to sit down in my seat.  I saw the Dallas Cowboy guy again.  I looked at the “Cowboys” embroidered on the back of his hat and smiled.  So the Saints lost…my family won….

So here I am, Monday evening at home with my kids.  There’s a nice crispness in the air tonight–a nice sense of calm.  The children aren’t fighting with each other and they’re quietly watching Phineas and Ferb while I type away.

I think I will watch the late news tonight…maybe even the sports.  I don’t think there is much that can derail me tonight.

Whew! Another Squeaker… Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

Whew, another close one…

The Saints aren’t going to make this easy, huh?  Maybe I shouldn’t have announced my desires for a blowout over the Falcons the other day.  I’d like to think my thoughts aren’t that powerful, but who knows.

I don’t mean to complain, nor am I blaming the team for lack of effort.  I’m sure they care about winning even more than I.  They also can’t help that their secondary is beat up and can’t play.  I know they want it, and I know they will try their hardest to get it.  However, they really have to shore up their primary defense and cut down on the penalties.

Let’s get to my first point.  Although it is easy to say the secondary is the weakness in the defense right now (because it probably is), I’d like to suggest that the problem is deeper than that.  I think defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, knows it too; why else would he run a double corner blitz with a banged up secondary?

It’s because the problem is also pressure from the primary defense.  Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.  The Saints D-line and ends, although solid, aren’t getting enough pressure on their opponents’ quarterbacks.  Jason Campbell and Chris Redman are decent QBs, otherwise, they wouldn’t be playing in the NFL, but they aren’t as good as they looked the last two weeks.  (No offense to Campbell and Redman, both are young and will get better with experience.)  If the defense could get more pressure up the middle and/or on the ends, they would take a lot of pressure off of the corners and safeties. Given time, any decent pro quarterback can be successful.  Compound that with a weakened secondary, and you have the makings of a career night.

The Saints also have to get tougher on the run.  Michael Turner made the D look silly the last time the Falcons played them.  (Thank goodness he wasn’t available this week.)  Jason Snelling was threatening to do it again this week.  He made running up the middle look easy for a while.  Granted, the Saints don’t have Scott Fujita in the lineup and the secondary issues have put more pressure on Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle to make plays.  Regardless, someone will need to step up and start plugging the running lanes.

And for my second point, penalties.  I’d be interested in how many personal fouls the Saints have been hit with in the last four games.  Charles Grant got called for one right at the end of the half.  Fifteen free yards that allowed the Falcons to get into field goal range without running a play.  Whether Grant is feeling the pressure to come up with more pressure, I don’t know.  Regardless, giving up fifteen yards with less than two minutes to go in the half is generally not a good thing…especially when the defense isn’t able to stop their opponents from moving the ball.  (I was happy to see Sean Peyton reminding Grant of this point.)

Saints fans are lucky that the current offense can put up points quickly.  These last few games remind me of the old WAC (Western Athletic Conference): a lot of passing and scoring without a lot of defense.  I hope Drew Brees and the boys can keep it up.  The O-line has been pretty good at protecting Brees in the pocket, and Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, and today, Reggie Bush have helped to take some of the pressure off of Brees and the receiving corps from doing all of the work.

Mike McKenizie and Malcolm Jenkins looked good against the Patriots, so the secondary has the potential to be good.  If the D-line and OLBs can generate more pressure, the Saints D will be fine.  Hopefully, they can do it.  I don’t know how many more close games I can take.

My wife is a Cowboys fan, so I have a lot riding on next week’s game….  Go Saints!

Another Big Game Saturday, Dec 12 2009 

Let’s get this straight.  I have been a fan of the New Orléans Saints since I was about 9 years old.  The beauty of growing up in Hawaii is that we don’t have professional sports teams.  Yes, it is a good thing; we get to pick any team we want and don’t feel pressured to cheer for the team that makes the most sense geographically.

When I was old enough to care about sports, Pennsylvania seemed to be kicking everyone’s butt–at least in baseball and football.  I have fond memories of watching Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lyn Swann, John Stallworth, “Mean” Joe Green, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and  Mel Blount dominate their opponents.  Yup, I was sold.  I did what made sense: cheer for the Steelers.  My dad even bought me a satin Steelers jacket, a replica helmet, and a Terry Bradshaw jersey.  I loved the Steelers (not to mention the Pirates) and loyally cheered for them until I watched a news story about the New Orléans Saints.  I can’t remember the specifics of the story, but I do remember the reporter talking about how the “hapless Aints” won a game.  The news story coincided with a school lesson about the Louisiana Purchase.  I was intrigued.

I began to cheer for the Saints.  Believe me, there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about at first.  But then, towards the end of the decade, they began showing signs of turning the corner.  Jim Mora and a bunch of talented players came over to the NFL from the defunct USFL and immediately, the Saints began to show promise.  After the “Steel Curtain” in Pittsburgh, I was accustomed to dominating defenses, unfortunately, New Orléans didn’t really have one.  But then, the “Dome Patrol”–Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson, and Pat Swilling–was born.  Talk about a tenacious defense.

I still remember the game when Rickey Jackson walked out onto the field after having his jaw wired shut because of a car accident.  (He had that funky face mask, which he wore for the rest of his career, and still kicked butt.)  And the time when Dalton Hilliard pummeled All-Pro safety, Ronnie Lott, on national TV.  Times were good….

But even though they had those good seasons in the early 90s and at the beginning of the 21st century, championships and wins still generally eluded the team.  They seemed almost cursed.  How many of you remember the playoff game against the Jaguars in 2003.  They improbably scored a touchdown with 6 seconds to go and got within a point of tying the game only to lose when John Carney’s PAT attempt went wide right with no time left on the clock.  I watched that game.  Imagine the excitement and glee every Saints’ fan felt when Jerome Pathon ran the last leg of the lateral-relay to score that touchdown.  And then, the immediate and stunning agony we all felt when Carney shanked the PAT.  Talk about emotional roller coaster.

I had flashbacks last week.  I began preparing myself for the inevitable crushing blow when Garrett Hartley walked out onto the field for the second time in three plays.  I think Sean Peyton must’ve been feeling what I was feeling.  He sent Hartley out to kick for the win, but after a Redskin timeout, sent Drew Brees and the offense back out onto the field.  I though Peyton would keep them out there until they scored.  But after getting the ball centered and a little closer, he decided to break the curse.  I couldn’t look.  I squeezed my hands together and turned my head away.  Imagine the relief I felt when I heard that the kick was good.

This year, the curse seems to be gone.  Believe me though, I’m not making Super Bowl plans just yet.  I’ll count those chickens when they hatch.

That doesn’t mean I’m not optimistic though, just cautious.  They played a close game against Atlanta a few weeks ago, and will have to play them again this Sunday.  I’m hoping for a blowout.  I was trying to rationalize last week when it seemed that the Skins were going to end the Saints undefeated season that a loss would be okay because it would inspire the team and end the pressure of the perfect season  But, they survived and won.  I hope the way they won still has an inspiring affect on the team.  The pressure of the perfect season is still there, but I know they’re not going to give up.  They want that title just as badly as all their dedicated fans.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.  It’s always good to be good, but it never hurts to be lucky too…

It seems the magic is on their side this year…finally, for once…Go Saints!