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….

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!