Just want to preface this weeks TAWC with the disclaimer that I could not watch the game on the tele, so I had to rely on an unreliable internet feed, which was ALMOST worthless. I missed about one third of the game action, so this week’s article, like last weeks, will be more of an editorial as opposed to game review. Hope you enjoy it anyway…..
No boys and girls, I didn’t forget you. Just having some “meeting deadline” issues which hopefully will be rectified going forward. I’m moving the MAWC to Tuesdays in order to try to keep up with a schedule…..plus I figured TAWC is a little cooler – get it, let’s “TAWC” football?! Okay, pretty cheesy, but I don’t have much of a budget to work with so you have to take the bad jokes with the good ones!
Happy “Saints Victory Week”, WHO-DAT Nation! What a happy Sunday it was – Saints won & the Falcons lost, kind of a “double your pleasure / double your fun” type of day! All was not completely well in the Dome on Sunday, but a win is a win and while there are still plenty of questions to answer about the Offense, each week we seem to get more and more answers about the Defense.
Lets start with Rob Ryan’s “Punch Drunk Bunch” – originally I gave them that nickname due to all the confusion and shuffling they had to endure thanks to all the injuries on that side of the ball. Now I think it’s more fitting due to how often they’re hitting the QB and the state they are leaving him in – Punch Drunk! Heading into the season the most asked question on Saints fans minds was could the Saints D generate enough of a pass rush to make a difference in the game and help out the Secondary? Pretty sure we have our answer.
Despite losing a few starters on his Front 7 as well as a couple of rotation guys, the D-Line is still getting to the QB on a regular basis and what’s more is they are doing it with just four guys (sometimes three!). Run defense has been a bit shaking at times, secondary has given up plays here & there, but when we need the D to make a play, they do. Interesting little factoid for you – through 3 games only 4 teams have given up fewer points than the Saints D (take out the Pick-6 Drew threw and that number drops to 1, the Seahawks). The Saints D is currently ranked 4th in the league – incredible! Even if they don’t keep this up (which I really don’t expect them to do but it would be nice if they did!) they are still on pace to finish in the top half of the league, which is all Saints fans have been dreaming of the last few years.
We know as the season goes on, they will only get more comfortable in the system which should translate into playing as good if not better. The only real question is how will any more injuries affect them. I mean, how many more “next guy up” moments do they have left in them. I would hate to see us have to relive 2009 when they had to pick up a couple of DB’s literally off the street to play against the Patriots – oh, wait….how did that game go again? Ok, never mind. Since we seem to be having numerous similarities with that Super Bowl season, I’m not gonna jinx it now.
So three weeks into the season and the Saints are winning due mostly to the play of the defense. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Are the glory days of the Saints potent Offense behind us? Of course not but you do have to admit, something is very…..OFF right now. Honestly, there is no WAY the offense will continue to play this pedestrian all year. Sooner or later, they are going to kick it up a level (or three!). But the question remains – what’s going on?
What is going on with the “One Armed Bandit” Offense? Right now that name fits due to the fact that they seem to be playing with one arm tied behind their back by not having any semblance of a running game. Also, if they keep this up, Drew’s arm will simply fall off due to how much he will be asked to chuck the ball. Either way, something will have to change and soon.
All Sunday I kept asking what the heck is going on? Why no run game? Then after hearing Payton talk post game and looking at some stats, it kind of made sense. The Saints went into the game KNOWING they were not going to run the ball much. They planned on going pass happy. Arizona’s defense has been one of the best against the run so far this season and you’re #2 (ok, #3 or #4) RB was out with a toe injury (or texting his agent to see if any trade options were out there depending on which news outlet you read). They were also without arguably one of the best guards in the NFL. So ok, I’ll give them a pass – only because it worked and when they needed to eat some clock in the 4th quarter, they took the leash off of Robinson and he got it done. But what about next week? What about going forward?
I will second-guess some of Payton’s play calls (especially the obvious short yardage vanilla running plays…geesh!), but overall, I’ll never second guess his game plans – because he’s THAT good. But he is going to have to come up with something new for the run game because so far this season nothing has worked. Ingram is a complete waste in this offense – not due to a lack of talent, ability or game knowledge though some fans will debate those attributes. He’s a waste simply due to the positions he’s been put into. He’s not as dynamic as Sproles and he’s not as well rounded as Thomas. Is he better than Cadet or Robinson? Not sure right now (and a nice performance by Robinson during garbage time against a depleted and gassed Cardinal’s D doesn’t prove too much). Maybe the Saints can still prove Ingram was worth what they coughed up for him or maybe it’s time to admit they made a mistake (like Pittman a few years back) and cut bait. Bottom line is this: 1) They should never spend more than a 5th round pick on any running back again (because for the last 6-7 years they have proved they can find capable running backs pretty much off the street); and 2) They need to get something, ANYTHING working in the run game. If they do that (and the D can stay healthy) then they are a (deep) playoff contending team.
Oh, and speaking of questions – can somebody tell me how you lose part of your finger tackling someone?!……crazy! OK, now for the grades….
They finally got more touchdowns than field goals while in the red zone. They also were able to get a lead and eat some clock late in the game. Despite starting a rookie lineman, they were able to dial up some plays to help overcome some of his “first game jitters”. The only reason this grade isn’t higher is the monumentally HORRIBLE play call midway through the 2nd quarter on 3rd & 1 – you have done absolutely nothing on the ground up to this point in the game (only 2 running plays, 1 off right tackle & the other off right end, both for -2 yards, both by Thomas) so you decide to go in a obvious power run formation off right guard (yeah, the new guy making his first start!) with Thomas again. Good news was it was the best run so far in the game; bad news was it was for only -1 yard instead of -2. I almost dropped a brand new bottle of run on THAT call!
Had a solid game with 3 nice TD’s. Still had another pick and I don’t like it whenever Drew has to throw more than 30-35 times (he threw 46 attempts), but it got the job done.
Running Backs: N/A
Well you have to HAVE one in order to grade it. I know the game plan was to throw the ball (& luckily it worked) but the run game has GOT to get back on track. In most games, when you’re quarterback is your leading rusher heading into the 4th quarter, normally you’re getting your tail handed to you. Robinson played exactly like a hungry, undrafted rookie trying to make a name for himself, going 4 carries for 38 yards with a long of 21. Will be interesting to see how things shake out once Ingram is back from his toe injury. Would not be surprised if Robinson gets some more touches this coming Monday night.
Graham is seeing dollar signs with every slam-dunk over the goal post – he is clearly the best tight-end this league has seen since Shannon Sharpe. In all, 8 different guys caught passes to the tune of 342 yards. Looking at the snap counts and pretty much everyone was in on the fun – even “Boomer-Rang” Meachem snagged a nice 27 yard touchdown (hey San Diego – it doesn’t matter WHO you send us, we’ll make them look great!). When you have young guys as good as Toon & Stills sitting on your bench, you have to think this unit is going to be outstanding for as long as Drew is around slinging the ball.
Ok, if they had played this way with Evans in the line up OR had their run game been this bad while actually TRYING to run the ball, then this grade would have been more like a C- or even a D+. But considering you had an undrafted rookie making his first start at guard and a head coach who went into the game knowing he would be calling less than 10-12 running plays in the game, well then, they did “ok”. Pressure on Drew was something to be concerned with but probably expected thanks again to one of the most important line positions being staffed by a rookie.
Another week and another dominant performance (and another week showing continued improvement despite a player going down during the game). They held Palmer to under 200 yards passing, no TD’s and 2 picks. Thanks to the offense putting up some points, RR’s crew got to play with the lead, thus holding AZ to under 100 yards rushing. The got pressure on Palmer all-day and only had a couple of breakdowns, allowing only 3 plays of 20 or more yards. Tackling was solid and they seem to be getting more and more comfortable in the system.
What’s not to like? Strong pressure with only 4 guys, better gap control on running plays and solid tackling. Jordan (2) and Foster (1) got 3 of the Saints 4 sacks. If they can get a few guys back into the rotation it will be even better. What we though might be a liability going into the season is starting to look like a strength.
They showed good speed to the edges on run plays, Galette consistently got pressure on Palmer and Lofton led the team in tackles with 7 (plus 1 assist). Solid performance all around.
Defensive Backs: A
Congrats on your first (of many!) interception, Kenny Vaccaro. The rookie safety has now played every defensive snap of the season and has looked very good doing it. After seeing all the places Ryan has played him in so far this year, I won’t be surprised if he lines up as nose tackle against the ‘Fins this coming Monday night. Even with Harper out for the game, the “next guy up” crew still put in a solid performance, keeping each of the Cardinal receivers to under 6 catches and under 65 yards (oh, and no touchdowns and throw in a couple of interceptions).
Special Teams: B-
Special teams play was good. Morstead continues to show he’s one of the best Punters (& Kickers) in the league. Hartley was solid again after missing a field goal last week. Coverage teams did give up a 46 yard return by Javier Arenas and a 21 yard punt return by Ellington while the return teams got Sproles a 28 yard punt return. All in all not too shabby.