This Sunday the Saints will be tasked once again with defending against a familiar nemesis in Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. Considering how poorly the Saints pass defense looked against the Washington Redskins, this should cause some concern.
Fortunately, the Saints defense will be facing a Panthers offense that did not look too blazing hot in a 16-10 opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite not scoring, Smith had a solid game, catching 7 passes for 106 yards. However, with running back Jonathan Stewart sidelined with an injury, the Panthers offese was too one dimensional and they were unable to put up enough points to topple the Bucs.
As a frequent thorn in the side to the Saints defense, Smith made headlines this offseason commenting on Bountygate. During an interview last April, Smith told Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com that a Saints player had admitted to him after a play that the Saints player would be fined if he didn’t go after his [Smith's] legs while out of bounds. Smith also added that after the final regular season game between the Saints and Panthers, Gregg Williams admitted it but says that’s just who he is.
Smith’s comments have led many to point to Roman Harper’s late hit on him in the end zone after his touchdown as part of a pay to injure scheme. While it was a cheap shot by Harper, it really didn’t seem anywhere close to having the intentional force necessary to inflict injury.
Smith really seems to be the only opposing NFL player to call the Saints out on Bountygate. Considering how defensive the Saints players have been in denying that a pay-for-injure plan didn’t exist, will his comments provide them with extra incentive to shut him down?
And even if Smith’s comments do provide extra motivation, is the Saints defense even good enough to follow up on it? Saturday’s performance against the Redskins and the generous welcome to the NFL party they gave for Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris makes you wonder if they can.
May I suggest, though, that if Roman Harper gets the chance to put another lick on Smith, he not try to do it after Smith scores a touchdown, but instead takes a cue from fellow former Alabama defensive back and Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Mark Barron in the following video:
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This is what the 2012 New Orleans Saints are trying to make, and it is also what they will be fighting against. The long and arduous path to Super Bowl XLVII ends in New Orleans and the Saints need only look at the turf beneath their feet to see their destination. Not only does the Lombardi Trophy await the last team standing on Super Sunday, but for the Saints redemption awaits as well.
The Saints have every excuse in the world to tank this season, and few would blame them for failure in 2012. It will take a mentally tough and united franchise to make success out of the events of this offseason and the Saints will face tests no other franchise has faced before. Ultimately, the Saints have far more reasons to succeed and redeem themselves than they do to fail this season.
Can the Saints win Super Bowl XLVII at home and make NFL history? Absolutely. Will they pull off this unprecedented feat? Well, in a word…
In part one I chronicled the historical difficulty of a host franchise playing in a Super Bowl and how it has never been done before. In part two I explored the difficulties and distractions the Saints could face in hosting a Super Bowl. In the end though, it is my opinion that the negatives and historical difficulties will be outweighed by varying factors that will work in the Saints favor this season.
The NFL’s most feared offense remains in tact and the Saints defense finds itself better prepared to complement this offense than they did in the last two seasons. The Saints stability in their leadership core will fill the vacuum left by Coach Payton. He will be too valuable to replace, but the Saints can weather the storm for one season without him and balance the ship toward success.
The Saints just needed a little more defense at just the right time to potentially win another Super Bowl last season. The Saints are just a little balance away from dangerous to dominant. In defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and some key free agent signings, the Saints may just have found that balance. With Coach Spags, the Saints should find themselves in a more balanced and productive defense. Not as tepid as under Gibbs, and not as reckless and predictable as under Williams.
The Saints offense will likely not break records as they did in 2011 and it would not be surprising to see the Saints be a slight step slower without Coach Payton, but they should still be among the top 3 offenses in the league. The Saints don’t need to be the NFL’s all time greatest offense to win the Super Bowl, they just need the balance between the defense and offense to keep their opponents offbalance. With their talented roster, this season the Saints should achieve that balance.
This may very well be the most talented roster in New Orleans Saints history. Brees, Graham, Sproles, and Co., how can you contain them? Lofton, Greer, Jenkins, and the rest, how do you attack them? From top to bottom this Saints team is as talented as any team in the NFL in 2012 and will be intimidated by no one. Talent alone should make the Saints a playoff contender, it is the leadership, strategy, and determination behind that talent that will lead the Saints to a title this season.
Although no host franchise has ever played in the Super Bowl, at least since 2001 no host franchise has had the talent and Super Bowl pedigree during their host season that Saints have in 2012. This combination of talent and balance will lead the Saints to success. The Saints are uniquely poised to make history and find the redemption they seek for their franchise and fan base.
This season the Saints will be playing not only for a Super Bowl title but for redemption of their franchise and reputation. Redemption can be a powerful motivator, especially knowing that redemption can be had under your own roof in front of the whole world. The motivation for the Saints couldn’t possibly be clearer. “Do your job” and focus on the goal ahead and redemption will be yours.
As fans, Who Dat Nation will continue to support the Saints with unwavering loyalty. The Saints will look to reward their fans in their own hometown. With this unprecedented amount of motivation, the Saints will be a very dangerous and determined opponent this season. The expectations from Who Dat Nation and the Saints themselves will be high in 2012.
Although the expectations in New Orleans and among Saints fans are high, the expectations of the Saints around the league and in the media are much lower. The majority of media “experts” have the Saints finishing behind the “dominant” Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South, some have even picked the Saints to finish out of the playoff race. They feel that the Saints cannot overcome the sanctions and distractions of the offseason.
These low national expectations may be to the Saints advantage this season. Let those “high-flying” Falcons and Cam & the Panthers deal with lofty expectations of NFC South glory this season. The Saints won’t have the NFL’s best record in 2012, but the team with the best record usually doesn’t win the Super Bowl. In the Payton era, the Saints have always played their best when the least has been expected of them. It’s time to show the league that the Saints have no plans to lay down and die. Not as long as Who Dat Nation has unwavering faith in their Saints.
When it comes down to it, as long as you are a Saints fan you’ve got to have faith that they are going to pull this thing off. Without faith in the organization and the team on the field, it could be a long, nail-biting season. For any fan base it is faith that the team will exceed expectations that brings in the excitement. As a Saints fan this year it is faith in the Saints that will cast aside the negativity of the offseason.
The Saints as a team will need to have faith in their team leaders, coaching staff, and front office. Faith has been a theme for the Saints since Katrina and the theme has never been stronger. As long as we, as Saints fans keep our faith in the team, the Saints will have their fans to pick them up when times seem tough. On Super Sunday, our faith in the Saints will be rewarded with victory and redemption.
So, yes, it is my belief that the Saints will make NFL history and become Super Bowl XLVII Champions. Who do I think the Saints will defeat in the Super Bowl?
The Pittsburgh Steelers. Why? Well, since 2003 only the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Indianapolis Colts have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. Without Peyton Manning, the Colts are officially out of the AFC elite class. That only leaves the Patriots and Steelers as AFC royalty and they, along with Houston and Baltimore are clearly the AFC’s best teams going into the 2012 season.
The Patriots are the overwhelming choice as AFC Champion and it is almost the obvious choice. The leagues best team (record wise) has not had much success in winning the Super Bowl over the last decade. The last team with the league’s best record to win the Super Bowl was the 2003 New England Patriots. New England should have a better record than Pittsburgh but as you can see, records aren’t everything.
Pittsburgh is older on defense, but still supremely talented and well coached. They should be very motivated and invigorated with a new offensive scheme this season. Now, at the end of their window, they will give it one last shot. They could provide the Saints with a fantastic Super Bowl matchup, if it is anything like their last matchup at the Dome (Halloween Night 2010) then we could see a classic.
The only thing more foolish than predicting a Super Bowl matchup during Week 1 would be predicting a score and, well, I won’t be doing that. I have faith in the Saints and I, like the rest of Who Dat Nation, am excited about the 2012 season. Here’s to 2012 New Orleans Saints, Who Dat!
Steve Smith on Saints targeting him: “This isn’t powder puff” | ProFootballTalk According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Smith avoided most of the questions when he was asked by reporters today about the Saints’ bounties. And when he was asked if he felt targeted by the Saints, he said that he feels targeted every week, because in professional football, opposing defenses are always looking for an opportunity to drill the other team’s No. 1 receiver.
Scott Says …: Cam Newton: We are better than that “On offense, it’s 11 guys who have to gel to make a play,” Newton said. “Defensively you can kind of get away with it with a single player making a play and making up the difference of another person. But offensively, if one guy slips down or falls down, it’s going to show on the whole offense.”
Bounty case underscores possible need for coaches union | ProFootballTalk The reality is that the squeeze the league is putting on the officials quickly would be directed to the coaches, if they ever try to become a union. Cornwell knows that the league is aggressive in such business disputes, and he also knows that the league would do everything it legally could to beat back a coaches union. Still, without one, the players will continue to have far greater rights. The coaches will continue to have, in comparison, none.
Our new sponsored series is supposed to discuss some of the positive things that occur in the Saints games each week. After Sunday’s pitiful opening effort against the Redskins, I’m struggling to come up with something here.
Really, I can only think of one play: the Martez Wilson blocked punt followed by the Courtney Roby scoop and score in the second quarter. So lets take a closer look at the only good play from Sunday and break it down. This will give me a chance to take the coaches film for a test ride.
There’s Wilson, with plenty of Redskins between him and the punter.
All of those Redskins defenders, however, turn their attention elsewhere, ignoring Wilson.
Wilson now has a clear path to the punter. Roby and Bush on the outside draw the attention of the blockers.
Contact! You’ve got to also give credit to Wilson for avoiding any contact with the punter.
Roby is all alone and has plenty of time to pick up the ball and score.
Let this Review of HansDat’s Hot Reads serve as your metaphoric couple of aspirin, ice pack, or ace bandage as we all try to turn the page on that fiasco and move on to thinking about the Carolina Panthers and another Heisman-winning running and gunning young quarterback…aw, cripes.
PRIMARY OPTION – PROTECT DREW BREES
What I’d Like To See: The line keep Brees from being sacked, and to provide a nice, clean pocket into which Drew may step when he needs those precious extra seconds that will allow him to get the ball into the hands of our offensive playmakers.
Well, Brees was sacked twice, suffered five hits, the pocket had all kinds of holes in it, and he was harassed pretty much all day long into a terrible passing performance. Among the 28 incompletions he threw were 13 defensed passes and some notable drops by his receivers. There’s no other way to look at this than as a FAILED HOT READ on all levels.
What I’d Like To See: I’m setting the bar very low here for a defense that is bound to experience some transitional growing pains as they work to master and implement new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s schemes. Be it upgrades Curtis Lofton or David Hawthorne, or serviceable retreads Jonathan Casillas, Will Herring, and Scott Shanle, or any combination of the above, all I’m asking for is that you don’t make me scream in agony at the television at missed tackles, blown coverages, and being caught horribly out of position.
Overall, these guys didn’t do horribly, but they didn’t do well, either. With the low bar I set, (I didn’t scream at the TV about them) this is a Hot Read: Achieved, but it’s not very satisfying. Here are a few things I noticed before I quit taking notes to exemplify this mixed bag: Casillas did make a nice stop on third down to force a field goal on the Redskins first drive, Lofton couldn’t complete a tackle on fourth down that would have ended a drive, and the first Redskins touchdown came on a play in which Hawthorne ran in on a delayed blitz and then the ball was thrown right to the area he vacated (GAAAA!). There’s still some work to be done there, but it’s far from god-awful, at least.
CHECKDOWN # 2 – HEY, R2D2!! R U READY FOR THE NFL?
What I’d Like To See: A shaky performance from a rookie struggling to keep his feet under him – at least three sacks, under 55 for a completion percentage, and two or more interceptions. They also need to contain him from gashing them with play-saving runs, too (under 20 yards for the game).
He sure looked ready, all right. I saw lots of heady play from this rookie. He totally killed Drew Brees in the passing stats, and ran the ball well, too (42 yards), but I think the threat of his run was more troublesome to the Saints defense than his actual running. The defense seemed to have a hard time keying on the ball when he ran those zone-read handoff/keeper plays. Another utter and complete FAILURE of a HOT READ.
What I’d Like To See: The Saints win the safety dance with their safeties getting more takeaways and pass breakups than the Redskins. Wait a minute, did I really type Safety Dance? Yes I did, and here come the Men Without Hats to celebrate with us (they’re really hard up for exposure)…you’re welcome.
Even the combination of both a Dickens and a Men Without Hats reference wasn’t enough to save this Hot Read. The Saints safeties must have left their boogie shoes in the locker room, as they were totally skunked in both of those categories, while the Redskins safeties notched three passes defensed and an interception. And indicative of the piss-poor showing is the breakdown of the 88-yard touchdown pass. Malcolm Jenkins rushed on a safety blitz and did not get to R2D2 in time, and then on the back end, Roman Harper failed to properly close on wide receiver Pierre Garcon, missing out on the ball and the tackle as Garcon cruised to the score. HOT READ: FAILED.
* * *
Well, that was fun wasn’t it? A failure rate of 75%, and the only reason it wasn’t 100% is because I cheated with incredibly low standards on one and then graded it on a curve. So, we have lots of room for improvement for next week, both me and the Saints. Onwards and upwards, everyone!! And if you’d like to share your thoughts and feelings, we’ll run some group therapy in the comment section.
Anytime you give up 40 points to anyone, it’s safe to assume the defensive grades won’t be good. The major concerns after this week are a non-existent pass rush and poor coverage. The really bothersome thing is that while I’m convinced the offensive woes can be cleaned up pretty quickly by eliminating penalties, I’m not sure the defensive problems have a quick fix.
Having Jabari Greer back would certainly help a lot, but the Saints‘ inability to get to the quarterback without blitzing hasn’t changed at all. I’ve said this several times now, but based on what I’m seeing from this defense, the margin of error for the offense will be incredibly small all season long. Hopefully they can bounce back. Make the jump for the grades.
Cameron Jordan: A- (3.67) Jordan deserves an A+ for his run defense. He was fast sideline to sideline, completely dismissed any “physical” blocking. He led the team with a shocking 11 tackles. He played hard to the whistle and showed impressive hustle. He did have a bad offsides penalty, and his pass rushing was once again limited. His lateral quickness and physicality was impressive, and many of his stops were right at the line of scrimmage. Nice showing.
Will Smith: D+ (1.33) The Redskins‘ tackle Trent Williams completely dominated Smith. Perhaps his lack of preparation played a part in his struggles, but Smith wasn’t good at all. He was mediocre against the run and non existent rushing the passer. The Redskins didn’t even double team him hardly at all to keep him in check. He finished with 4 tackles but can play much, much better than this.
Turk McBride: D (1.00) He was constantly blocked out of the play or running after a ball carrier in vain. His pass rushing was probably the worst of the team, and no one was good. He looked gimpy several times, so I have to question how healthy he is. McBride has a bum ankle all of last year it seemed like, and he’s already entering this season at less than 100%. What’s the point if the guy can barely play? He looked slow and completely ineffective when he was in. It’s time to let him heal and throw Martez in there.
Junior Galette: C (2.00) He had limited reps but didn’t get the kind of explosiveness off the edge I was hoping for to disrupt Robert Griffin III. He finished with 2 tackles, including one for a loss which was handed to him when a player fell down. He did a nice job on his other tackle of hustling downfield to force Griffin out of bounds short of a first down to force a punt.
Sedrick Ellis: B (3.00) He was very active and involved in bringing down ball carriers. He finished with 7 tackles and was disruptive against the run. That’s an incredibly high number of tackles for a DT. He gambled a couple of times and left nice cutback lanes for runners, namely Alfred Morris, and he was blown out of the play on one of the touchdown runs. Still, his overall run defense was promising. As far as the pass rushing, well, it was more of the same. He sucked in that department like every else. That all said, if he played like this every week I’d be satisfied.
Brodrick Bunkley: B- (2.67) You can tell Bunkley is the real deal in the trenches, and a massive upgrade already over Aubrayo Franklin. Of this I am already convinced. He had 4 tackles and often controlled the line of scrimmage. He gave his linebackers every opportunity to finish off numerous plays. In a couple of short yardage situations, the negative is he’d struggle to finish off the play to get the stop, but that was bad luck and I think it will come. I did see major sings of encouragement with how he and the new linebackers will help solve the run defense woes. Pass rush and pass defense are another story.
Tom Johnson: C- (1.67) He had one tackle in extended reps, and like Smith and McBride, he just didn’t look 100% or prepared. A lot of running after the play. Granted, the heavy tackle rotation that Gregg Williams used to run is largely out the door as Ellis and Bunkley are now getting the lion share of snaps. He was a liability when in the game.
Curtis Lofton: B (3.00) Lofton ran well sideline to sideline and the ankle issue didn’t seem to slow him down much. He did a fantastic job shedding off blockers, finding the ball and tackling physically. This guy really is as advertised. He finished with 9 tackles and I think you can comfortably get used to him having high tackle numbers. If I’m nitpicking he did miss a couple tackles and his coverage was only ok but for a first game you have to be mostly encouraged. He’s only going to get better.
Scott Shanle: B+ (3.33) It’s really too bad he got hurt because he was playing exceptionally well before the leg injury forced him to leave the game. Hopefully he’s back soon because I feel like Shanle has somehow raised his game yet another level. He finished with 4 tackles including one for a big loss in pretty limited playing time, and looked good on special teams and coverage as well. Hopefully the Saints get him back soon, historically he’s been a very durable player for the team.
David Hawthorne: C- (1.67) Just back from his knee surgery, he also looked gimpy and not 100% out there. While the Saints opted to keep Jabari Greer out of this game, there were a number of other players I’ve mentioned (McBride, Marques Colston, Will Smith due to lack of practice, Joe Morgan and Johnson) that looked out of synch and probably should have been held out. Hawthorne was one of those. The Redskins ran numerous wide receiver screens and he just looked incredibly slow moving sideline to sideline to get to those plays. On one 4th and 1 running play he was completely blocked and dominated out of the play. His coverage was also victimized often as he had trouble running with anyone he covered. Not a good day for Hawthorne, who I firmly believe should have been held out of this one. He just wasn’t ready physically. He did finish with 5 tackles and show some nice physicality, but I’m probably being generous with his grade. He was not good.
Will Herring: B- (2.67) Herring did ok in run support holding his own once Shanle left even though that’s clearly his weakness. His pass coverage, which his strength, looked fine too. He also gets a little boost for making a beautiful open field tackle on special teams on Brandon Banks and forcing a fumble. He had 5 tackles.
Jonathan Casillas: C (2.00) Casillas came in mostly on pass sub packages, and he did an ok job. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes or big plays, content with treading water in the new scheme. That’s not a bad thing, as Casillas has been known for taking big risks in the past and being a feast of famine type of player from snap to snap. I did appreciate the steadiness, and he finished with 1 tackle in somewhat limited reps.
Patrick Robinson: D- (0.67) Not running off the field fast enough on 4th and 5 was by far the most criminal penalty of the game. His lack of awareness in that situation was the most frustrating part of the entire game for me. Robinson was beaten consistently by the accuracy of RG3 and he took some gambles jumping routes that backfired a few times. His coverage was poor, and he wasn’t able to come up with an interception that could have helped the Saints stage a comeback. He did finish with a sack on a blitz which saves him from an F. In fact, I noticed that Spagnuolo sent Robinson blitzing a number of times. I also give him a little credit for running down Garcon on that TD and making a nice diving tackle effort that didn’t work out.
Corey White: D+ (1.33) The rookie from Samford got a start to begin his career and it was largely a flop. He did get off to a good start by making a beautiful run up and stuff, losing a blocker, on a wide receiver screen. It was all downhill from there. White was beaten a number of times, most notably on the 88 yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon where he allowed way too much separation, and a slant route to Aldrick Robinson for another touchdown. Not that this isn’t defensible, but White also lost receivers downfield when the Saints’ pass rush took too long to get to RGIII and the play would get extended further by RGIII’s legs. He had 5 tackles, played physical, and the effort was definitely there… but ultimately he hurt his team a lot more than he helped it.
Johnny Patrick: B- (2.67) It’s too bad he got hurt, too, because he looked pretty good in limited reps. He had two tackles, one of which was a beautiful open field stop, and he broke up a pass in the end zone by jumping a route and almost came up with an interception.
Jerome Murphy: C+ (2.33) He was thrown into the fire after Patrick’s injury and played extensively, without really getting targeted much or thrown to. He finished with 2 tackles and had a quiet afternoon, looking decent out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves ahead of White and Patrick soon on the depth chart.
Malcolm Jenkins: C (2.00) Jenkins was a mixed bag. He did a good job of finishing off plays that had a risk of turning big at times and he did have some real punishing blows over the middle that put a hurt on Redskins players. Jenkins did take band angles on other plays though, and missed his fair share of tackles. His coverage was ok and he didn’t play as bad of a game as I initially thought. He did come up with a nice hit on a blitz on RGIII on the 88 yarder to Garcon, too bad he got there a split second late.
Roman Harper: C (2.00) It’s hard to really blast Harper for what was the biggest play of the game. On 4th and 1, he runs downfield and has what I estimate is good coverage. He turns around, locates the football, and bats the ball away. Yes, there was some contact, but the pass interference flag was harsh and ultimately it was a back breaker to the Saints’ chances. I’m certainly not giving Harper a good grade, but I’m not going to dock him much either because I felt he made a good play. He finished with 9 tackles and was heavily involved in many stops and made some good plays, including a goal line screen stop around the line of scrimmage against Roy Helu. He was blocked trying to get to Garcon on the 88 yard touchdown. Hard to blame him again there, but he was overly aggressive to get there and once he whiffed it was all over.
Garrett Hartley: B+ (3.33) I’m not giving him a better grade than this when he barely had anything to do, but he was perfect in limited work. He was perfect on all three extra points and a chip shot 21 yarder which he put right down the middle.
Thomas Morstead: B+ (3.33) He gave a very dangerous returner in Banks some opportunities to hurt the Saints and I didn’t like that he wasn’t more careful. No harm, no foul, though. He boomed the ball all game long and got his usual touchbacks on kickoffs. He averaged 55.6 yards per punt (!!) and 48.8 net. So while 4 of his 5 punts were returned by an explosive playmaker, the net result was very positive.
Courtney Roby: A+ (4.33) Outstanding effort from Roby on special teams, and he earns the first A+ of the season. He got a tackle for no gain on a punt return (falling on a fumbler in Banks), he downed a couple punts, and he came up with a scoop and score on the blocked punt. That touchdown was huge and could have changed the game in favor of the Saints. He was almost always the first man down as a gunner. The Saints are lucky to have him on special teams.
Martez Wilson: A (4.00) He didn’t play much other than that blocked punt which created a touchdown, but that play alone is worthy of an A. Massive.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Cam Jordan
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Courtney Roby
” Unindicated The Angry Who Dat It was a hell of a thing when Steve Spagnuolo came into town and started talking about getting a pass rush with the front four. In all our glee, we forgot to question whether that could really happen. Well, it didn’t.
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