by Bert Bartlett
At the conclusion of the first quarter of the opener up in Green Bay, had the same pace of scoring been maintained, and for awhile there it looked like it could have, the final tally would have been 84 – 28, Packers. The defense of the Saints looked as sturdy as a piece of cake, and it already looked like it could be a long season on that side of the ball.
After the loss, the stark realization was that the Saints had given up a total of 83 points in their last 8 meaningful quarters of football (including the slip slide slip away playoff disaster in Seattle in January), while scoring 70, and were 0-2. Wait a minute, don’t the Hornets play in the NBA…..?
Though the Saints, still, were a few plays, or calls (!), away from at least tying, if not winning in Green Bay, and had put on quite a show for the whole country in defeat, some wary eyes in New Orleans turned to the defense, and coordinator Gregg Williams. Which he would expect. Finger pointing at a Super Bowl coordinator? Nope, just that facts are facts…
When the Chicago Bears came to the Superdome last Sunday, some of the fan sentiment was, OK, how many points are they going to put up? Much of the sentiment wasn’t about scoring though, with many New Orleanians remembering the bitter loss to ‘Da Bears in Chicago in the 2006 NFC Championship, preventing the Saints from playing the Colts in that year’s Super Bowl. Fresh memories of their fans holding signs with “We’re gonna’ finish what Katrina started” didn’t go over too well locally. Indeed, this game had more acrimony in the stands than amongst the players on the field. Security details were on alert. One fan said he’d be “seeking Bears fans out” in the Quarter the night before, whereas that was something he would normally never do, with Saints fans in general having every bit of ribbing capability as any city in the league, but hardly ever without good nature, and a genuine hope and appreciation that visitors to their city have a good time.
Coach Williams had his defense ready to play, and the result was only 13 points for the Bears, augmented by a half dozen sacks of their quarterback in the second half. Not many teams in the NFL are going to beat the Saints scoring 13 points…
Yet this is way too early to celebrate a trend, as Bears’ offensive coordinator Mike Martz is notorious for not keeping enough protection in the pocket for thrower Jay Cutler, leaving him often vulnerable, and they have one of the worst pass protection schemes in the league. It imploded on Sunday. Cutler was thrown around like a rag doll, and by fresh defensive lineman names like Mcbride and the rookie Cameron for the Saints (veteran Will Smith returns this week after a belated two game suspension for banned performance enhancing drugs from ’08). It was good to see the Saints defense get after somebody. Anybody! As too often recently, they had looked like they were just going through the motions out there. Souls Of The Saints is pleased to postpone nicknaming the unit the Sponge Boys for the time being, and will gladly trash it as the year goes along.
From Deep In The Heart …of Texas, come the Houston Texans and their gaudy uniforms to the Superdome this week.
They will bring a much more oiled offensive machine than the Bears did. Quarterback Matt Schaub is statistically one of the better ones in the league, and receiver Andre Johnson can run circles around most pass defenses. And they have a posse of young, swift runing backs that pop holes open. Defensively, pass rush specialist Mario Williams and linebacker Brian Cushing are good players. Former Saints interim coach Wade Phillips now handles them, and he utilizes the 3-4, which could sucker Drew Brees into who is rushing and who is dropping back to cover on the short pass routes.
The Texans are heretofore considered underachievers relative to their stockpiled talent and head coach Gary Kubiak is understandably considered on the hot seat, especially with Peyton Manning out and the Colts now lame in their division. Nothing less than an AFC South title and significant playoff run will likely save Kubiak. Owner Robert McNair has been plenty patient since hiring Kubiak in 2006. They have been a prototypical 7-9, or 8-8 type team, appearing to have the tools to be better.
The Texans and Saints do not have any significant history, the rivalry more about the interstate between the cities than the football teams. This summer though, the Texans and Saints got in frays in practice scrimmages, and in a however meaningless pre-season game, they beat up on the Saints when the starters were in. So they will come in here plenty confident.
This one has the scent of going down to the wire, and it would not be a surprise if it went into overtime. Besides a coin flip, it could come down to simply has a little more heart that afternoon.
P.S. Am pleased to now be a weekly guest, in talking about things Saints, of host Chris Champagne’s, on WSLA Radio (ESPN Radio), 1560 AM, Slidell, New Orleans, every Friday morning between 7 – 8 AM CST……