Second Place

by Bert Bartlett

Coach Sean Payton would have taken 15 yards from the refs for the late push that sent  tight end Jimmy Graham rolling onto his knee on the sidelines early in Tampa Bay last Sunday, tearing it up in the process, and reducing him to a pent up stance at the far end of the bench for the remainder of the half.  Payton, though in pain, did not miss a beat in handling his duties, yet the sight of him sitting there looking out onto the field beyond a cleared out sideline was a bit bizarre, foretelling a spooky afternoon for the Saints. You had to like it, though, when Coach pumped his arms in celebration while prone on the bench, after a touchdown catch by Marques Colston.  In the second half, when Payton had to remain in the locker room and watch the game on television,  assistant Joe Vitt assumed the head coach position, mildly reminiscent of the awkwardness when Alexander Haig once told the White House press corps, after an assassination attempt on President Reagan,  As of now, I am in control here….

Drew Brees and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael handled the offensive play calling smoothly, though the 4th and 2 call at under 4 minutes to play was every bit as loathsome to the eyes as a couple of similar situation calls in the opening loss against the Packers. The Saints Eleven have struck out on 4th down thus far this year. Former Saint running back Fred McAfee, somehow at the game in some capacity, shuttled notes in the second half back and forth from Payton in the locker room to coaches on the sidelines, earning this page’s Who ‘Dat Of  The Week award.

It would have been preferable to connote the award to somebody on the current roster, especially on defense. A cadre of no name, mediocre receivers from the Bucs roamed through the Saints’ secondary all day, as if taking candy from a a baby. ‘Dis was pitiful, embarrassing even.  And nobody hardly got within breathing distance of Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman, to decipher if he might need some Lavoris.  Toss in a 109 yard rushing day by a Tampa veteran back who hadn’t done as much since 2008, and the Bucs’ offense, which had scored 3 points the previous week, in losing by 45 to the 49’ers, suddenly looked like a well oiled machine.  If someone could bottle the antidotes that the Saints have historically provided to opposing players and teams in desperate need of a remedy, they’d make a fortune. Overheard in a coffee shop somehwere in South Louisiana: Yeah, the Saints got their asses kicked, even ‘da coach got knocked out….

What’s with this defense, anyway? On paper it obviously looks a lot better than when the whistle blows. Sure, the Saints committed 4 turnovers (more than LSU has all season), but ‘dat’s no excuse for the defensive backfield resembling green space in an open pasture, or near the end of the game, needing to get the ball back to Brees to have a shot to win it, they allow up-the-gut runs for 10 yards a pop, as if cleared out by a Mack 18 wheeler rolling along over speed limit.  It’s not like the players don’t know they are not getting opposing offenses off the field when they really need to  either, as several after the game commented and lamented as much.  And speaking of turnovers, namely the Saints inability to get any, (they rank 30th in the league in the turnover ratio category), if there were a stat for dropped interceptions, the Saints would lead it.

Hopefully as the season rolls along, coordinator Gregg Williams will find some answers (or perhaps a player or two before the pending league trade line), or this could be a long one, keeping a good team mired in mediocrity.  The Saints are currently a two loss team, one of nine in the league, no better or worse.  They blew a golden opportunity in Tampa to open daylight in their division, which is now a dogfight, and has them in second place. Most disturbingly, though the team has it’s share of resilience, it seems to play up and down to the competition, and lacks a good old fashioned killer instinct, inviting close games. Guys, put some bums to sleep early, so you can get some extra rest!  Hopefully, the national pundits won’t start referring to New Orleans’ team as The Big Teasy.

The defensive personnel?  Up front, the acquistion of Shaun Rogers at tackle as a reconstruction project yielded all kinds of media positives in the pre-season, yet here it is October and the big guy has hardly had his name announced over the loudspeaker (the media that covers the NFL is perpetually guilty of over-hyping new acquistions by teams in the pre-season, for an extreme example, see the Philadelphia Eagles). Rookie Cameron Jordan appears to have ability at end, but a step behind at this early stage. At linebacker,  Jonathan Vilma has been nicked up thus far and is beginning to show signs of some age. Jo Lonn Dunbar is lightning in a bottle material attitude wise and physically, but is still green.  Scott Shale appears adequate, if the objective of the position is to occupy space and make a tackle every now and then. Jabari Greer is as solid as and NFL corner can get, but the Saints seem undecided about who is best on the other side, young Pat Robinson (woefully left unassisted early in Green Bay), or Tracey Porter, who carries nagging injuries in his briefcase. Malcolm Jenkins is having an All Pro season at safety, but why the front office gave a gargantuan contract to Roman Harper is a real head scratcher, unless thay have plans to have him gain 25 lbs. and stay up close at outside linebacker, as he is often quite vulnerable over the top. Perhaps, as a group, the personnel is fine actually,  and Coach Williams’ schemes are questionable relative to optimizing the individual physical talents of his players. Souls Of The Saints cringed when it saw the defense playing more zone than man to man coverage when Cam Newton converted a touchdown pass from the 5 yard line on 3rd down in Carolina, when Tracy Porter was standing right there, when all he had to do was cover the damn guy. It’s not a fast defense, but it doesn’t have to be to be effective. We’re pulling for ‘ya to get it figured out, Coach…hopefully while standing up…   

Nobody is sadder about Peyton Manning being gone for the year more than the execs on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, who otherwise had a Super Bowl Redux to tout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this weekend.  Somehow, that name isn’t fluid, as none of these corporate stadium cash-ins are.   What about Benzdome? Or SuperMerc?

The Colts are one of three winless teams in the league, and are the greatest symbol that football, NFL style, has officially evolved into Quarterback Central.  In relief against the Steelers several weeks ago,  when young  Curtis Painter came in for 39 year old retread Kerry Collins, predictably,  passes started falling several yards on the ground in front of Colt receivers, though he made enough plays to keep it close. The Colts have been close in several of their encounters thus far, despite the kill-all-hope handicap under center.

We have learned, the hard way, to not underestimate any down-and-out player or team when it comes to forecasting the Saints!  New Orleans is a 14 point favorite, which seems risky given that the opposition gets paid to play, too. But the Saints should be up for the game, if only because it is on national TV.  As will the Colts…and it’s a treat Saints fans will not have to see the rankest looking uniforms in the league of Jacksonville, Carolina, and Tampa Bay like they have in consecutive weeks.

It will be bad news if the home team needs an onsides kick to pull this one out, like a most memorable one in Miami recalled in the link below (yet it would have all been for naught had the Saints not converted it into 7 points).  Some doubloon ‘dat ball was!  In fact, what is already missed in viewing this play is Sean Payton, coaching from an upright position.

The Onsides Kick, Youtube Video, 1 min. 34 sec.:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUM0m2q2gN4

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