by Bert Bartlett
It’s not easy to go from 0-4 to 5-5 in the NFL. The Saints have done this via a long overdue investment in the running game that began 3 weeks ago against Philadelphia, with the same kind of effectiveness in The Ground Game that the Obama campaign mobilized to get voters out to get him re-elected.
New Orleans likes the sight of a posse – if it involves backs competing for yards and snaps, scattering like turkeys. The local media covers this team like white on rice, so it was peculiar that no one got to the bottom of why Chris Ivory had been so absent in the lineup, whether because of injury or being in the coaches’ doghouse, or any combo thereof. The gut says there was something there that some people knew that nobody wanted to talk about. Regardless, there is no more pleasant sight of the Saints than with #29 on the field, because of the physical attitude and capability he contributes to the team. Throughout September, the Saints were an abysmal powder puff bunch, with the media focus defaulting to how many yards Drew Brees threw for.
The Ground Game of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Ivory has turned this team into a legit one. Suddenly, Brees’ play action fakes when fading back to pass actually mean something. The offense holds onto the ball longer, keeping that vulnerable defense on the field less. And the physicality ripples over to the defense itself, which, despite its considerable shortcomings, now has something of an attitude, seems to be marginally improving, and has developed a stay with it mentality that has won games with some unlikely goal line stands.
At this point of the season, the national media loves to carp on about how many yards a quarterback threw for, some receiver or running back got, or what a defense gave up. It’s aggravating noise, and irrelevant. In today’s league, everybody gets and gives up gobs of yards to everybody, and the only team stats that really matter are third down conversions, turnover ratios, and red zone defense. The Saints have come up roses in these categories while turning things around. The Saints had an infrequent blow out the other day in Oakland, while Brees threw for a paltry 200 yards plus. Who Cares?
Is it too late to slip into the post season? Maybe, or not likely, depending on your appetite for optimism during the holiday season. The bad news is the Saints are staring at a close-up of Jaws down the stretch, into the teeth of a brutal schedule with little margin for error, as a half dozen wild card contenders in the conference clunk it out, likely introducing us to tie breaker rules in the last week of the season that nobody has ever heard of. Joe Vitt’s main challenge as a head coach will be keeping the team as fresh as possible during the weekly grind, as season long turnarounds of this kind more often result in teams simply running out of gas. But we’ll take this scenario over playing for next year, the lamest call to arms in sports.
San Francisco is coming to town with the best defense in the league and plenty of fireplugs on offense, the best team in the NFL at this juncture. Their back-up quarterback was impressive when they rolled the Bears Monday night. It’s as hard a call for Saints fans as to who they’d prefer to see under center Sunday as it will be for Coach Harbaugh, in deciding who to start. Perhaps the back-up, though having electric ability, would be alien to the hazards of the Dome’s noise that await him, drowning him into some confusion and bad decisions.
Regardless who plays QB, the Saints will have their plate full in defending Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, et al. Randy Moss has lost a step but is still capable, but can be negated by bumping around within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Kyle Williams has improved as a receiver. Gore’s back-up Hunter plays with urgency and impact. New Orleans’ defense may often have the look of trying to plug too many holes at the 17th St. Canal in 2005.
When on offense, it’s important the Saints stay grounded, though it’ll be more difficult to do so, compared to the teams they have been doing it against. It’s important the Niners do not know what precisely is coming their way next. Last time these teams played, Brees threw 63 times. NO ! Aldon Smith, #99, is a beast with a motor at defensive end and leads the league in sacks, opposite the now vulnerable right tackle position for New Orleans, after back-up Charles Brown’s injury. We are counting on coach Aaron Kromer scheming in some help on the right side of the line, perhaps with double tight end formations.
Last January’s playoff loss to the 49’ers out there was the worst in franchise history, because it boxed the Saints out of hosting the eventual champion Giants the following week, the last step necessary to return to the big dance. The 2011 Saints were good enough to win another Super Bowl. Despite turning the ball over 5 times and falling way behind, the Saints still had the 49’ers beat, except for another late loosey goosey Gregg Willams style defensive breakdown that left Vernon Davis open in soft zone coverage, and had the pedestrian Alex Smith imitating Johnny Football of Texas A&M in running down the sideline for a touchdown. The game legitimized Smith’s relatively disappointing career in the eyes of many.
And bitterly, plenty of Saints fans returned from the Bay Area with horror stories vowing to never go out there for a game again, having been given ruthlessly low class treatment from their fans, aligning them in the same tawdry reputation of those in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Oakland. For visiting fans, these are the smelly armpits of the NFL. This is a shame because obviously not all the fans in those places stink. There was a recent video on ESPN of 49’er and Raider Nations fighting outside the stadium before a pre-season game that was just pathetic. Macho Men! It made news video of what is going on in the Mid-East look intelligent. Idiots…
The Saints then have to return to Atlanta the following Thursday for a rematch against the Falcons. Anything goes when these two butt heads, though Falcon receiver Roddy White running his mouth is an asset for the Saints. Prior to losing here, he mumbled the word undefeated about his 8-0 team. That didn’t last long. Then, after losing, he said his team gave it away to New Orleans. Sure, Roddy. Goal line stands to win games are always gifts under any tree.
To stay in contention for the post season, the Saints have to at least split these next two difficult opponents. They have a shot, which is about all Saints fans can hope for, particularly when it looked like this head coach-less team was dead before October.
Souls Of The Saints Wishes Everyone A Happy Thanksgiving.