Week 3 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Vikings Offense

Look to see more of this on Sunday, as Junior Galette and Cam Jordan get back to their 2013 ways.

Well, the carryover for the defense from the 2013 season hasn’t quite happened. Not yet, at least. It’s been a disastrous start to the year for Rob Ryan and his defensive unit, surrendering not only a high amount of yardage, but allowing some of the most inopportune conversions you can imagine. Just as the story was in Week 1 against Atlanta, the defense just couldn’t find a way to get the opposing offense off the field when it mattered most in Cleveland. On the Browns’ final drive alone, they allowed two 3rd down and one 4th down conversions to let Cleveland extend their game-winning drive.

Through the first two games, the New Orleans Saints rank 30th in the league in total defense, allowing a whopping 446 yards per game. If you recall from my offensive preview, I mentioned that despite being 0-2, the Saints are the 2nd highest scoring team in the NFL with 29 points per game. You’d think it would be really tough to rank that high in scoring, yet still be winless, right? Well, when you’re the 31st ranked team in defensive scoring, allowing 31.5 points per game, it makes more sense. The good news? It’s still very early.

While the Minnesota Vikings defense has played pretty well thus far, their offense can’t say the same. Led by Matt Cassel, the Vikings rank 29th in total offense, gaining 286 yards per game through their first two contests. Averaging 20.5 points per game, Minnesota is 24th in the league in scoring. Their team took a huge hit last week, as news broke on Friday that Adrian Peterson had been indicted on counts of child abuse. The team deactived him for Sunday’s game against New England, then reinstated him on Monday with plans to play him against the Saints this week. Well, once news started spreading that Peterson had been accused of child abuse for a separate child some time ago, along with big sponsors threatening to pull their sponsorships away from the Vikings, Minnesota smartly made the move to put him on the Commissioner’s exempt list, which keeps him away from all team activity. Now, the bottom line is that Peterson will not be playing against the Saints on Sunday. I’m going to leave this matter at that, because I’m not here to talk about anything but the matchup. Moving on!  Continue reading

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Week 3 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Vikings Defense

Saints fans will forever be ingrained with this image, bringing up great memories any time these two teams square off.

On to Week 3. After two heart-breaking losses to open the season, the 0-2 New Orleans Saints are heading home for their first regular season game of the 2014 season in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They opened the season on the road at Atlanta, then at Cleveland, losing both games on last second field goals. While offense was not to blame in Week 1, they didn’t look quite as good last week. Still, though, the Saints come in to the third week of the season ranked 3rd in the NFL in total offense, gaining an average of 434.5 yards through their first two games. Despite being 0-2, they come in as the 2nd best team in terms of scoring offense, averaging 29 points per game in the losses. How are they win-less, you ask? Key turnovers and defense is your answer. We’ll talk more about the latter in the next preview, but today we’ll discuss why the Saints have to cut down on the giveaways.

The Minnesota Vikings will be traveling to New Orleans coming off of a dismal performance in their home opener last week, losing to the New England Patriots by the score of 30-7. The Vikings are 1-1, winning their season opener on the road against the St. Louis Rams. Minnesota’s defense has played pretty well, while it’s been their offense that has struggled. They rank 7th in the league in total defense, giving up 305 yards per game. They are also top-10 in scoring defense, sitting tied for 8th, allowing 18 points per game. Minnesota has a lot of young talent on their defensive unit, which is made up of five former 1st round picks. All of them were drafted by Minnesota, with four of them (Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Shariff Floyd, and Anthony Barr) all coming from the past three NFL drafts. Chad Greenway is the fifth former 1st round pick, coming from the 2006 draft class.

The Saints and Vikings are fairly familiar with each other during the Sean Payton era. Coach Payton has faced off with Minnesota four times, with one of them being the second most important game he’s ever coached in his life. As you can recall, the Saints welcomed the then Brett Favre-led Vikings to the Superdome in January of 2010 for the NFC Championship game. Without letting the excitement of that game get me rambling too much, Garrett Hartley helped the team make history, kicking a 40 yard field goal in overtime to send the Saints to their first Superbowl. New Orleans has won their last three match-ups with Minnesota, that game being one of them, with the last meeting being a 42-20 Saints victory in the now retired Metrodome. Despite the recent string of success, the Saints trail the Vikings 20-10 in the all-time series.  Continue reading

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Grading the Saints and Sinners; Week 2 vs. Browns

For the second week in a row to start the season, a last-second field goal sent the Saints home with a loss.

Offense

Passing: C

It was a tough day for the New Orleans Saints passing attack and it all started up front. Drew Brees was sacked twice, while being rushed on throws throughout the game. Along with Cleveland Browns pass rush, the crowd also played a factor. Brees had to burn two timeouts in the first half because he could not get his pre-snap checks made in time due to his teammates not being able to hear him. The Cleveland crowd certainly did their part.

Brees simply looked uncomfortable throughout the day. He had only one completion over 20 yards, with the rest being short throws or check downs. Brees’ stat line doesn’t indicate that he played bad, but it was apparent when watching the game that Cleveland was bothering him. He finished 237 yards on 68% passing, while throwing two touchdowns and one costly interception which was returned for a touchdown.

Aside from Jimmy Graham, no one could really get anything going on the other end of Brees’ throws. Graham finished with 10 receptions, 118 yards and two touchdowns, while no other receiver had more than three receptions or 37 yards. Robert Meachem, Kenny Stills, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, and Pierre Thomas each had three receptions, meanwhile Marques Colston didn’t even record a target. Many asked if he was even on the field. He played on 41 of the 70 offensive snaps for the Saints, second most behind Cooks’ 55.  Continue reading

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Saints Can’t Close Out Game; Fall to 0-2

Rookie Head Coach Mike Pettine led his team to an impressive victory over the Saints for his first career win today.

The New Orleans Saints can get upset about what the media says about their struggles on the road as much as they want, but until they learn how to close out wins in games like last week and today, they have no gripe. Once again, the Saints had the lead and the ball inside of three minutes to play, but failed to get any more points on the board and close it out. The Cleveland Browns won the game in the final seconds, thanks to a 29 yard field goal from Billy Cundiff to make it 26-24.

Unlike last week, the Saints got off to a very slow start. Disaster nearly struck on just the second play of the game, when Drew Brees had to chase down a bad snap from the shotgun, saving what could have been a fumble recovery inside the Saints 10 yards line for the Browns. New Orleans went three and out, totaling -1 yard on their first two drives, giving Cleveland great field position throughout the first quarter. The Browns capitalized on their second drive, taking 9 plays for 51 yards for a touchdown, which came on a 3 yard reception by Miles Austin from Brian Hoyer.

On the next drive, the Saints were only able to gain 10 yards on six plays, again having to punt. Taking over with great field position again, the Browns were looking to extend their lead. Billy Cundiff missed a 44 yard field goal off of the right upright, but struggling Patrick Robinson made yet another mistake, jumping offsides and bailing Cleveland out. The play was a 4th and 4, so the five yard penalty gave them a fresh set of downs. Four plays later, Cundiff hit a 32 yard field goal to extend the Browns lead to 10-0.  Continue reading

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Week 2 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Browns Offense

Jairus Byrd’s forced fumble was one of the very few highlights from the defense last Sunday.

Things can’t get any worse than last week, right? Statistically, the answer to that question is a firm “no”. The New Orleans Saints defense fell flat on their faces in an attempt to slow down division rival Matt Ryan and his Atlanta Falcons. After giving up 568 yards and 37 points, the Saints rank dead last in the NFL in both total defense and scoring after a week of play. The good news? They can only get better. Well, maybe not. After scrolling through my news feed on Facebook and seeing nothing but negativity last Sunday, I felt inclined to remind everyone that it was just one week and Atlanta is a pretty good team. I also mentioned that if Brian Hoyer comes out and throws for 400 yards on the Saints, then it’s time to panic. So, while statistically things can’t get any worse, they could in reality. No part of me believes that will happen, though.

The Cleveland Browns were surprisingly decent on offense in Week 1. Facing a tough defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road, Cleveland was able to put up 389 yards of offense, good for 13th in the league. They scored 27 points, which was 11th most among teams in the first week of the season. Quarterback Brian Hoyer played well, despite the continuously growing question of when Johnny Manziel take over. Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine said this week that Manziel will remain on the sideline, barring an injury to the starter, so for now it’s still Hoyer’s job to lose.  Continue reading

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Week 2 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Browns Defense

Marques Colston played his first career game in the NFL at Cleveland back in 2006.

It’s finally time to move on from last week’s heart-breaking loss. The New Orleans Saints now set their sights on a second road game of the year as they travel to face off with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are also 0-1, coming off of a 30-27 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland leads the all-time series 12-4, with the last match-up between the two coming in 2010. In that game four years ago, the Browns came in to the Superdome and gave the defending Super Bowl Champions fits, pulling off a shocker with the score 30-17. Cleveland won despite only having 210 yards of total offense. Drew Brees threw four interceptions, with two of them being returned for a touchdown by linebacker David Bowens. The last time the two played in Cleveland was in the season opener back in 2006, which was Coach Sean Payton and Brees’ first game with the Saints, which also became their first win in black and gold with a 19-14 victory.

As you likely know, the Saints offense is coming in to Week 2 already looking to be in mid-season form. That’s not entirely surprising, but certainly good to see after Brees missed two weeks of camp with his oblique injury and only played in one quarter of preseason play. He has his offense ranked 3rd in the NFL after one week after gaining 472 yards last Sunday. They scored the 4th most points in Week 1, putting up 34 against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Browns, like the Saints, had a dreadful day on the defensive side of the ball. They gave up the 2nd most yardage in the league (bet you can guess who did worse…), allowing 503 yards of offense to the Steelers. The 30 points they surrendered was 24th. Being a team that is going to lean heavily on their defensive unit to keep them in ball games, a performance such as this is very alarming for their staff. They’ll need to get it together soon and the Saints offense is far from the cure. Continue reading

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Grading the Saints and Sinners; Week 1 vs. Atlanta

William Moore’s strip of Marques Colston on the second play of overtime was the dagger in a rough day for the Saints.

With our first weekly grading session, I can imagine the scrutiny that the New Orleans Saints players endured at film study on Monday was much worse than what I have. Honestly, although the offense made a few costly mistakes, they played very well throughout the game. As for the defense, that certainly wasn’t the case. We can all collectively hope that Sunday was the worst performance on the defensive side of the ball that we’ll see all year, because it was flat out bad. With that being said, let’s dive in.

Offense

Passing: A-

Drew Brees made just one mistake all day. Unfortunately, it costed the Saints at least three points which almost definitely could have affected the outcome of the game. On a third and goal, he threw a pass too far behind Brandin Cooks, allowing Robert McClain’s outstretched hands to grab the ball. It wasn’t the smartest pass, but we’ve seen Brees complete that throw many times before. He even said himself that if he leads Cooks, it was a touchdown. Another factor that kept this from being an even better day is the drops. Marques Colston had both of those, with each being crucial. We’ll talk about that more in a little bit. With the bad out of the way, let’s discuss the good. Aside from Brees’ one mistake, he had a very good game. He completed 69% of his passes for 333 yards and a touchdown with the one interception. The only reason he had only one touchdown pass was in large part due to the Saints running the ball inside of the Atlanta Falcons 5 yard line. On the other end of Brees’ passes were multiple solid contributors. Colston led the way with 5 receptions for 110 yard and Jimmy Graham had 8 receptions for 82 yards. Possibly the biggest sign of hope of the day was rookie Brandin Cooks getting very involved right off the bat, hauling in 7 receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. The only target that he did not catch was the poorly thrown ball that was intercepted. Pierre Thomas was active in the passing game, as expected, with 6 receptions for 58 yards.  Continue reading

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Falcons Outlast Saints; Break New Orleans’ Hearts

Graham and the Saints offense’s efforts were not enough to overcome poor defensive play against Atlanta.

Well, you can’t deny that today’s contest was one hell of a game. Sadly, though, the end result was a loss for the New Orleans Saints. The Atlanta Falcons defeated the black and gold 37-34 in overtime after trailing by two scores for much of the first half. The Saints offense carried the team for most of the day and the defense couldn’t help pitch in when it counted the most. A Marques Colston fumble on the second play of overtime was the dagger for New Orleans, as Matt Bryant hit his second 50+ yard field goal within just a few minutes to close out a thrilling victory for the home crowd.

The Saints got out to a hot start, moving the ball with ease. Two Shane Graham field goals gave New Orleans a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. Mark Ingram started slow, so Coach Sean Payton inserted Khiry Robinson in to the game, who provided a spark to the running game. An 18 yard run in to the red zone, followed by a 2 yard touchdown run a couple plays later extended the Saints’ lead to 13-0. For a short amount of time, it looked like New Orleans could possibly run away with this one. Not for anyone who knows this rivalry, though, as these games routinely stay close. That was the case again as Matt Ryan answered with a nice 14 play, 80 drive capped off with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Roddy White to put the Falcons on the board.

Having their lead cut to 13-7, Drew Brees and his offense answered right back. The Saints went 80 yards in 9 plays, finishing off the drive on a 3 yard touchdown pass to rookie Brandin Cooks for his first score of his career. That touchdown seemed likely to be it for the first half, but after a touchback, Ryan picked up 58 yards on just two plays to Devin Hester and Roddy White, setting up Matt Bryant with a 40 yard field goal which he converted. The last second kick shrunk the Saints lead to 20-10 at halftime.  Continue reading

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Week 1 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Falcons Offense

The 2013 season for the New Orleans Saints defense was quite the surprise for just about everyone. Just a year ago, we were hoping that Rob Ryan could simply improve the unit from what was statistically the worst in the history of the NFL, to something in the range of 18th-24th in the NFL. Everyone felt confident that if that was the case, it would be good enough to allow the Saints to compete, given what you knew what to expect from Drew Brees and company on the other side of the ball. I believe it’s safe to say that no one could have predicted a top-5 finish. Ryan’s defense finished 4th in the NFL in both total defense, allowing 305.7 yards and 19.0 points per game. Simply put, the transformation was very impressive.

Heading in to the 2014 season, it’s not question marks surrounding the Saints defense, rather just one simple question. How much better can they be? The unit consists of a very talented group of young players, who will only continue to improve. That’s not just an assumption, either. For example, look at the team’s top two pass rushers. First, Cam Jordan improved his sack total from 5.0 in ’11, 8.0 in ’12, then 12.5 in ’13. Then there’s Junior Galette, who’s improved his total from 4.5 in ’11, 5.0 in ’12, then 12.0 in ’13. That’s very steady improvement, giving great reason to believe that the numbers will only continue to trend up. Factor in the addition of a player like Jairus Byrd and the reasons for excitement just continue to multiply.

For the Atlanta Falcon offense, they would love to them simply get back to their level of play in 2012 when everyone was healthy. It was a rough year for them in 2013, battling a slew of injuries. Roddy White played through an injury that he sustained very early in the season, Julio Jones missed the final eleven games with a broken foot, and Stevan Jackson missed five games with a hamstring injury. The Falcons finished 14th in the league in total offense, averaging 343.1 yards per game. They were 20th in scoring, putting up 22.1 points per game. Those numbers were a far-cry from their 13-3 season in 2012, when they were 8th in total offense with 369.1 yards per game and 7th with 26.2 points per game.  Continue reading

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Week 1 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Falcons Defense

This exact picture is why Jimmy Graham will not be able to dunk any more. What will he do now?

Away we go. The 2014 season is set to kickoff in just a few days and what a better way to start the season then against the rival Atlanta Falcons. The build up to this season has arguably been higher than any other season in Coach Sean Payton’s time in New Orleans. You don’t have to look very far to find someone who will tell you that they believe that this is the most talented roster in Saints history. Voice of the Saints Jim Henderson has even said so himself and he has certainly seen his fair share of Saints teams. To be completely honest, I agree with that notion. Some will tell you that it’s silly to put such high expectations on a team or season, but I’d argue that facts are facts. It’s not very often that you can pair a top-5 offense with a top-5 defense, which is exactly what the Saints did last year. Sure, they ended up not even winning their division, but that’s thanks to a few last second blunders in games that they had just about wrapped up (at New England and Carolina) and two complete duds against inferior opponents (at New York Jets and St. Louis). Still, last year’s team was very talented and not only did New Orleans avoid losing any steady production, they added more talent.

The New Orleans Saints offense is coming off of yet another very productive year under Coach Payton. They finished 4th in the NFL in total offense with 399.4 yards per game and 10th in scoring with 25.9 points per game. It was another one of those seasons where the running game did not get going until very late in the season, putting the offense on the very strong shoulders of quarterback Drew Brees.

Atlanta on the other hand, struggled on the defensive side of the ball. In 2013, the Falcons finished 27th in both total defense and scoring defense, allowing 379.4 yards and 27.7 points per game. Their 4-12 record is not very surprising, considering they allowed just about four touchdowns per game. They made a few additions to their unit, but they’ll be without their heart and soul of their defense, which we’ll get to in a little bit.  Continue reading

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