Week 9 Preview: Saints vs. Panthers

Mark Ingram looks to build on his best performance of his NFL career last week, when he faces the struggling Panther defense tonight.

Whoa…and just like that, we’re halfway through the 2014 season. The conclusion of tonight’s game will put the New Orleans Saints halfway through their schedule and not many would have guessed that, at best, they could be sitting at an even .500 at 4-4. The slow start was tough, but it already appears as if this team has finally showed up and tonight’s battle for first place in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers is another opportunity to prove that despite their record, they are a legit threat. New Orleans sits at 3-4, while Carolina currently holds a slight edge at 3-4-1. The good news is, the NFC still doesn’t appear to have any unbeatable teams, like Seattle a year ago. Speaking of the Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champions are 4-3 and looking very average. The Arizona Cardinals lead the NFC with a 6-1 record, while the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers follow behind with just two losses. A lot can happen over the final nine weeks of the season, so it’s essential that the Saints continue their hot play and who knows what could happen.

The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are obviously very familiar with each other. Being in the same division since the Panthers entered the league nearly 20 years ago, the series is almost dead even with Carolina holding the 20-18 edge. Sean Payton is 7-7 against the Panthers, with the team’s splitting the season series in 2013.

The Saints continue to rank inside of the top-10 in all major offensive categories. They rank 2nd in total offense, averaging 445.3 yards per game, while ranking 5th in scoring, putting up 28.4 points per game. They also rank 2nd in the league in both 3rd down conversion percentage (51.2%) and total 1st downs (190). The only problem has been the turnovers, having given the ball away 12 times. When this team refrains from turning the ball over, they are dominant. New Orleans is 26-0 under Sean Payton when they do not commit a turnover. The Saints are currently ranked 27th in turnover ratio at -5.  Continue reading

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Saints Dominate Second Half, Packers; Climb One Game Back of .500

Mark Ingram looked like the dominant Heisman Trophy winning running back that the Saints expected when trading up to draft him in 2011.

Well, the New Orleans Saints have finally arrived to the 2014 NFL season. After matching each and every score from the Green Bay Packers in the first half, the Saints exploded in the final 30 minutes with a dominant 28-7 half to win their 19th consecutive home game with Sean Payton on the sideline. The Sunday night victory also extended New Orleans’ streak of consecutive home prime time victories to fourteen.

Coming in to the 2014 season, not only did the team itself have Super Bowl aspirations, but many experts, analysts, and writers around the league believed the Saints were primed for a championship run. It wasn’t until Sunday night that we all finally saw the team everyone expects. The Saints had played great for a few short stretches this season, but had yet to put it together for a complete game. For example, they played well in the first half of their Week 1 game at Atlanta, the first quarter of Week 3 against Minnesota, and for about 56 minutes at Detroit last week. They showed flashes, but this is far and away the best performance New Orleans has displayed since probably Week 14 of 2013 when the Saints beat up on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football in the Superdome. Whatever it was that finally clicked for the black and gold, it was great to see and we can only hope for more.

The Green Bay Packers tested the Saints right off the bat, when Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a 70 yard touchdown on the fifth play of the game. It’s safe to say that there was a collective “here we go again” feeling when the game started like that. To their credit, New Orleans came right back down the field with a seven play, 80 yard drive to tie it up. The touchdown came on a 4 yard end around to Brandin Cooks to tie it up. The teams then traded field goals on the remaining six drives of the first half, knotting the score at 16-16 heading in to halftime.  Continue reading

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Week 8 Preview: Saints vs. Packers

Tonight’s matchup features two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Which will lead his team to a big win?

That time of year has come for the 2-4 New Orleans Saints. No, it’s not the cool weather. It’s the tough part of their schedule. Starting with Detroit last week, the Saints are entering a stretch that includes Green Bay, Carolina, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. It’s safe to say that this is not quite where Coach Sean Payton wanted his team to be as they head in to the gauntlet, but there is nothing they can do to change that now. Thankfully, the Carolina Panthers are only a game ahead in the NFC South, so even with a loss, the two teams could be playing for first place when they get together on Thursday night. The last time the Saints played the Green Bay Packers was in 2012. The Packers won 28-27 after, get this, coming from behind in the 4th quarter. The last time Sean Payton has faced the Packers was in 2011 in the Thursday night season opener, when Green Bay held off a late comeback effort and defeated New Orleans 42-34. If you are looking for the last time that the Saints beat the Packers, look to 2008, when they did it by the score of 51-29 on Monday Night Football.

The Saints come in to Week 8 with each side of the ball at opposite ends of the spectrum. On offense, the team ranks 2nd with 437 yards per game and 9th in scoring, putting up 25.8 points per game. As for the defense, they are allowing 373.7 yards per game, which is 21st in the league. They are ranked 28th in scoring defense, giving up 27.5 points per contest. It makes sense that the defense is ranked lower in points allowed than yards allowed, given the 11 turnovers they have, which in many times have either directly led to touchdowns from the opponents or setting up great field position for the opposing offense. New Orleans is tied for 29th with a -7 turnover differential.

You won’t hear the 5-2 Green Bay Packers complaining about their start to the season, but even they could admit it’s been a little weird. They’ve won four straight since starting 1-2, listening to the advice of quarterback Aaron Rodgers to R-E-L-A-X. I say that it’s been a weird start, because although they are 4th in the NFL with an average of 28.7 points per game, they are ranked 25th in total offense, gaining just 325.4 yards per game. The defense ranks 19th, giving up 362.7 yards per game, which means on a per game basis, they are actually being out-gained. The difference, though, is the defense is allowing just 21.0 points per game, which is tied for 9th in the league. Green Bay sits atop the entire NFL in turnover differential at +10, having given the ball away just four times. Even one of those almost doesn’t count, as it came from backup quarterback Matt Flynn in mop-up duty.  Continue reading

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Saints Avoid Disaster; Notch Second Victory with 37-31 Win Over Buccaneers

Khiry Robinson sealed the win for the Saints with his 18 yard touchdown run in overtime.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the New Orleans Saints found a way to pull off a come from behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In a rare occurrence, the Saints won the game, despite losing the turnover battle. Drew Brees’ three picks were matched by Patrick Robinson’s interception, the first and only for the New Orleans Defense. The win gets the Saints to 2-3, tied for 2nd in the NFC South and just a game behind the 3-2 Carolina Panthers.

Despite showing great resolve, the Saints were able to pull of the comeback win in large part due to a penalty riddled game from the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay was penalized 15 times for 113 yards, with many of them giving New Orleans a free first down. The most notable penalty of the day was an illegal hands to the face on Buccaneer cornerback Johnathan Banks, which came on the opposite side of the field on third down in overtime that was going to force the Saints to punt.

Along with the penalties, the story of the game was large momentum swings and scoring runs. After scoring the first 13 points of the game, New Orleans allowed Tampa Bay to score 24 unanswered points, which was part of a 31-7 run for the Buccaneers. The Saints then responded with 17 straight points of their own, including a safety that closed the deficit to three, a field goal that sent the game to overtime, and the game winning touchdown run from Khiry Robinson on the first possession in overtime.  Continue reading

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Week 5 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Buccaneers Offense

Rafael Bush will have all eyes on him as he fills in at safety in the wake of Jairus Byrd’s season ending injury.

The hits just keep coming. I briefly discussed it yesterday, but as you all know by now, Jairus Byrd is out for the year. The high-priced free safety tore his lateral meniscus on Thursday and was put on injured reserve on Friday, ending his season. You’ve heard the term “adding insult to injury” before, well, this is sort of the other way around. Injury to insult. The New Orleans Saints were already coming off of a 38-17 throttling at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys on national television last Sunday night, then Byrd goes down. I know, I’ve started this preview with some negativity. The reason? Because I’d like to get it out of the way, so we can then move forward and try to stop looking at the past. With that being said, it’s been a rough start, but three quarters of the season still remain and the Saints are only a game out of first place in the division. Not to mention, both Atlanta and Carolina are dealing with a slew of injuries on their side, as well. Keep faith, Who Dat Nation, this is far from over.

New Orleans comes in to Week 5 with the 29th ranked defense in the NFL, allowing 396 yards per game. They are tied for 27th in scoring defense, giving up 27.5 points per contest. The performance from this unit has been a far cry from what we saw last season. There has been little to no pressure on the quarterback, poor tackling, and blown assignments in coverage. It’s tough to blame Rob Ryan or any single player as the reason for the decline, as everyone is collectively to blame. Can they turn it around? Sure. I don’t see them getting back inside the top-5, or even top-10 for that matter, but there’s no reason to believe that a home game against a struggling offense followed by a bye week doesn’t present at least some opportunity to get better for the rest of the season. Honestly, they don’t have any other option then to pull it together. Starting 1-3 and now losing one of the best three players on the defense has the Saints with their back against the wall, so to make anything of this season, things must change and they must change fast.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a nightmare first three games of the season on offense, but finally got things going last week in their win at Pittsburgh. Free agent signing Josh McCown was struggling to do much of anything, then injured his hand in the team’s Week 3 blowout loss at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. Mike Glennon has since taken his place and started for the Buccaneers last week, invigorating their passing attack and leading them to a come from behind victory. Despite the good performance, Tampa Bay enters Week 5 with the 30th ranked offense, gaining just 290.8 yards per game. They’re 29th in scoring, putting up 18.0 points per contest. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a drastic climb in the ranks with Glennon under center, but this offense is almost definitely better than what those numbers suggest with him in the game.  Continue reading

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Week 5 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

Kenny Stills caught a long touchdown against Tampa Bay last year. Can he do it again on Sunday?

It hasn’t quite been rock bottom, but the start to this season has been pretty darn close. Despite this being the offensive preview, I still have to mention the horrible news from today. Prized free agent Jairus Byrd tore his lateral meniscus in a non-contact play yesterday and was put on injured reserve, ending his season. The free agent played just four games of his first season in black and gold, with his injury simply piling on the abundant amount of heartbreak that fans have endured through the first quarter of the season. With that being said, let’s get this preview moving in a positive direction. I’ll discuss more of what to expect in Byrd’s absence in tomorrow’s defensive preview.

The New Orleans Saints head in to their second divisional game of the season with the 3rd ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 425.8 yards per game. While their yardage is where it normally is, the scoring is not. The Saints are tied for 15th in the league scoring 23.8 points per contest. A lot of why they aren’t ranked as high as usual is turnover margin. Whether it’s the offense giving up opportunities with the ball or the defense failing to get the ball back in Drew Brees’ hand, it causes the team to make the most of the rest of their possessions. To no surprise given the way they’ve played, the Saints are tied for last in the NFL with a -5 turnover margin.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have, too, had a rough start to their season. They also sit at 1-3, but have not quite garnered the same amount of criticism as the Saints, though. Why not? It’s simple. Expectations. Coming off of a bad season in 2013, the Buccaneers fired their general manager and head coach immediately after the year ended. Out went Greg Schiano and in came Lovie Smith. Tampa Bay made a flurry of moves in free agency and drafted wide receiver Mike Evans with the #7 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Sure, with all of the moves they made, there was a lot of optimism, but not many could honestly expect the turnaround to be immediate. It became apparent that a quick turnaround was not in the cards for this season, when the Buccaneers were victim to a 56-14 shellacking at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons on national television two Thursdays ago. Impressively, they recovered from the bad loss and notched their first victory of the season last Sunday with a last second touchdown on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s tough to say who’s been more to blame for the 1-3 start for Tampa Bay, the offense or the defense. They are most likely both equally at fault, but the defense has suffered through a lot of injuries early on this year, which I’ll detail more in a little bit. The Buccaneer defense ranks 25th in the NFL, allowing 387.8 yards per game. Thanks in large part to their Week 3 blowout, they are second to last in scoring defense, giving up 29.8 points per game.  Continue reading

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Grading the Saints and Sinners: Week 4 vs. Dallas

DeMarco Murray ran all over the Saints, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns to lead the Cowboys to a huge victory.

“I just don’t get it.”

That was my reaction on Sunday night and that’s still how I feel. I just simply do not understand why this team is performing like this. Yes, I know the reasons that they are getting beat, but why are those things happening? How can Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan seemingly forget how to get to the quarterback? How can Akiem Hicks turn in to a ghost after improving on a weekly basis? How can Kenny Vaccaro forget how to tackle when he missed just three tackles though his entire rookie season? How can Marques Colston go from the most reliable pass catcher since 2006 to someone who can’t hold on to the ball? The questions go on and on. Thankfully, the New Orleans Saints’ next two weeks consist of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home, then their bye week. Also, if you’re looking for any positive out of this 1-3 start, it’s the fact that the NFC South looks very weak. The Saints are still only a game out of first place in the division and everyone else seems to be reeling, as well. We’ll get to that a little more later on, but for now, let’s go ahead and get to the debacle on Sunday night.

Really quick, due to time, I’m going to skip the post-game article, because after not being able to put it together after traveling home from Dallas on Monday, who even really wants a recap of that sad excuse of a game, right? We all on the same page? Good. Let’s move on and dig deeper in to what went wrong.  Continue reading

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Week 4 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Cowboys Offense

The key battle and possible deciding factor will be DeMarco Murray against the Saints run defense.

Not only was Week 3 a “get right” game for the New Orleans Saints as a team, but it was arguably more important particularly for the defense. Despite some miscues in the first two weeks of the season, the offense hadn’t played bad. The defense, on the other hand, looked nothing like the top-5 unit from a year ago. Little pass rush, lack of takeaways, and failing to step up at crucial times was the story for Rob Ryan’s defense in the two opening losses to the season. Just as they did as a team, the unit righted the ship against an under-manned opponent in Week 3. Facing a Minnesota Vikings squad who was missing Adrian Peterson, then lost starting quarterback Matt Cassel in the 2nd quarter, the defense was able to get on track. Still, their play was not as good as a year ago, though. They did record two sacks and hold Minnesota to three crucial field goals, but for the second straight game they failed to force a turnover. Despite playing very well last year, that was the number one thing that Coach Sean Payton and Rob Ryan wanted to improve upon and they’ve yet to do it. The one takeaway they have came in Week 1 from the 56 million dollar man that was brought in for that particular reason. Last week’s performance helped the Saints improve from second to last in the league in total defense to 24th this week, giving up an average of 379.7 yards per game. They are tied for 20th in scoring defense with opponents putting up 24.0 points per contest.

The Dallas Cowboy offense gives their team a chance to play with anyone when they are clicking. Yes, Tony Romo has a knack for crucial turnovers, but he’s a talented quarterback in a good system with good playmakers. A supporting cast of DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams can help any quarterback succeed. They’ve had this type of talent for the past few years, but the problem for them has mostly been on the other side of the ball. With the defense playing pretty well in 2014, it appears as if the two units are playing more complimentary football, which has been absent for this squad in years past. The Cowboys offense comes in to this week ranked 12th overall in total offense, gaining 363.3 yards per game. They are even higher in scoring offense, ranking 8th in the NFL with 25.7 points per game.  Continue reading

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Week 4 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Cowboys Defense

Coach Sean Payton has had great success against the team that led him to his first head coaching position in all of his coaching career.

Well, the early season monkey of 2014 is off of their back. The New Orleans Saints are finally in the win column three weeks in to the season. It may not have been as pretty as what we’re used to seeing when they play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but hey, a win is a win and that was a big one. Now sitting at 1-2, the Saints travel to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys are 2-1, coming off of a huge come from behind win in St. Louis. This match-up always has more meaning for Coach Sean Payton, considering he spent three years as the Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator in Dallas from 2003-2005, putting him on the map for his first head coaching position. New Orleans has played Dallas five times under Coach Payton, with the only loss coming as their first loss of the season in the magical 2009 Super Bowl Run. The two teams last played less than a year ago on Sunday Night Football in the Superdome with it being a Saints blowout by the score of 49-17.

Despite earning their first victory of the year, the Saints are coming off of their worst statistical performance through the first three games, albeit just by one yard. Still, though, half of their drives ended with a punt after not gaining much yardage. Thankfully, they made the most of their other four drives, cashing three in for touchdowns and making the last one a seven minute drive to close out the game. Heading in to Week 4, New Orleans is ranked 4th in the NFL in total offense, averaging 421.7 yards per game, while scoring the 7th most points per game with 26.0.

Coming in to the year, most believed that not only were the Cowboys going to have the worst defense in the league, but they had the potential to break the Saints’ record for yards allowed in 2012. They were already bad last year and they were now going to be without DeMarcus Ware who was a cap-casualty and Sean Lee, who is out for the year after tearing his ACL in the Cowboys’ first OTA practice. Surprisingly, though, they’ve played much better than anticipated. They rank 21st in total defense, giving up 360.3 yards per game. They sit tied for 18th in scoring, allowing 23.0 points per contest. Those numbers are not too bad, though it looked as if the defense everyone expected had arrived in their Week 3 game at St. Louis. The Rams jumped out to a 21-0 lead, but the Cowboys buckled down and fought back to prevail 34-31.  Continue reading

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Saints Get First Win; Down Vikings 20-9

Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gave a respectable performance in his first NFL action, but couldn’t overcome the Saints in the Superdome.

Well, it didn’t end up being as easy as it looked it would be after the first quarter, but the New Orleans Saints finally got their first win. The Minnesota Vikings put up more of a fight than many people, including myself, thought they would. The Saints pulled away in the 4th quarter, sealing a 20-9 victory to improve to 1-2. On the flip side, the Vikings fell to 1-2 with their second consecutive loss.

New Orleans opened up the game red hot, taking the opening drive 80 yards on 11 plays, capped off with a 1 yard touchdown run from Pierre Thomas, his first score of the year. The Saints then held the Vikings to a quick three-and-out, allowing just two yards and forcing a punt. Taking over at his own 18 yard line, Drew Brees led his offense on a quick 7 play, 82 yard drive with the big play coming on a 34 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Josh Hill. Brees used a beautiful pump fake to bait free safety Harrison Smith to one side of the field, leaving Hill all alone for the catch and run for the score. Shayne Graham’s extra point was blocked, keeping the score 13-0.

After the two opening drives, things slowed way down for the Saints. Minnesota answered with a 13 play, 71 yard drive that was capped off with a 25 yard field goal from Blair Walsh to make it 13-3. On the 3rd down stop that forced the field goal, starting quarterback Matt Cassel injured his toe when scrambling, causing him to exit the game for good. The Saints went three and out on their ensuing drive, punting the ball back to the Vikings for rookie Teddy Bridgewater to take over for his first NFL snaps. Starting with good field position at his own 37 yard line, Bridgewater led Minnesota on a 10 play, 51 yard drive that would be capped off with Walsh’s second field goal to make it 13-6.  Continue reading

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