First Quarter Report Card: New Orleans Saints

It is totally amazing how in the game of football, a team can look nearly identical as it once did but the results are totally different. Take the 2014 New Orleans Saints. Here at Taylor Blitz Times The Chancellor of Football posed this question: When do you say when? What were the Saints about to sacrifice when they were about to commit heavily financially in Jimmy Graham??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Over the first quarter of the new season it looks like they sacrificed everything. When it was time to sign TE Jimmy Graham it was expressed he was the security blanket Brees needed. This isn’t true. He’s a weapon but the true chain mover of this offense was RB Darren Sproles.

Every time the Saints needed a first down they went to Sproles on screens, circle routes out of the backfield, draws, you name it. They haven’t had the same returns going to Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. A combined 6 receptions for 40 yards and no big plays. Last year after 4 games Sproles had 23 receptions for 277 yards and 1 touchdown.

Defenses are focusing in on this and the Saints first down totals 30, 27, 26, and 20 are diminishing per game. You won’t see it in Drew Brees totals but you see it here and in defensive statistics.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Last year, the Saints owned time of possession and wound up with the league’s 4th best defense. In 2013 the Saints were 3rd in time of possession where this year they are 16th. Couple that with poor tackling and free agent losses and they’ve plummeted to 30th on defense. Allowing 89 more yards and 27.5 points per game.

They have a chance to right the ship in the upcoming weeks against the Bucs, Lions, Packers, and Panthers. None are offensive juggernauts and Green Bay is ranked 28th. ESPN and their talking heads keep mentioning Aaron Rodgers like this is 2010.

However Brees is playing like its 2010 as he has completed 71% of his passes for 1,203 yards and 7 TDs. He leads the NFL’s #3 offense into battle with the 26th, 1st, 22nd, and 24th ranked defenses in this next quarter. To get back into this season the Saints need to go 3-1 in this next quarter to give themselves a chance. If they can get to 4-4 or even 5-3 by the midway point, they will put themselves in wildcard contention.

If Atlanta keeps backsliding with their 31st ranked defense, they can still grab the division.

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Salary Cap: When Do You Say When??

Let’s see if we have this right…. All Pro Tight End Jimmy Graham is up for free agency and if he’s franchised, he wants the money of a wideout, not that of the position he plays. Where does that logic come from?? Welcome to the lunacy that can be NFL free agency. For a team that has just $5.1 million of cap space, are the New Orleans Saints about to overpay for Jimmy Graham??

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Now that the Saints are coming off their first season with Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, they made it to 4th in total defense and 14th against the run. Yet the Saints let go of longtime defensive leader Jonathan Vilma and dangle starters Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer, and both Safeties Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins for other teams to sign.

All this for a Tight End that disappeared in 2 games against Seattle last year?? He had a combined 5 catches for 49 yards. The Panthers and 49ers had success against Graham also. The Saints will have to rebuild their defense instead of gaining strength from the continuity they established last year.

That’s too much money for a player that can be taken out of the game by a stout defense.

Sure he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16TDs but now they won’t have money to field a legitimate defense. At the top of the conference sit the best defenses since the early 2000’s. So how is a Tight End worth $40 million, who is taken out of the game by tough defenses going to improve the Saints??

Stay tuned…

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NFL Wild Card Week: New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles

Now as we move on to game two of the National Football League’s playoffs, where the New Orleans Saints travel outside to The City of Brotherly Love. The first thing that jumps out at you is how poorly they have played on the road this year (3-5) and how they haven’t won a road playoff game in their history. Every pundit is talking about the battle between Drew Brees and Nick Foles.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

The bigger issue is the Eagles field the NFL rushing champion in LeSean McCoy while Pierre Thomas is out for the Saints. Brees and the offense needs some balance in this game. They have passed the football 68% of the time on offense. That doesn’t win road games and especially doesn’t win playoff games. If Mark Ingram can step up the Saints have a chance to win this game.

However Sean Payton won’t want to stay with the running game long enough to keep the Eagle offense out of rhythm. Drew Brees will have to carry the load as he throws 50 times on a windy night. Now would be a good time for the defense to force Foles and McCoy into a few turnovers to steal momentum from the Eagles.

Problem is Nick Foles has played as well any quarterback in the NFL this season. All the Eagles have to do is stay balanced and they should win this game. Mark Ingram will have the chance to leave his imprint on this game, however he will have to show some toughness as he takes hits going into the second half. Especially in the cold. The Eagles defense should make him turn it over late and secure a solid win 30-17.

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Protecting The Quarterback: A Knee Jerk Reaction

Remember when Jack Lambert was quoted “Quarterbacks should wear skirts.” back in 1975?? Well with another rule change or two they may actually be doing that. What happened yesterday was a complete travesty that could wind up derailing the season for the San Franciso 49ers.

Drew Brees is about to be sacked by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.

Drew Brees is about to be sacked by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.

Toward the end of yesterday’s game between the Niners battle with the New Orleans Saints, the game had boiled down to a critical third down. San Francisco had played a brilliant game on the road and were about to put on the finishing touches on what would have been a 20-17 win. Up until the moment of the hit, the Niners had held Drew Brees to just 200 yards passing the entire game.

It was 3rd and 2 from the San Francisco 35. Brees takes a Pistol snap and takes the equivalent of a seven step drop when Ahmad Brooks levels him. The ball comes out and Patrick Willis recovered back at the 48 with 3:17 to go. The first substantial drive of the fourth quarter by the Saints had been squashed and the Niners could run out the clock in a quiet Superdome….right?? Well there was a flag on the prescription turf.

Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head.  Replay clearly showed that he hit him across the chest causing a fumble.

Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head. Replay clearly showed that he hit him across the chest causing a fumble.

Unecessary roughness was called on Brooks indicating he had hit Brees in the head. During the call we heard the ref describe “attacking the neck of the quarterback”. The Saints retained possession and thanks to the 15 yard penalty were in position to tie the game with a field goal, changing the momentum.

The turn of events led to the Saints, thanks to the penalty were in field goal range to tie the game. Then the subsequent change of momentum stymied San Francisco’s last drive and  New Orleans last second kick to win it 23-20. A travesty had occurred with the Niners losing that game. You didn’t go away feeling the best team won, you felt something else. The Niners hadn’t been cheated like that since the 1983 NFC Championship Game.

The over-protection of quarterbacks is at an all time high and it’s ruining the game of football. On the play in question Ahmad Brooks came storming around the strong side and hit Drew Brees high but with his arm and shoulder across the chest. Because Brees wasn’t ready for it and didn’t brace himself causing a whiplash effect doesn’t make it a penalty. Brooks didn’t hit him in the head nor did he use his in making the tackle. Now thanks to a terrible call, the defending NFC Champions may not make the playoffs with a 6-4 record. They now have 3 conference losses and tie breaker advantages to several teams.

If this is a roughing the passer penalty, I'm from Mars.

If this is a roughing the passer penalty, I’m from Mars.

Quarterbacks are playing the game of football too. Personally, I like seeing quarterbacks knocked about, it’s one of the reasons you’re reading the Taylor BLITZ Times and not the Taylor Long Pass Times. We here understand the necessary measures but this is getting ridiculous. Thanks to the knee injury suffered by Tom Brady in week 1 of 2008, a falling lineman can’t do so into the legs of a quarterback. The league always had a rule where if the defender was reaching to knock down a pass and hit the helmet, it’s a penalty. Now the referee is worried that Brooks hit Brees in the neck when replay showed clearly he didn’t. Never knew a quarterback’s neck was off limits. By the time we put in quarterback hook slides and such….Jack Lambert was 100% right. Not only should they wear skirts, they should take off their shoulder pads and helmets also.

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NFL Week 8: NFC South- Shipyards

Doug Martin exploded onto the NFL scene last Thursday night.

When viewing the vessels of a shipyard, we see units that are being built initially or those that are retooling for an endeavor that requires additional equipment. In some instances like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the ability to navigate choppy waters has become easier with the addition of a new outboard engine in the form of rookie RB Doug Martin. Up until last week’s game against Minnesota, the offense was rudderless depending on a passing game that moved the ball in fits and starts. Bouyed by Doug Martin’ dynamic performance (135 yd rushing / 79 yds rec.) their offense rolled throughout in a dominating 36-17 performance. http://www.nfl.com/voting/players-air-and-ground/2012/REG/8?module=HP11_content_stream_voting_fedex#playerId:0ap2000000085516

In their last two games, Martin has gained 336 yards of total offense and scored 3 touchdowns. Something was discovered 3 weeks ago during the team’s bye week. Head Coach Greg Schiano must have been hit in the head and mistaken his young running back for Ray Rice, whom he coached in college. In that time he has turned to his rookie runner more and the team has averaged 34 points per game ever since as compared to 20.5 over the first four weeks. Undoubtedly the game is slowing for Martin who has adjusted to the speed of the NFL. With back to back games coming against the struggling Raiders and Chargers, who just lost to Cleveland (seriously?), this team could be 5-4 and winners of 3 out of 4 before they take on Carolina and Atlanta in pivotal divisional match-ups. If any of you have been following the feud between the Bucs and Atlanta, you will not want to miss that game.

Before we go there, lets take a look at the standings:

South Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Atlanta Falcons Falcons 7 0 0 1.000 201 130 3-0 4-0 1-0 3-0 W7 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneers 3 4 0 .429 184 153 2-2 1-2 1-1 2-4 W1 2-3
New Orleans Saints Saints 2 5 0 .286 190 216 1-2 1-3 1-1 1-3 L1 2-3
Carolina Panthers Panthers 1 6 0 .143 128 167 1-3 0-3 1-2 1-6 L5 0-5

Leaving the shipyard and headed for uncharted waters sail the Atlanta Falcons. What has been interesting over the last two months is how few want to recognize them as the best team in the NFC or the NFL for that matter. The key to becoming a champion in the NFL is winning the close games. Especially those against lesser teams who are hard to get up for, or in last week’s match-up with the Philadelphia Eagles, a wounded dangerous team desperate for a win. Over the last few years, games of the latter category gave the Falcons problems. This time they came out with purpose and were up on the Eagles 24-7 before Andy Reid’s team knew what hit them.

Michael Turner helped the Falcons control the tempo of the game with 24 carries.

Even more remarkable was the fact in 13 seasons, Reid’s team were 13-0 coming off of bye weeks. Although the Falcons have a 3 game lead in the division, they took this road game very serious and set the tone from the outset. Philadelphia’s big name secondary was lit up by Julio Jones who had 5 receptions for 123 yards and scored from 63 yards out. Matt Ryan was 22 for 29 for 263 yards and 3TDs and is having an MVP type season. Do you realize Matt Ryan had a career high 29 touchdown passes last year yet is on pace for 39 this season??

This was a big road win that showed how this team and coaching staff is maturing. Pundits and fans have scoffed at their early playoff exits of the last few years but this team is playing with a gritty resolve not seen in previous seasons. Last week’s game against the Eagles was the type of game the Falcons would inexplicably not show up. Exhibit A: Last year during the second half they could solidify themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, yet lost a game to the Houston Texans and were swept by the New Orleans Saints in a five week stretch. Those could have been confidence building wins yet left the team doubting itself. That doubt showed in the 24-2 ouster in the playoffs by the world champion Giants.

However this year we have Exhibit B: They held off Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a Monday night thriller 27-21. They knocked back a Washington Redskin team which is a mirror image of who they once were 24-17 and now this win. These wins against quality teams are those that have you believing in yourselves by season’s end. Especially when you can step on a team that desperately needs a win and you perform that feat on the road. Naysayers will conclude they haven’t played other top-tier teams but that isn’t the Falcons issue. Just keep winning games and building confidence for the playoffs. Food for thought?? Once upon a time, there was a Miami Dolphin team that went 14-0 in the regular season and won the Super Bowl. They only beat 3 teams that year with a winning record…so don’t listen to the idiot pundits who miss this.

Now we have to talk about Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Looking at their record the quarterback is the first to get the blame when truth be told, Newton has given the team four 4th quarter leads this season. The fact their defense keeps letting the team down is what everyone is missing. Nevermind the frustrated press conferences of Cam Newton. Head Coach Ron Rivera may be sunk if his team gives up any more 4th quarter leads. It may be in the Panthers best interest to pick up a receiver before the trade deadline to help open up the offense. With Steve Smith (35 rec. 589 yards/ ZERO TDs) they have a good mid-range receiver. They need someone to blow the top off the defense to back the safeties back from the running game. Everyone knows the Panther offense can be defensed 20 yards and in. Once they can get a deep receiver this could open up the offense both running and passing. They still have time to right the ship…they just have some work to do.

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2012 NFC South Previews & Predictions

Second year wideout Julio Jones skies over a Ravens defensive back for a touchdown in last week’s preseason opener.

As the 2012 regular season beckons, many pundits and fans are looking for the Carolina Panthers to light up this division. There will be several young stars that will come to the fore in the toughest division in football, yet there will be one second year player who should take the league by storm. Oh you thought we meant Cam Newton?? He’ll do well but the player who is about to break out is WR Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. His play so far in the preseason along with the maturation he showed toward the end of last year. Look out his star is on the rise.

No division in football has been as competitive from top to bottom as the NFC South. Since its inception in 2002, there hasn’t been a repeat division winner and again its the only division to have every team play for the conference championship during that time. Each team can run at you physically, Atlanta with Michael Turner (1,340 yards in 2011), thunderous LeGarrette Blount (1,007 yards in 2010), former Heisman winner in Mark Ingram, and former twin thousand yard rushers DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart in Carolina. Yet with last year’s emergence of Cam Newton and 2010’s Josh Freeman (25TDs to only 6 ints), each team fields better than average quarterbacks. This is before we get to record setting Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and 3 time playoff participant QB Matt Ryan. This division is stacked on offense…

However there are several questions moving into 2012. How will the Saints fare with the suspension of Head Coach Sean Peyton?? Will their game day adjustments suffer or will the overall gameplan be inferior?? Have the Panthers made enough moves to allow Cam Newton to star again or will he have a sophomore slump?? Which team was the real Tampa Bay Buccaneers?? Was it the 10-6 2010 team that was coming on at the end of that season or last year’s 4-11 debacle that got Head Coach Raheem Morris fired??

We’ll answer a few of those later in the article….as for our predictions

2012 NFC South Predictions

Atlanta Falcons 11-5 *

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7

New Orleans Saints 9-7

Carolina Panthers 6-10

Now that the Saints signed Drew Brees to a long term deal: How will he fare this season without Sean Payton?? Payton and Brees have been lethal these last several years with game plans but they will suffer with game-day adjustments. There should be a drop off this season as Interim Coach Joe Vitt can’t put his stamp on the team. In a single season lame duck situation?? Not going to be good. More important, without their spiritual leader on defense with the suspension of Jonathon Vilma, this defense will give up points by the bushel and will behind in the race to win the south. As evidenced in Saturday night’s preseason game against Houston, this defense struggled in a 34-27 shootout. The Texans marched to two easy touchdowns while the starters were out there. Don’t forget the Saints were at home. How do you think they will fare when they are on the road this year?? http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2012082554/2012/PRE3/texans@saints#tab=recap&menu=highlights

They have a murderous schedule and will lose tie breaker advantages during the weeks of 12-15 where they face San Francisco, who beat them in last year’s playoffs. Then they face a stronger Atlanta Falcons team on the road, then travel to play the World Champion Giants in the cold, then come home to face a resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Even though Tampa had a down year in 2011, they only lost 27-16 in New Orleans and defeated the Saints in the Superdome in 2010. At full strength with Coach Peyton, Jonathon Vilma on defense, the Saints would be in good shape against these ball clubs but with a coaching staff trying to keep the ship steady?? These are four losses waiting to happen and all to NFC teams. This is after they would have played the Packers at Lambeau in week 4, and the Philadelphia Eagle in week 9.  Too many in conference losses will doom the Saints this year.

Super Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Has there been a more electrifying rookie quarterback in NFL history than Cam Newton?? The Chancellor can only think of one and that was Dan Marino’s 1983 season. Yet a closer look and Newton broke the rookie record in week 1 with 422 yards against the Cardinals, rushed for 706 yards and 14 TDs (another record), while completing 60% of his passes for 4,021 yards (another record) and 21TDs. All as a rookie?? Yikes! That dwarfs Marino’s 20TD passes and didn’t start for Shula’s Dolphins until week 6 and was no threat with only 45 yards rushing. What is he going to do for an encore??

Once upon a time Tim Tebow was given the nod over Newton at the University of Florida. My how the tables have turned as the Panthers defeated Tebow and the Jets 17-12 last night in pre-season action.

The question is did they do enough to move up in the competitive NFC South?? They still have the “Cash & Carry” backfield of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart, who just signed an extension last week. Ageless Steve Smith revitalized his career with Newton’s emergence and may have a running partner in WR Louis Murphy who scored in last night’s game.  On offense the answer is yes, but on defense they haven’t done enough. They did get LB Thomas Davis back but they have to keep their fingers crossed he doesn’t injure his knee for a fourth time. They need all the help they can get on a defense that was 28th last year and finished 25th against the run. In this division that last stat will be what they need to improve and the draft only brought one lineman in 4th rounder Frank Alexander. New leaders have to emerge for the Panthers to make a  move up… that can happen in 2013. The problem is it’s still 2012 so they’ll improve just a few wins on offense as a team.

Former Boise St running back Doug Martin should rush for 1,200 yards for Tampa this season.

Now a team that will be the surprise winner in this division is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last year this team dropped to 30th in the NFL in rushing and brought unnecessary heat on QB Josh Freeman. Team brass addressed that with 1st round selection RB Doug Martin out of Boise St. With the rushing attack under performing it also kept the Buccaneers defense from resting. In 2011 this was a run first, pass second team that went 10-6. Josh Freeman had the second lowest touchdown to interception ratio, 25TDs to just 6 interceptions, to a record setting Tom Brady. With the acquisition of WR Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers to go along with TE Kellen Winslow Jr, WR Mike Williams and WR Arrelios Benn, this team has some big targets.

Speaking of Tom Brady, the Buccaneer defense made his life miserable in pre-season action Friday night. The Bucs pass rush harassed him all night and made him throw a pick six in a 30-28 win. Brady played into the 3rd quarter (unheard of in pre-season) and New England needed 2 4th quarter touchdowns to make the score close. One of the differences was the efficient play of Freeman and Doug Martin, who rushed for 53 yards on 13 carries and sat out more than half the game. This talent who has been a Taylor Blitz Time favorite https://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/08/02/2011-heisman-campaign-doug-martin-of-boise-st/ will tilt the balance of power for them from a tactical standpoint all year. They should return to form and match the 10-6 record of 2010. They’ll be ready to make a serious move in 2013.

However 2012 will belong to the Atlanta Falcons. They have built for this season for the last four and this is the year for the payoff. TE Tony Gonzalez can’t go forever and RB Michael Turner is about to turn 30. When the Falcons lost in last year’s wildcard to the New York Giants, it marked the second season in a row their season ended at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champions. As a matter of fact, if you include the 2009 NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, 3 of the last 4 seasons has ended at the hands of the eventual NFC Champion. Its time for their maturation and ascend to a Super Bowl themselves. Head Coach Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have to prove they can win a playoff game. They are primed as a team talent wise to make a move.

Next up: NFC North

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