Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saints Nation: The Saints have too many Haters

There's been an awful lot of whining lately, and quite frankly it's starting to anger me. I wrote THIS ARTICLE, which was a rant on how Vikings fans, the national media and others are trying to take the buzz out of our beloved Saints' SuperBowl run. Shame on them.

Oh, and next time you start getting grief from a whiner Brett Favre apologist (and trust me these people are everywhere), feel free to send them to the video below.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saints Nation: Does the NFL Own Who Dat?

This ESPN article documents the current trendy topic of who owns the phrase "Who Dat"? As the article points out, the NFL has sent local New Orleans stores cease and desist notices claiming the "Who Dat" trademark as their own, at least as it related to the New Orleans Saints. Simply put, the NFL is claiming they own the New Orleans Saints, therefore they own the term so often used to describe them. The timing of these letters being sent, right before the SuperBowl, couldn't be more infuriating. Clearly the NFL is out to capitalize on the current merchandise gold mine that is the Saints, and greedily make a buck that doesn't belong to them. Laying claim to Who Dat is a shameful ploy by the league, and I'm glad to hear that we're out there fighting to place the term where it belongs: in the ownership of the fans.

Here's another great take on the topic by a Saints fan: Washington Post online article

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saints Nation: Go To Heath Evans' Site for a Chance to Win SuperBowl Tickets!

By going to the Heath Evans Foundation site, you can enter into a raffle for a chance to win tickets to the SuperBowl. If you're like me and you didn't win the season ticket holder lottery, or you're just a fan hoping to go to the big game - this is your chance! Raffle tickets are only $2 a piece and the proceeds go to both the Heath Evans Foundation and the Brees Dream Foundation. The prize, should you win, is 4 SuperBowl tickets, $5000 cash, and 2 hotel rooms at the team hotel in Miami! Sounds like a pretty awesome prize to me. I know I'll be buying raffle tickets. Go get yours now! More information can be found HERE.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Saints Nation: Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades vs. Vikings

The amount of big plays were so abundant in this game, it was hard to give most of these defensive players a bad grade, despite giving up over 450 yards and 28 points. Many of them alternated with good with the bad. Still they deserve to be credited for being mostly responsible for the win. Special teams, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty.

Vikings vs Saints coverage
Vikings vs Saints recap
Vikings vs Saints boxscore

Will Smith: B- (2.80) Smith was a very tough player to grade because the offensive line focused their efforts on making sure he was blocked on passing downs. He was chipped and double teamed, adding to that the fact that Brett Favre was getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry. Still, Smith showed tremendous effort, tackling ability and pursuit on running plays. He didn't get any hits on Favre and he wasn't much of a factor rushing the passer, but he did end with an impressive 6 tackles and forced a fumble.

Bobby McCray: C+ (2.04) McCray was mostly on the sidelines during running plays, and the Saints brought him in in instances where he could pin his ears back and go after Favre. He finished with 2 tackles, used his frame and wingspan to deflect a pass, and he was able to hit Favre once. He also got flagged for a 15 yard penalty for blowing up Favre after he handed the ball off on an end around. Part of me wanted to penalize his grade severely for getting flagged, and part of me wanted to give him a pass for roughing up the opposing quarterback for the second straight week.

Jeff Charleston: C (2.33) Charleston was mediocre despite a good amount of playing time, especially on running downs. He finished with one tackle, and was able to put a nice little lick on Favre at one point. He's a passable situational end and nothing more.

Remi Ayodele: B- (2.37) He was involved in the running game and showed more effort that he did earlier in the season. As the games have progressed, I have to applaud Ayodele for his effort. He finished with 5 tackles and was involved in the tackling piles. Still, too many times did he get pushed around allowing Adrian Peterson to get into open space. Give him credit for recovering a fumble that the Saints desperately needed inside the Vikings' 20.

Sedrick Ellis: B (2.72) With the heavy rotation happening on the defensive line, I think Ellis was on the sidelines way too often. When he was in, he didn't make a big play, but he was aggressive. He finished with 6 tackles, most of them a result of finishing plays and helping his teammates. He never gave up on plays and he was quick to finish things off when Peterson was thrown off balance. He also got a decent amount of push up the middle.

Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.39) Hargrove was easily noticed on the plays he did make, but he was also responsible for some major running lanes that Peterson benefited from.  He did get great pressure on passing plays, and once almost broke Favre in half. He finished with 2 tackles, including one for a loss.

Scott Shanle: B+ (2.67) Shanle was all over the field. He was decent in pass coverage, though he was victimized a handful of times, but his strength absorbing blocks, his pursuit on running plays and his tackling was top notch. He finished with 10 tackles.

Jonathan Vilma: B (2.92) Vilma wasn't as involved in stopping the run as Shanle. Peterson made him look silly a few times, slipping through his tackles or blowing past him completely. Vilma was most effective with his pass coverage on this day. He defended two passes and intercepted another. He was mostly responsible for covering Visanthe Shiancoe and he did a good job for the most part. Despite his occasional woes against the run, he did finish with 5 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Scott Fujita: B- (2.75) Fujita was so effective blitzing against the Cardinals, I was disappointed he wasn't sent more often against Favre. He still managed to get one pretty physical knock down, though. He finished with 5 tackles but he wasn't overly impressive. Too many of his tackles were broken. Give Fujita for coming up with a fumble recovery on a bobbled handoff between Favre and Peterson inside the Saints' 10 right before halftime. The Saints dodged the bullet despite a costly Reggie Bush fumble thanks to that.

Jabari Greer: B- (3.33) He had 8 tackles and 2 defended passes. Favre attacked him early and often. In fact, Favre was never afraid to go after him. The results were mixed. His high tackle total is a function of how much action Greer got. It certainly wasn't his best game. He made some terrific open field tackles and completely whiffed on others. He was beaten on a touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, but he also neutralized him overall.

Tracy Porter: B+ (3.09) Porter was arguably the toughest player to grade for the Saints because he was responsible for the biggest plays and the biggest breakdowns. His interception at the end of the game was almost as big as Hartley's make. The Saints were up against it and he came up with a huge pick at the most crucial of times. That play alone gets him the defensive MVP, in my eyes. He also had a very head's up strip from behind catching up to Adrian Peterson inside the Saints' 10 yard line, resulting in another absolutely crucial red zone turnover. So you could argue he saved the Saints from 7 points there, and the game winning field goal at the end. He finished with 8 tackles and a defended pass. Like Greer, he was attacked often and had mixed results. His biggest mistake was a justified pass interference call in the end zone on Bernard Berrian that gave the Vikings the ball at the Saints' 1 yard line. He had his hands full with Berrian and he was giving up way to much underneath. Still, you just can't ignore the big plays he came up with.

Randall Gay: C+ (2.64) Gay had terrific coverage a number of times that still got victimized. It was weird because at least 2 or 3 times, I thought to myself "wow, that's pretty solid coverage by Gay", only for a Minnesota receiver to come up with a sick catch in traffic. Hard to blame Gay for those, but the bottom line is it apparently wasn't good enough. He finished with 3 tackles.

Darren Sharper: B+ (2.90) Sharper was the most steady and consistent Saint on the night. He never allowed a big play over the top, he was physical, he was sure in his tackles, and he played smart. Sharper never made the big play like Vilma or Porter did, but he was the most solid defender on the night. Twice he was sent in on safety blitzes that he timed perfectly, and he pulverized Favre. Talk about laying the wood. I'm surprised Favre actually got up from one of them. He led the Saints with 11 tackles and was all over the field. Quite frankly, Peterson would've potentially had a 200 yard rushing day if he didn't make solid back end tackles.

Roman Harper: B- (2.70) It was a mixed effort for Harper, too. Per usual, his pass coverage was a little suspect. Specifically, he allowed a big third down conversion at an important stage when he was completely burned by Shiancoe. It's a bad sign, if you ask me, when your strong safety can't run with a tight end. Still, he was physical in the box. He missed a couple tackles, but Peterson was extremely slippery. Harper still managed 7 tackles and a forced fumble.

Garrett Hartley: A (3.09) Hartley was perfect on his 4 extra points, and he hit the game winning 40 yard kick in overtime that sent the Saints to the SuperBowl. The kick would've been good from 60, as it was right down the middle and cleared the crossbar by a mile. Kickers don't get put in a higher pressure situation, and that was a big kick to make. As many kicks as we've seen missed this year at the pro and college level, I have to admit I was bracing myself. That's a big time kick under the more dire of situations. Hartley forever placed himself in Saints history with that make. Make no mistake about it, that was a SuperBowl kick.

Thomas Morstead: A (3.00) As much credit as Hartley is getting and deserves, perhaps the most overlooked player on the Saints in this game was Thomas Morstead. Forget special teams player of the game, I think Thomas Morstead has a case for the Saints' PLAYER OF THE GAME. He was that good. Did anyone see that 63 yard punt he completely obliterated? Not only is his leg strength unique, he also gets tremendous hang time. He set up his coverage units nicely, and the Vikings' return units never threatened remotely. He averaged 51.3 yards per punt off of 7 punts, with 4 ending up inside the Vikings' 20 and no touchbacks. Those stats are unbelievable. That's crazy good. His net average was 49.16. 49.16 for crying out loud!!! Off 7 punts!!! It takes players an entire career to punt a game like that together, and Morstead did it in his rookie season, in the NFC Championship. I can't speak highly enough about this guy or the difference he's made. He's without question the Saints' rookie of the year. No one else is even close. The scary part is that he's gotten better and better as the season progressed. Hopefully he'll be the Saints' punter and kickoff man for a very long time. Speaking of kickoffs, they were mostly good and deep, but he did have a couple of short squib/line drives. Luckily none of those turned into a disaster, but I wonder if they were on purpose? That costs him the A+, but make no mistake when I say that he's my Saints' player of the game.

Courtney Roby: A- (2.84) Special teams on the whole were fantastic. Take away Bush's fumble and the whole unit deserves an A+ for the production they came up with. Not much is being made out of their performance in the media, but I really thought it was the difference in the game (arguably more so than the turnovers). Roby was rock solid on coverage, forcing both fair catches and Percy Harvin / Darius Reynaud into redirecting their returns to lanes that led to nowhere. On his returns, Roby never went down to the first hit. He showed good speed and tackle breaking ability. He was able to rip one 61 yard return, and he averaged 28.6 yards per return off 5 tries. He got banged up, but hopefully he'll be ok for the SuperBowl because he's an integral part of what the Saints do. I'm glad we have him. What were we thinking cutting him prior to week 1? We're extremely fortunate no one snatched him up.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Tracy Porter
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saints Nation: Offensive Player Grades vs. Vikings

I still can't fully believe the Saints are going to the SuperBowl. What a game. I've rooted my whole life for this, and like many of you words can't describe the emotions I went through in the Dome on Sunday. Anyway, on to the grades.

Vikings vs Saints coverage
Vikings vs Saints recap
Vikings vs Saints boxscore

Drew Brees: B (3.22) Brees got the job done, but it wasn't a flawless performance. Statistically, you'd see his 106.5 rating and think he had a very solid performance, but it wasn't always terrific. Brees was less accurate than usual, perhaps due to the tremendous amount of pressure he saw. Brees was credited with two fumbles, once on a bobbled snap and once on a sack/strip by Ray Edwards. Luckily neither was lost by the Saints. Give Brees credit though, he did enough to get his team the W. He finished 17-31 for 197 yards, 3 Touchdowns and no interceptions. It's rare to see him under 200 yards passing.

Reggie Bush: C+ (2.77) The one item that I thought was unforgivable for Bush was the fumble late in the first half on a punt return inside the Saints' 10. Fortunately for the Saints the Vikings came away with no points, but why Bush didn't just settle for a fair catch was beyond me. That was just a very stupid move. Running the ball was equally bad, as Bush too often tried to bounce things outside. In his defense there wasn't much to be done on most of the carries he saw. Just 7 carries for 8 yards. So why does he get a C+? Well, he made two big plays in the passing game. First, he converted a big third down with a beautiful 25 yard crossing route where he beat his man badly, then he caught a crucial 5 yard touchdown on a 3rd in goal. Reggie Bush, in my opinion, is the absolute best in the NFL at using his athleticism to get in the end zone. If he's close, he's going to find a way to contort his body and get six points. Once again, he found the pylon and showed incredible skill. I just don't think there's many players in the NFL, if any, that can turn some of the plays Reggie turns in TD's. That was something special, and the Saints needed it badly.

Pierre Thomas: A- (3.13) Thomas started out with a bang, taking a screen pass 38 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7. He looked fast, shifty, strong and balanced on that play as he broke a couple tackles and raced to paydirt. I really wish the Saints had made the effort to run the football more with Thomas, but maybe his ribs wouldn't allow. Why he never saw the carries on the 3rd and shorts that the Saints continually failed to convert is beyond me. His dive for a first down on 4th and 1 in overtime was, without question, the biggest conversion of the season. He's stopped short and the Saints likely lose. He also got the overtime period started on the right tone with a tough 40 yard return. He had just 14 carries, but 61 yards and another touchdown to show there. The only negative was his sometimes spotty pass protection.

Devery Henderson: B (2.83) With just 4 catches for 39 yards, Henderson was sadly the Saints' most productive receiver on the night. He had a 15 yards reception on a 3rd and 17, and he had another reception just short of the first down right before Pierre Thomas' 4th and 1 plunge. He would've had a 1st down if not for bobbling the football on that play. He also dropped a pass. All that said, he made a very tough catch in the end zone for a 9 yard touchdown. That catch was set up thanks to Brees getting out of the pocket and buying time. Henderson was initially covered, but did a great job of staying with the play and making one of the biggest catches of his career.

Marques Colston: C- (2.90) Colston had a drop in overtime over the seam that nearly led to a very costly interception. Brees looked his way often but couldn't really come up with completions. It was an off day for the big target and a forgettable performance. Just 2 catches for 22 yards.

Robert Meachem: C+ (2.90) Give Meachem a lot of credit, he was basically running on one leg out there and he showed a lot of toughness. I don't think I've ever seen a player play the same week he had his ankle in a walking boot. He was having trouble running out there and gaining any real separation. He still managed 2 catches for 19 yards, though, including a catch in overtime which set up Garrett Hartley's field goal.

Lance Moore: C- (2.43) What happened to him? He caught the first pass of the game for 5 yards and was never heard from again. Hopefully he can bounce back and show us something in the SuperBowl. It's been a really disappointing year from him. I know he's been frustrated with the number of injuries that have plagued him all year long.

Jeremy Shockey: C- (2.82) Like Meachem, Shockey showed a lot of guts and courage getting out there when clearly less than 100%. I thought Shockey was a liability overall, though. He wasn't getting open, he wasn't doing a good job of blocking off the edge, and he just wasn't contributing much positive. I'll give his grit and intensity the credit it always deserves, but I just didn't feel like Shockey was helping the Saints in this game. He finished with 1 catch for 9 yards.

David Thomas: B+ (2.47) Unlike Shockey, Thomas was basically the jack of all trades out there. He lined up as a receiver in the slot, he lined up at fullback, and he was the primary tight end and lead blocker for the majority of the game. He made one of the best catches he's had all season showing very soft hands, and finished with 3 catches for 32 yards. He also drew a lethal pass interference call downfield in overtime. He did all the little things well and was a big part of the victory. Thomas hasn't had it easy and the Saints are asking a lot out of him, so I applaud him for coming through with flying colors.

Zach Strief: B-  (2.38) It was a tale of two halves for the big man, who was the third tight end for the majority of the game. I graded him out extremely high in the first half. He did a tremendous job in both pass protection and blocking off the edge. He was a major help to both Stinchcomb and Bushrod  who were dealing with very tough assignments. The second half saw a major decline in his run blocking. I think the Saints were encouraged with what they saw early so they went off the edge in Strief's direction with very little success in the second half.

Jermon Bushrod: B+ (2.63) Jared Allen had 2 tackles and 1 hit on Brees all day. That's it. I said that Bushrod's production was the key to the game, and he performed great. Granted he had a lot of help with Strief, David & Pierre Thomas, as well as many designed roll outs away from his side. It was clear the Saints knew they needed to neutralize Allen, and they were very aware of his whereabouts throughout. Still, give Bushrod credit, this was his toughest test of the season and he played about as well as anyone could have asked for.

Carl Nicks: B- (2.96) Average performance for Nicks. The Saints ran behind him and got average push. In short yardage situations especially, he was pushed around way more than normal. Pat Williams was a handful for him. Still he managed to make some nice blocks on Pierre Thomas runs.

Jonathan Goodwin: C (2.98) Hard to say whether it was Goodwin's fault or Brees' for the fumbled snap, but they sure picked a weird time to botch what is in my recollection the only time all year that's happened. On a 3rd and 1 Reggie Bush cut back, Goodwin made a poor block and the play went nowhere. Pierre Thomas' 4th down conversion was made despite significant pressure up the middle. He made some decent plays, too, but it was far from his best game.

Jahri Evans: C+ (3.15) Evans was only slightly better than Goodwin getting push on the interior. Kevin Williams gave him everything he could handle. Evans was overall more dominant than Goodwin and Nicks, but he was also guilty of more critical errors. Lynell Hamilton's only carry was blown up on a 3rd and short thanks to a poor block by Evans.

Jon Stinchcomb: C (2.78) I predicted that due to the help Bushrod would need that Stinchcomb would be isolated one on one with Edwards a lot, and I was right. Stichcomb handled himself fine on running plays, but struggled mightily on passing downs. Edwards was beating him off the edge repeatedly, and even managed a sack. A number of times Edwards was very close to making more plays if not for Brees' uncanny pocket awareness.

My Saints' Offensive Player of the Game: Pierre Thomas

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saints Nation: Saints To The SuperBowl

What a season it has been for the New Orleans Saints, and it's not over yet. For the time being, this 31-28 overtime win over the Vikings will qualify as the crowning sports experience of my lifetime. We'll see if that can be topped in two weeks in Miami against the Indianapolis Colts.

Vikings @ Saints: box score

Favre was bruised, battered, and beat up by the end of the game. While the defense gave up yardarge, they created 5 turnovers and played with an intensity that made for the difference in the game. Give a big tip of the hat to Saints' special teams, too. Hartley made the game winning field goal, but the kickoff return unit, kick coverage unit and last but certainly not least Thomas Morstead made a major impact. I would argue that the Saints special teams were the difference, aside from the defense creating turnovers, with the plays they made. I never thought I'd be able to say this in my lifetime, but the Saints are SuperBowl bound. The experience of going to the game was like none other, and of course it was too close for comfort. It's something I will never forget, and the moment Hartley hit that field goal was the best cheer I have ever heard. We'll next see our boys in Miami in two weeks!!

It's been a great ride, and thank you to all the loyal Saints Nation supporters out there. The experience of this season has been ever more satisfying for me, as a Saints fan, than you can ever imagine with the support you have given me and Saints Nation!

Saints Nation: The Saints are 60 Minutes Away from SuperBowl

If you've been visiting this site long enough, you've seen many X's and O's, matchup explanations, football discussion and more. Today I'm keeping it simple and the theme is 60 minutes. The Saints have a chance to go to the SuperBowl for the first time in team history. I'll be at the Superdome cheering as loud as all of you. I'm throwing all stats, preconceived notions and matchups out the window. Bottom line, we just need to have more points than the Vikings after 60 minutes. That's the only thing I, and any other Saints fan out there, should care about. This is a unique opportunity for the team. Not to be dramatic, but I've been a Saints fan my whole life and I've rooted for this moment for almost 30 years. I've been nervous all week about this game, but today I woke up very confident. I think it will be a very close game, but I really believe this is our year. I think this team is ready for the challenge and will show up today to play their best football of the season. We are all ready for this moment.

I'm going to end with a prediction.

Final JUDGEment: Saints 27-24.

Players to watch:
Marques Colston on offense
Anthony Hargrove on defense
Garrett Hartley on special teams

WHO DAT SAY DEY GONNA BEAT DEM SAINTS! Enjoy the game, and check out my facebook and twitter pages for pictures uploads throughout the day from the Superdome. See you guys in Miami?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saints Nation: The Key to the Game is how Jermon Bushrod will handle Jared Allen

Young starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod will face what is undoubtedly his toughest test tomorrow when the Saints host the Vikings. He'll go up against Pro Bowler and NFL 2009 Defensive MVP candidate Jared Allen. While Allen didn't win the award, he was in the top 5 in voting, so he's clearly one of the most elite pass rushers in the game. I outlined the matchup HERE. Ultimately, I think the success or failure of the Saints in tomorrow's game will in part rest how Bushrod handles this mammoth challenge. Just 24 hours till kickoff folks, and our beloved Saints will take on the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship in the Superdome.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Saints Nation: Keys and Earplugs

Lots of things are circulating prior to this NFC Championship matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. Rumor has it the Vikings' offense will wear some hybrid form of earplugs that lower noise from a distance, but don't affect noise from nearby as much. I'm not sure I believe such a thing exists, but who knows with current technology? By the way are you getting pumped up for the game yet? Cause I'm PSYCHED. I cannot wait till kickoff. The Saints are 60 minutes away from the SuperBowl.

Anyway, I digress, Saints fans heading to the dome have been discussing ways to amplify their noise output when Minnesota has the ball. The typical screaming your head off routine on every play will of course happen, but in addition to that, the proposal has been made that the entire fanbase bring keys to shake on every down. The college football routine that I'm sure some of you are familiar with is catching on quickly. So if you're going to the game, bring your keys and don't be afraid to use them! With home field advantage, we need to take full advantage of this opportunity. As fans we have the ability to use our voices, and keys, to affect the outcome to a small degree. Make yourselves heard on Sunday! WHO DAT.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Saints Nation: Jonathan Goodwin to Pro Bowl

Cowboys Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode has withdrawn from the Pro Bowl for unspecified reasons, therefore first alternate Jonathan Goodwin has been called up in his stead. Hopefully Goodwin won't play in the game, because players on the SuperBowl teams are excused from the game, but it's still a major accomplishment for a player who started his career in New Orleans playing second fiddle to Jeff Faine. Goodwin has filled Faine's shoes since the star center's departure, and that was no easy task. This now means three of the five starting lineman for the Saints will represent the NFC, as Jahri Evans and Jon Stinchcomb had already received Pro Bowl invites. 3 out of 5 is a fantastic number, and it's giving the Saints national recognition that their offensive line really is that good.

Right on cue with Goodwin being moved up to the Pro Bowl to make it the third Saint offensive lineman invited, the Saints' line will face it's toughest challenge to date. The Minnesota Vikings defensive line features two Pro Bowlers themselves, and they're arguably the best defensive line in the game. Of particular interest will be the matchup between young inexperienced left tackle Jermon Bushrod, and the defensive league MVP candidate Jared Allen. That matchup in particular is an area where the Vikings may have a significant advantage, and the Saints will have their hands full trying to even the playing field. If anyone can handle this defensive line, though, it's the Saints, and it's finally getting noticed across the country.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Saints Nation: Saints Promote Adrian Arrington to Active Roster

It turns out the Saints signed Marlon Favorite to their practice squad to replace the spot left vacant by wide receiver Adrian Arrington. Arrington (pictured) has been promoted to the active roster to replace Deuce McAllister's roster spot, who retired. I think this is bad news because it looks like Robert Meachem won't be able to play against the Vikings. Hopefully the young receiver can step up and make a couple plays. Lance Moore will have to step up, also, and play like we know he's capable of.

Saints Nation: Thanks for the Memories Deuce!

It sounds like Deuce McAllister may be officially done with the NFL at the young age of 31. He's been placed on the reserve/retired list with the Saints, meaning he'll have to apply for reinstatement to the league should he want to come back. Word is he's currently close to 30 pounds above playing weight, and he'd likely need yet another knee surgery to attempt a comeback. I think it's safe to say his career is over. The good news is he may join the Saints down the road in some capacity, perhaps similar to the roles Fred McAfee and Michael Lewis both have with the team. It would be nice to have him around, that's for sure. Deuce ends his career as the all time leading rusher in Saints' history. He finished with 6,096 career rushing yards and scored 54 touchdowns. He also threw for one 12 yard touchdown in his rookie season, and he eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark 4 times in his 8 seasons.

To take McAllister's roster spot, it's been widely rumored that former LSU Defensive Tackle and rookie undrafted free agent Marlon Favorite has signed with the team. Favorite's twitter page first broke the news.

The news that the Saints signed Favorite tells me three things. 1. They're preparing to have bodies on the defensive line in an effort to stop Peterson. 2. They Saints may be unhappy with Bobby McCray playing on running downs, and they need a DT with the possibility that they're moving Anthony Hargrove back to his original position. 3. The injury to Robert Meachem's ankle shouldn't keep him out of the game if they're not signing a receiver.

For what it's worth, Favorite couldn't crack the starting lineup in Carolina this year despite basically being handed the job because of a rash of injuries at the position. He was later released and has spent some time on the Rams, Chiefs and Seahawks this season. 5 teams in one season is an impressive feat, I'll give him that. Hopefully he can fulfill his potential in New Orleans.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Saints Nation: Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades vs. Cardinals

Below are the player grades for defense and special teams. It was a tougher game to grade than most because the Cardinals only ran the ball 15 times.
 Cardinals vs Saints coverage
Cardinals vs Saints recap
Cardinals vs Saints boxscore

Will Smith: B (2.80) Smith showed heart and effort as always. Even last year when his performance was stunted by a hernia, one thing you could never deny with Smith was that the effort is there. Smith was somewhat neutralized on passing downs, and while he got in Kurt Warner's face on occasion, he wasn't the constant menace he's been at times this season. Against the run, as will be the theme throughout this grading, there wasn't enough of a sample size to really identify how he performed. He was most effective getting his hands up on passing players and disrupting Warner's timing. If you watch Warner's arm angle, he actually throws the ball almost sidearm and when defensive linemen get their hands up there's a number of opportunities to bat passes. Smith was able to do that twice, and one of them resulted in an interception that killed the game. Smith showed great hands to bring that one in, and he ended with one tackle.

Bobby McCray: B- (2.08) McCray's play will be most remembered for the devastating hit that he put on Kurt Warner following Will Smith's interception. That hit was as vicious as any I've seen put on a quarterback this season, and Warner left the game woozy and when he returned he wasn't the same. I never root for a player to get injured, and I hated to see Warner get hurt because I think he's a class act and a heck of a football player, but I'll say right now that I'm all for McCray to put a hit like that on Brett Favre next week. Otherwise, McCray was mostly quiet in pass rushing situations, his supposed specialty. The opening run of the game by Tim Hightower was a counter run right at McCray, and he was pushed completely out of the play. He stands his ground on that play and there's no touchdown. Not that he's the only one responsible for the breakdown, but he certainly contributed to it. As hard as I am on Charles Grant, I wonder if that play would've been as successful with him in the game. Regardless, McCray actually cleaned up his run defense from there. Unlike Grant, he did a good job of keeping containment when necessary, and and keeping pursuit when possible. He finished with 2 tackles, including one that was a nice pursuit play from behind. Oh, and as for Jeff Duncan calling that hit on Warner a "bordeline cheap shot", get over it dude. Do you want the quarterbacks to start wearing skirts? It was a clean block, and Warner was trying to make a tackle after a pick. There was nothing cheap about it.

Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.38) Just one tackle for Hargrove today, for a loss on a running play, but he did a decent job of keeping pressure up the middle. I was disappointed to see that he never really got reps at end in place of Charles Grant. His role stayed mostly the same, and McCray was the one who benefited from the most increase in playing time. Hargrove did play a lot at defensive tackle with the Saints putting the Cardinals in so many passing situations. Hargrove didn't get the stats to back it up, but he was active and had to be accounted for.

Sedrick Ellis: C+ (2.70) Ellis' pursuit on the opening play of the game was terrible. He completely over-pursued into the backfield, and he was then blocked out of the play. It was surprising to see Ellis handled pretty well at times. Ellis did get a sack, but that was his lone tackle and he was otherwise quiet.

Remi Ayodele: C (2.36) Ayodele's playing time was severely cut back by the amount of passing plays the Cardinals ran. He didn't finish with any tackles, so it's hard to give him better than a C, but he didn't make major errors either. I think you can expect to see much more of Ayodele next week with Adrian Peterson coming to town.

Scott Fujita: B+ (2.76) Fujita was most effective as a blitzing linebacker. Gregg Williams used Fujita as the 4th or 5th rusher many times in passing situations, and Fujita did a fantastic job beating Levi Brown around the edge a few times. While Fujita didn't get any sacks, he caused several errant Kurt Warner passes. He also put a nice hit on Warner once. He finished with 2 tackles, including one for a loss.

Scott Shanle: B (2.62) Shanle was the most active and sure tackler on the Saints. He finished with 7 tackles. Because of the tremendous amount of blitzing the Saints used, and the good coverage downfield, Warner settled for throws underneath most of the game. That was actually smart, thanks to the real estate in the middle of the field. Thankfully, Shanle was a tackling machine laying some serious wood. At one point he hit Early Doucet so hard his helmet came off. Shanle was seen hitting people off crossing patterns short of the first down all day long. His coverage was very good too. His two mistakes, however, led to 14 points. First, he was blown completely out of the play on Hightower's run. Then, he hit Kurt Warner in the head on a pass rushing play to negate a Darren Sharper interception. Later on that drive, the Cardinals would waltz into the end zone on a running play. The roughing the passer call, as weak as some people said it was, is an NFL rule. I'm sorry, but they're going to call that on you every time and Scott Shanle should know better. Period. It's too bad, because he hurts his grade with that major mistake. Otherwise, he was A material.

Jonathan Vilma: C (2.92) Vilma had one tackle, that's it. I had to double check the stats because I couldn't believe it. Re-watching the tape, he was surprisingly nowhere to be found on several plays. Very odd. I will say he had solid coverage on many passing plays. Still, the Saints are going to need much more out of him next week. Side note, speaking of hitting Warner in the head, the Saints were very fortunate that Vilma didn't get flagged for 15 yards on Sedrick Ellis' sack. The replay shows very clearly that Vilma's hand made contact with Warner's head which disrupted the play. Still, give him credit there for good pressure, but I'm glad he got away with that one because that drive turned out to be a three and out right before a Saints' touchdown drive.

Jabari Greer: A- (3.40) Greer almost shut out Larry Fitzgerald for an entire half. What more needs to be said? Every time the Cardinals tried to get Fitzgerald involved, Greer was a complete nuisance and pest to that gameplan. All this talk about how the Saints were going to need to slow down Fitzgerald if they had any chance... and Greer stepped up and looked like Darrelle Revis out there. Fitzgerald did end with 6 catches for 77 yards, but he had an awful amount of stat padding against prevent defenses with the score out of hand.Greer showed no ill effects from his hernia surgery. He finished with 2 tackles and a beautiful pass breakup in the end zone.

Tracy Porter: B+ (3.08) Porter wasn't quite as razor sharp as Greer, but he was pretty close. The cornerback play overall was outstanding. After seeing what Warner to Breaston/Doucet/Fitzgerald did to the Packers' accomplished defensive backfield last week, I was very impressed with how our guys did. They yielded just 205 yards to Warner, and 61 garbage yards to Leinart. Porter had 5 tackles, but some was a result of allowing a few completions. That said, Porter did a good job of tackling and kept the game in front of him.

Randall Gay: B+ (2.67) Gay was beaten a few times on crossing routes and passes underneath. His coverage was hit or miss, but running all game with Early Doucet over the middle was no easy task. Still, Gay finished with a game high 7 tackles and was physical bringing down his opponents. His sure tackles did include a back ride for about 5 yards with Larry Fitzgerald, which was interesting. Give Gay credit for giving his all and staying aggressive. Gay was victimized badly on a pass to Jerheme Urban with the score tied at 7, but he came up with an amazing strip from behind to force a fumble. A turnover like that early in the game with the score tied and Arizona playing with confidence couldn't have been more huge. That was a complete momentum changer and it really got the crowd going. It told the defense: we may give up plays, but we're going to make plays too. It gave the defense the momentum it needed after a dismal start to the game. I can't speak enough about that play Gay made. It was almost Meachem's strip in Washington big.

Roman Harper: C (2.71) Harper just seemed a step slow to every play throughout. On both touchdown runs, he was slow to the play and ineffective. He was playing in the box but not really making anything happen. He finished with 2 tackles and it wasn't his most memorable performance by any means.

Darren Sharper: B+ (2.87) The one reproach I have of Sharper was a terrible angle as the last line of defense on Hightower's run. We've seen him do this a few times this season, and that's the liability you live with when he offers so much in playmaking ability. He didn't even get a hand on Hightower to slow him down. Other than that, Sharper was active and in a word, good. Twice he laid massive hits to the Arizona receivers, forcing dropped passes. Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston both won't be too quick to forget the last time they played Darren Sharper. Sharper also came up with the forced fumble by Gay, and it looked for a second as if he might take it to the house. He was head's up to scoop the fumble and put a nice return together. He also had a beautiful interception that was called back due to Shanle's roughing the passer call, but his catch deserves mention because it was nasty. He played great pass defense over the top all day.

DeMario Pressley: B- (2.67) Just one tackle for Pressley and he didn't play much, but I wanted to give him props for once again maximizing his effectiveness when he's on the field. He made a nice tackle on a running play.

Pierson Prioleau: B (2.48) His coverage was good, and he was very solid on special teams. He finished with 2 tackles, and he should have had an interception but he dropped a Matt Leinart pass that went right through his hands. That was a pretty good Roman Harper impression if you ask me.

Usama Young: B+ (3.08) Young's two tackles were both very impressive. He laid a massive hit late in the game, and he also had a shoestring tackle on a screen pass to Tim Hightower that would've gone a long way if he didn't trip him up. Young looked fast and aggressive out there.

Jeff Charleston: B- (2.50) Charleston play a good amount of the fourth quarter and played fine. He held his ground and was a little disruptive in passing situations. He finished with 2 tackles.

Thomas Morstead: A- (3.04) Morstead's kickoff depth got progressively better and better as the game wore on. Good thing, because LaRod Stephens-Howling was giving the Saints trouble early with dangerous kick returns. Morstead averaged 42.8 yards per punt on 4 punts, and not one was returned. He was also able to pin one inside the 15 despite working with a short field. He's been doing a terrific job of neutralizing opponent's return games, especially lately. His best punt ended up going for a touchback, which was bad luck, but that punt was blasted for 66 yards. He absolutely crushed that one and showed off his superior leg power.

Courtney Roby: B- (2.79) Roby, per usual, was very good covering kicks and punts. He kick returns were spotty, though. He had a decent one that went 25 yards, but he also had a terrible one where he was hit inside the 20 after a 12 yard return.

Garrett Hartley: A- (2.83) Hartley's lone field goal was a 43 yard attempt. It was nice to see him not only make it, but drill it with plenty of yards to spare right down the middle. He was 6 for 6 on extra points, too, and with the season the Saints have had on PATs that is no given. Hard to give him any different of a grade based on how well he handled his responsibilities.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Jabari Greer
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Reggie Bush

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saints Nation: Offensive Player Grades vs. Cardinals

WHO DAT! I can't tell you how relieved I am to be posting these grades knowing that it won't be the last time this season. Below are the grades, and by now you know how it works.
Cardinals vs Saints coverage
Cardinals vs Saints recap
Cardinals vs Saints boxscore

Drew Brees: A (3.23) Brees had a very solid performance that saw him yet again not turn the ball over, nor get sacked. It's incredible that a team would ever go sackless when they gameplan for an entire week to get in Brees' face at all cost, but his footwork and the offensive line are that good. Brees finished 23-32 for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns. He misses the A+ because he missed Jeremy Shockey and Robert Meachem both on verticle throws that could've made the score even uglier. Still, he was vintage out there. Give Brees credit for his fitness and conditioning, too. He took a pretty nasty low hit from Calais Campbell that was flagged, and I'm not sure most quarterbacks wouldn't have left that hit with a severe knee injury. If you ever see Brees stretching during warmups, you'll know that his flexibility saved his knee on that play. My heart stopped for a second, hopefully he's not too sore this week from it.

Reggie Bush: A+ (2.80) Reggie Bush had the game of his life. If you don't vote for Bush as the offensive player of the game, you need to have your head examined. Bush created numerous matchup problems, and showed the gamebreaking speed and playmaking ability that makes him so dangerous all game. He scored on a 46 yard run and an 83 yard punt return, breaking the Cardinals' back. His touchdown run had a little bit of everything. The speed of Darrell Green, the shiftiness of Barry Sanders, and the tackle breaking ability of Craig Heyward. Bush looked decisive in his cuts, and authoritative through the hole. I've never seen him run with so much power and determination, but he definitely looked good enough to be an every down back. I'm sure Reggie will have his doubters in the future, but it was nice to see him shut them up if only for a week. I'm glad I patiently put up with a season full of horrendous punt returning, because I was rewarded as a fan with one of his most electrifying punt returns of his career.

Mike Bell: C- (2.43) Bell's first carry was a bruising 5 yard run that saw him hit the hole hard and bull over a couple Cardinals. Sadly, he only got 5 more carries for 6 yards from there. I'm not sure what happened to Bell, but he just doesn't seem like he has that fire in his belly that he had earlier in the season.

Pierre Thomas: B (3.09) Thomas was very brave, considering his broken ribs, and he showed nice toughness throughout the game. He finished with 52 yards on 13 carries and 4 catches for 18 yards. I was a little annoyed with the playing time he got late with the game out of hand, which of course resulted in him turning an ankle. Give Thomas credit as well for doing a good job in his blitz assignment pickups. He also threw a nice pass block after pitching the flea-flicker.

Lynell Hamilton: B+ (2.67) Hamilton was a surprise red zone option ahead of Mike Bell, and he did an impressive job getting his first carry over the goal line for the Saints' first touchdown. On the very next play he went down and got a tackle on special teams. With the Saints up big late, he got numerous clock running reps. He moved the chains and showed a lot of promise. He finished with 23 yards on 5 carries and a touchdown.

Marques Colston: A- (2.98) Colston was Brees' main target and he was making plays all game long. Whenever it seemed like the Saints really needed a play, Colston was there to answer the call. With the number of blitzes the Cards sent, Colston was often isolated in man to man coverage, and Brees just put the ball in places where Colston could take advantage of his massive frame to outplay his opponents to the ball. He finished with 6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Lance Moore: B- (2.56) Moore made two catches for just 6 yards. His first was a nice play in the flat for 7 yards, and his next was a yard loss on a bubble screen. At one point Brees targeted Moore over the middle on a 3rd down play, but Moore struggled to get much separation. It just seemed like he wasn't able to really run away from the defensive backs, which means he's lost some game speed because of the two bum ankles and his time away from the game. I don't think he's quite at 100% yet, and he's not a big vertical threat right now. I gave him a big grade boost, though, because despite his diminutive size he threw two key blocks. Specifically, he threw a terrific block on Reggie's touchdown run. Not only did he a good job on manning up on his guy to create an initial lane, he also threw a secondary block once Reggie broke a tackle and cut back to blow up a seam. He was also wide open another time in the flat, but Brees elected to overthrow a triple covered Colston in the end zone.

Devery Henderson: A- (2.82) If you want any more evidence of the progress this player has made over his time with the Saints, look no further than the 44 yard touchdown catch he made in this game. Two to three years ago, he makes that catch maybe 25% of the time. Now? He makes it at least 75% of the time. When you have to turn around completely, come to a total stop, and focus on a ball with a defender running full speed at you, that is not an easy catch. Let's be clear on this one: Drew Brees didn't make that good of a throw. Henderson made a terrific adjustment to the ball, and showed terrific hands to corral that in and hang onto it as he absorbed a hit. That catch was just sick. He also broke several tackles on a 16 yard screen pass that showed good strength and toughness. He finished with 4 catches for 80 yards and that touchdown. I can't tell you guys how glad I am that Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton decided to re-sign him this offseason, because that move was very much in question.

Robert Meachem: C- (2.93) Very quiet day for Meachem. He did get a first down in the red zone on a four yard end around, but he had no catches and wasn't involved in the passing game. Why does Sean Payton love that play on a short field so much? In his defense, he was wide open on the flea-flicker and could easily have been the touchdown recipient had Brees thrown his way instead of Henderson's. On another play, Meachem ran free from coverage and was overthrown, literally running out of his shoes to try to catch up to Brees' pass. Otherwise, he was completely uninvolved.

Jeremy Shockey: B+ (2.91) In a word, Shockey was a "warrior". He was clearly hampered by the turf toe that continues to bother him. At different points in the game he could barely walk, and yet he kept going out there to give his team everything he had. He finished with 3 catches for 36 yards and a touchdown, and most of the plays he made came early. I thought the Saints made a bad decision to de-activate Darnell Dinkins before the game. That left them with only two tight ends, and when Kyle Eckel left the game with an injury, David Thomas had to move to fullback. This meant that Shockey, could he walk, was forced to play more than he likely should have. Give him a ton of credit for having sure hands and making plays despite clearly being well below 100%. I would expect Dinkins to be active next week to give Shockey more of a rest and give the Saints the versatility to play Thomas at fullback if they need him to.

David Thomas: C+ (2.41) Thomas did a decent job playing fullback, but struggled at times. In the passing game he was a non-factor and Brees stayed away from him. I don't blame him for taking a terrible angle on his end around that ended a yard short of the first down, because it was a stupid call. I hate to criticize Sean Payton because I think he's very creative, innovative, and one of the best offensive minds in the game... but that play shouldn't even exist in the playbook. I'm sorry, but an end around to David Thomas? Seriously? And you're going to run in on a third and short? The thing is, Thomas could have gotten the first down easily had he turned upfield and plowed over the defender, but he tried to bounce it outside. But again, that's not playing to a player's strengths. Normally Payton is so good at getting the most out of his players by putting them in positions to succeed. A complete brain cramp by the coaching staff there.

Jermon Bushrod: A- (2.59) Granted Bushrod got a lot of help, whether it was Pierre Thomas chipping, or Carl Nicks rotating over to double team, but he was very solid. This was arguably Bushrod's best performance as a Saint. He was lights out in pass protection, and extremely effective on running plays. Most of the Saints' big running plays were off the edge to the left side, including Reggie's gamebreaker where Bushrod threw a devastating block. Maybe the bye week did him some good because I know he was nursing an injury. He'll have his hands full with Jared Allen next week.

Zach Strief: B (2.36) Strief didn't play as much as I was hoping he would, but when he came in he was usually a 3rd tight end with Dinkins inactive. He did a great job of sealing the edge and using his size to get defenders off the line of scrimmage. He was a big reason for the Saints doing a good job late of running the clock.
Carl Nicks: B (2.98) Nicks shuffled between playing amazing and mediocre. The help he gave Bushrod was largely outstanding in passing situations. The Saints ran continually behind him on the ground, and he had mixed results. He also pushed a first and goal from the 2 yard line way back with a holding penalty.

Jonathan Goodwin: B+ (3.04) Goodwin was overall solid, but he allowed some interior penetration on a couple of weak running plays by Mike Bell. His pass blocking was good. As always, he was most dangerous pulling and leading the way for plays downfield.

Jahri Evans: A+ (3.20) Evans was a dominant force for the entirety of the day. Watching game tape, it was like seeing a 30 year old athlete blocking a 5 year old child. Seriously, he was just toying with rushers and pushing them around however he wanted. This guy should have been elected to the Pro Bowl long before now. On a number of play action plays, he rolled to the left to seal the edge of Brees' backside, and his blocks were so good Brees could have sat back there for a week. On any running plays that hit the second level, there was Jahri, already responsible for a great initial block, running down field blowing people up. I don't think some Saints fans realize how lucky we are to have a player of this quality. If not for Brees, he's my Offensive MVP of the season, hands down. And the margin between Brees and Evans is very close. Just look at their GPAs. He is that good. I don't get a chance to watch many other guards around the league this closely, but I would defy anyone to show me someone better.

Jon Stinchcomb: A (2.82) Stinchcomb's pass blocking was impeccable. I have a feeling the Vikings' front four will give the Saints more trouble than Arizona did, so Brees may not see the same kind of time. The were times where Brees could've had 10 seconds to throw if he needed it. He's got a quick release anyway, but I think Ben Roethlisberger would love to play behind this pass blocking offensive line with the amount of time he takes. The right side of the line in particular was rock solid all day. It was almost like Stinchcomb and Evans wanted to validate their Pro Bowl selections. Stinchcomb was also much more physical and active in run blocking than I'm used to, and he was never beaten around the edge.

Kyle Eckel: B (2.34) Eckel gets a warrior tag, too, because the Saints were short at fullback/tight end, and he came back with what appeared to be a stinger. His lead blocking was significantly improved from what I've seen at other times during the season, but boy do the Saints miss Heath Evans.

My Offensive Player of the Game: Reggie Bush

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Saints Nation: The NFC Championship Game will be Vikings @ Saints

The top two seeds in the NFC will face off in the NFC Championship, with the winner going to the SuperBowl. Thanks to a 34-3 whipping they put on Dallas, the Minnesota Vikings will travel to New Orleans next weekend to take on the Saints. Now that we know our opponent we can begin the media circus, fan trash talk, gameplanning etc... My initial thoughts are that while Dallas, Green Bay, Arizona and others were all hot at times, Minnesota and New Orleans clearly demonstrated throughout the year that they are the two best teams in the NFC. This matchup is the way it should be. I'll be filling everyone in on my thoughts in this matchup as the week progresses. In the meantime, stay tuned for my player grades against the Cardinals.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saints Nation: Saints Blow Up Cardinals 45-14, Advance to NFC Championship

It started miserably, and was smooth sailing for essentially the entirety of the game from there. After Cardinals' back Tim Hightower took the opening carry 70 yards for a touchdown, it was all Saints as they steamrolled the visiting team from Arizona 45-14. Reggie Bush was the star as he had the game of his life. You can check out the box score HERE. It seems the Saints escaped the game without any major injuries, and they'll now play in the NFC Championship game for only the second time in the team's history. It will also be the first time in team history that the Saints will host the NFC Championship game in New Orleans. The magical season continues, and the Saints are now one win away from reaching their first SuperBowl. WHO DAT!

Saints Nation: Pregame vs. Cardinals

The Saints will host the Cardinals today in a matchup that I actually think it quite favorable for New Orleans on paper. Also for some good news, everyone on the active roster for the Saints is expected to be healthy enough to play. The four players listed on the injury report: Malcolm Jenkins, Lance Moore, Bobby McCray and Pierre Thomas are all expected to go. This also means other players that have been on the injury report for a large part of the season are as healthy as they've been all year (Shockey, Bell, Sedrick Ellis, Randall Gay, Vilma and Sharper to name a few). Anquan Boldin and Gerald Hayes for the Cardinals are both gametime decisions, but word out there is that both are a stretch to play.

Check out my pregame thoughts on this matchup by going HERE. As the title suggests, I expect a shootout.

Enjoy the game, Saints fans, and if you're going: make sure you are LOUD! Deuce McAllister will apparently lead the team onto the field today as an honorary captain. That will be a sight to see for sure. This is the playoffs, so it's time to get fired up! Win or go home. GEAUX SAINTS!

and just in case you needed an excuse to get fired up...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Saints Nation: Um... Deuce re-signed????

Deuce McAllister has been brought back to the Saints team. Yes, you heard me correctly (story here). Rodney Leisle was placed on IR, and McAllister was brought back for what I can only assume is moral support. He is supposedly to be listed as an honorary captain and he will not play. Personally, I love the move. As if the Dome could get any louder. This just gave the whole city an emotional and spiritual boost.

Saints Nation: Q&A With Saints' Offensive Tackle Zach Strief

Lineman Zach Strief took time out of his busy day, right before the playoffs, to answer a few questions from Saints Nation. Many thanks to Zach, who at 6'7" is the tallest member of the team. He was drafted in the same class as Reggie Bush, among others, and has been on the Saints for 4 years.

Saints Nation: Zach, thanks a million for taking the time. I consider you the "swiss army knife" of the offensive line, and coach Payton has found lots of ways to get you involved in the offense - sort of like the versatile Reggie Bush version of offensive lineman. Has it been a tough adjustment for you with all the different roles you'll play in a given game as opposed to learning just one position?

Zach Strief: Well there are certainly adjustments that take some time playing different positions and even more so playing on both sides of the line. It is a difficult transition sometimes going from the right to left side and vice versa. That is my role on this team though. I appreciate any chance I have to help this team win.

SN: You've been in New Orleans ever since you were drafted 4 years ago. Does it feel like a second home now?

ZS: Well this is like a first home to me now. I married my wife Mandy in April of 2009. She is born and raised in New Orleans and doesn't plan on going anywhere, neither do I.

SN: How far off do you think you are in your progression as a player from being an unquestioned 16 game starter? Is that a goal for you in 2010?

ZS: That has been a goal every year I have been in the NFL. I work very hard both in season and in the off season to improve myself as a player. It's my profession and I take it seriously. I feel like I am ready to be a starter in the league and I feel like when given the chance I will be a consistent performer. Playing behind Jon has been great for me and I've learned a tremendous amount from him.

SN: What do you think it is that makes Saints fans and the dome so unique? Is it really as different from other NFL teams as the players say?

ZS: I think this city has a very close relationship with the Saints and the players can feel that. There is a sense of responsibility that we as players feel towards the city and we receive that back from the fans on game day. I think the team and city are linked and that is a special relationship. The dome just has such great energy. The noise, the excitement, the confidence... we can feel those things. I can't wait for Saturday because it is such a rush to be in that building.

SN: The last 4 seasons, you guys as a unit have consistently been in the top 5 in fewest sacks allowed. Is the line just THAT GOOD and underrated, or does Drew Brees play a big part in that with his pocket awareness? Which is more responsible for the major success pass blocking?

ZS: Well I don't know if you could call us underrated at this point. We have two pro bowlers and two alternates. The number of sacks given up in a season is a combined effort of everyone. If Drew holds the ball too long, it can be on him, if a receiver doesn't get open it can be on them, a hot route isn't recognized and there is no where to get rid of the ball on an unblocked player. Every sack is ultimately the lines fault. It's our job. However, Drew is excellent at getting the ball out and moving in the pocket. Our receivers are great at getting open and our offense doesn't make many mental errors. Those things all contribute to us not giving up many sacks. Coach Payton does a great job calling games and keeping defenses off balance. It's the culmination of all those things.

BIG thanks again to Zach, and good luck to him this Saturday. You can visit his website HERE.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saints Nation: Injury Report for Saturday's Game

Word out there is that only 4 Saints have been listed on the injury report. Malcolm Jenkins and Lance Moore were both limited, so at this point those seem like the only two players on the active roster that could miss the game. Pierre Thomas (pictured) and Bobby McCray were both on the report as well, but they participated fully in practice, meaning there's a very highly probability they will suit up barring a setback. That is especially good news in Thomas' case, as he's by far the most indispensable of the four players. McCray is also needed given that Charles Grant will be out for the playoffs, but there's no real need for concern as his balky back hasn't caused him to miss a game all season. In Malcolm Jenkins' case, the Saints could use him as a gunner on special teams. Lance Moore adds nice depth at receiver, too, so hopefully all four players can go.

Players like Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma, Mike Bell, Jeremy Shockey and Randall Gay, among others, who have appeared on and off the injury report all year seem to be as healthy as they've been all season. It looks like the bye week was really helpful for this bunch.

As for the Cardinals, Anquan Boldin was held out of practice Wednesday and he's officially listed as a "game time decision" with a high ankle sprain. Linebacker Gerald Hayes was also held out with an ankle sprain, and he was sporting a walking boot at practice. He's officially listed as a game time decision, but the fact that he's got a walking boot on tells me that it's extremely unlikely he'll play. Per the Revenge of the Birds, an Arizona Cardinals blog, "losing Hayes could be costly, as he's been the Cardinals best run defender for the year". The rest of the Cardinals report were minor injuries that shouldn't affect availability for the game, but it should be noted that both starting corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) and Bryant McFadden (chest) are on the report. Bad timing to be banged up when you have to face Brees, Colston and co.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Amit's Take: Cardinals @ Saints Preview

Regular Saints Nation contributor Amit has give us his thoughts on the Saints-Cardinals matchup. Here's Amit's take:
Saints-Cardinals Preview

Saints Receivers vs. Cardinals Secondary-

 Advantage- Saints Receivers: 

Marques Colston has a sizable advantage over Dominique Rogers Cromartie and Bryant McFadden, and if put in man coverage, he'll simply out-muscle his corner and beat him.  In zone, Colston is smart enough to find the hole and make himself visible to Drew Brees.  He also has the strength to get off the jam at the line of scrimmage.  Meachem and Henderson are so fast that it will be nearly impossible to hold them up unless the Cardinals play a 2 or 3 deep zone behind the man coverage.  Moore is the perfect slot receiver.  He has sure hands, amazing quickness, precise route-running, great endurance, and a deep intelligence. Add Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas catching from out of the backfield, and the Cardinals will have a very tough time locking up the Saints receivers.  Jeremy Shockey also presents a potent threat down the middle of the field, which prevents the Cardinals defense from being able to play deep zone coverage.

Saints Backs vs. Cardinals Front 7-

 Advantage - Saints Backs: 

Pierre Thomas is not only capable of running the ball between the tackles, but also he can run on the outside, making him a dual threat.  He has great vision and explosiveness, a low center of gravity, and generates yards after contact.  Reggie Bush has a great burst and once he gets through the first line of defenders, he is nearly impossible to catch up with.  Mike Bell is able to pound the ball and grind out the tough 3 to 4 yards in short yardage situations or 4-minute offense.  All three backs have a different style and bring a change of pace when they are in the game.  It also helps that they are running behind an offensive line that has been nominated to the Most Valuable Protectors Award and may even win it.

Saints Secondary vs. Cardinals Receivers- 

Advantage-Cardinals Receivers. 

 Although the Saints will likely have their entire secondary healthy for the game, it likely will not be enough to cover the Cardinals receiving corps, which is arguably the best in the league. Not only do they have great outside receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, who is just an athletic freak who can get off the line of scrimmage, split the double team, and outrace defenders on the way to the end zone, and Anquan Boldin, who is one of the most physical receivers in all of football who can break tackles and play through injury (even though the scored 51 without the guy!!!!!); but also they have Steve Breaston, who would be a starter on nearly any other team in the NFL. Don't forget former LSU Tiger Early Doucet, either, who emerged very nicely against the packers; and Jeremy Urban, who is quite sure-handed and a pretty good route runner.  

Saints Front 7 vs. Cardinals Backs-

 Advantage-Saints Front 7. 

Although Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower bring a physical presence to the Cardinals offense, I think the Saints will bounce back against the run.  The Saints have gone back to the fundamentals of gap control and have also had a nice couple of weeks of rest, which is really good for those big guys up front.  It is very difficult to have a high motor for every play, every week of the season.  The Saints had their bye week in week four of the season, so their lines have had 13 straight weeks of rigorous work.  The Saints will control the Cardinals run game and my prediction is they will hold them to less than 75 yards rushing.

Saints kicking/coverage units vs. Cardinals return unit- 


Thomas Morstead is a top 5 punter in the NFL and has a knack for pinpointing the ball inside the 10, thus giving the Saints defense a chance to pin its ears back and rush the passer.  Morstead also has a knack for delivering deep kickoffs, which prevent nice returns from the opposing team, and field position is an essential advantage in the playoffs.  The Saints will have Usama Young back to play on special teams, and he is a star on that unit.  Also, Sean Payton will be using starters on coverage units, so I do not see us giving up a big return.  Also, I think Garrett Hartley will fare just fine in the playoffs.  I'd prefer that he not have to kick the game-winning kick, though, because he is only a second year pro
Saints return unit vs. Cardinals kicking/coverage units-


Reggie Bush has yet to break a big return this season, and i think that will change very soon.  A guy with the kind of speed and quickness as Reggie Bush is money on returns, and I think he will fix it for the playoffs.  He has seemed more decisive on his cuts on punt returns in recent games and I think that he will explode in the playoffs.  Courtney Roby is one of the speedier kick returners in the NFL and should give the Saints some stable field position everytime he fields a kick.

Coaching Staffs-


This one was a difficult one, but I think it came down to the fact that Gregg Williams has turned this defense around.  We are number 2 in the league in causing turnovers and that is important.  Whichever team wins the turnover battle nearly always wins the game.  Sean Payton is also an innovative offensive playcaller and he knows how to determine the weaknesses and tendencies of a defense to exploit them.   

Final Score-Saints 56 Cardinals 27