Early New Orleans Saints Awards
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm going to say it again: Heading into the team's bye week the New Orleans Saints are 1-4 and writing positive things about them is more than difficult. It's like trying to sound cheery and confident when your teeth are pulled without Novocaine.
But the bye week is an appropriate time in the season to take a step back and attempt to better articulate the big picture.
With an assist from one of the most popular and highest grossing films of 2012, as well as some other cult films from the past, here are the awards for the first five games of the New Orleans Saints season.
The "Roger Goodell Incompetence as a Leader" Award: Aaron Kromer
Clearly, this award has no cinematic analogy or relevance, unless you consider the past eight months of Roger Goodell’s tenure to be the equivalent of a bad comedy. In that case, this award has movie written all over it.
Unfortunately, Aaron Kromer is the recipient of this honor—I guess we’ll go with that word here.
The season started 0-4. Despite even his best efforts to commend himself and make it sound like it wasn’t his fault—sounds a lot like Roger, doesn’t it?—Kromer has lost the trust of the team and its fans.
Much like with Goodell, I was an apologist initially. As time has gone on, however, and little to no logical resolution has been made, Kromer also deserves to be reprimanded in a column by some guy no one’s ever heard of. (Me, in case that wasn’t obvious).
The "$100 Million Man" Award: Drew Brees
I thought of titling this particular award “100 million reasons he’s worth it” or something incredibly dumb like that. I decided instead to go with Captain Obvious, since Drew Brees is worth $100 million. Literally, he is worth it.
I know of no other quarterback in the NFL who could lead the league in passing and throw a touchdown in record-breaking 48-straight games with the horrid offensive line play and butterfingered wide receivers that Brees has to deal with in 2012. For not going clinically insane, I credit Brees. I’d have probably jumped off the Huey P. Long Bridge by now if I were him.
That’s how bad the offense around him has been but Brees makes them all look A-OK. What a pro.
Where’s Jon Gruden when we need him? “I love this guy!”
There he is. Thanks, Chucky!
The "Just Tap It In" Award: Darren Sproles
One of the segments on the show is called “Just Tap It In.” If it isn’t obvious, we shamelessly borrowed the line from Happy Gilmore. The point of the segment—and this award—is to come out with the most obvious statements possible.
In this case, it is slightly different. Darren Sproles is an obvious target when the New Orleans Saints get in the red zone and go to their empty package. Yet twice this season Sproles has scored on what most offensive coaches call a “whip route.”
On that route, Sproles acts like he’s going to run a quick slant then pivots the opposite way toward the sideline. Drew Brees quickly gets the ball out to him in the flat and Sproles scores.
It is on that very play that Sproles has scored his only two touchdowns of the season thus far. You’d think the defense would know it’s coming, especially when the Saints get in that empty package.
Sproles just taps it in anyway.
The "So You're Telling Me There's a Chance" Award: Cameron Jordan
Shame on you if you do not know the origin of this famous movie quote. In fact, stop reading this if you do not. I’m not even kidding.
The player who most typifies this distinction on this year’s Saints team is Cameron Jordan.
The 2011 season saw Jordan struggle to even get comfortable as a pass-rusher and fans were already beginning to label him a bust. It seemed like a one-in-a-million odds that Jordan would develop into anything more than an average defensive end.
Then the calendar flipped to 2012 and Jordan has looked much more in tune with the intricacies of pressuring the quarterback. Though he only has one sack on the season, Jordan has done a great job of creating pressure and has actually been the most impressive player on the defensive line overall through the first five games of the year.
So, yes, there is a chance Jordan could become a dominant defensive end.
The Thor Award A.K.A. "If You'd Use Me Correctly I Might Be Good": Mark Ingram
I promised there’d be a prominent 2012 movie featured in this awards show, er, column. Until now I had actually avoided the references to The Avengers. Thor is a character who was often misused, if for no other reason than that he was the only non-human of The Avengers. Casting him in a proper role would have been difficult for anyone.
Mark Ingram is similarly alien-like to this New Orleans Saints offense. Pete Carmichael has yet to show that he has any clue how to successfully integrate this immensely-talented back into the offense. So far he has tried to feature him in run-heavy formations to no avail.
I suggest Ingram take on a more diverse role, with more snaps from one-back and spread formations. That would open the field and give him more holes to run through. There’s no excuse for the most talented back on the team to be its third most effective runner.
Just like Thor, the Saints need to get him back on his planet, or at least give him his hammer and let him go to work, using his strengths—great vision and burst—to defeat opposing defenses.
The "We Don't Need Geno Smith so Why Would We Want the No. 1 Pick?" Award
If you’ve watched any college football this season, or even just read headlines, it’s obvious Geno Smith is the best player in the country. He is likely to be the coveted No. 1 pick come April’s NFL draft. Of course, if the Saints continue their losing ways they will be in serious contention for Geno Smith.
That would make no sense since quarterback is literally the one position where the team does not need help—now go knock on wood and cross your fingers that Brees doesn’t get killed or lose a limb behind that atrocious offensive line in the final 11 games of the 2012 season.
The Saints would love to possess a top-five pick. Certainly, holding the No. 1 pick would be great for the potential assets the team could receive in a draft day trade but let’s get real: The team is better off picking at least a little later on in the selection process.
If history is any indication, they might actually be better off not picking anyone in the first round but that’s a whole other discussion.
The point is that Sunday night’s dramatic and contentious victory lifted the seals of defeat and may have opened the flood gates for the Saints to finish the season second in the NFC South as both the Bucs and Panthers are even more awful than New Orleans.
Since the team does not possess a second-round pick in the 2013 draft, maybe the team considers trading their day one pick for two twos.
The "Antonio Gates Impersonation" Award: Jimmy Graham
This one is likely self-explanatory. Antonio Gates played college basketball and so did Jimmy Graham.
Sunday night the two matched up and neither played very well. That alone could make Graham the next Antonio Gates. Similarly, Gates started his career somewhat slow and had a breakout season in his second full campaign with Drew Brees as his quarterback.
The rest of Graham’s career is in front of him. It might not be a good omen that Graham walked out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night in a walking boot. The last two-plus years Gates has been plagued by nagging injuries. Let’s hope that little bug doesn’t get to Graham at such an early stage in his career.
The "I Really Miss My Husband, When's He Coming Home" Award: Sean Payton
No, the New Orleans Saints are not a wife in the literal sense. If they were, Sean Payton would not be their husband. Clearly, the analogy has its flaws. The point should be clear, though.
The Saints miss Payton enormously.
Without Payton, the team looks lost, lacks motivation, discipline and identity. The whole “Do your job” thing may have been blown out of proportion—you know, because the media never does that—but it seems clear the team failed to truly get the message.
Saints fans and players are waking up at night just hoping this crazy nightmare will end and the couple will be back together in the morning. It appears the marriage will not renew itself until 2013.
In the meantime, the Saints are quite the lonely wife, just hoping they can survive without their life source.
The "Big Green Monster Known as the Hulk" Award: Malcolm Jenkins
In The Avengers, The Hulk is portrayed as a character who is mean and nasty in his green, monstrous form while his real life form, or non-rage induced character, is actually a mild-mannered genius.
Is there a better analogy on this entire team than The Hulk as Malcolm Jenkins? Jenkins is a professional in every sense of the word. Generally known as one of the nicest and most genuine men off the field, he is praised for his work in the community and for just being an all-around good guy.
Yet when he steps on the field he seems to lose his mind and do stupid stuff. He is quite the brainiac off the field, but once he steps on it, it’s as if his head turns off and he just tries to kill people. Because of that, Jenkins takes plays where he should have an interception and turns them into unnecessary kill shots or, worse, gets beat for a big play.
The "Robert Downey Jr. Career Rejuvenation" Award: Roman Harper
This correlates with The Avengers since Robert Downey Jr. is in the movie. Much like Downey Jr.’s career—which seemed lost as the actor struggled through drug addiction—Roman Harper looked as if he’d never become a great all-around safety. In fact, a permanent move to linebacker seemed inevitable.
In spite of everyone’s opinion that Steve Spagnuolo’s defense would hurt Harper’s career, the 2012 season has been one of resurrection for Harper as an NFL safety. In fact, Sunday night Roman Harper made multiple plays on the football. His comprehensive coverage portfolio through five games actually shows a competent, dare I even say, good coverage safety.
Just when everything seemed down the drain, Harper, like Downey, resurrected his career and is actually better because of it. Hopefully, the second half of his playing career is as prosperous as Downey Jr.’s acting career has been.
The "Damn, Dude, I Lost a Step" Award: Jabari Greer
As recently as this past offseason, I wrote about Jabari Greer being one of the most underrated corners, defenders and/or players in the entire NFL.
Fast-forward to Week 5 of the 2012 season and Greer seems to have lost a step, or perhaps two. Granted, a nagging groin injury doesn’t help a speedster and someone who relies on changing directions and other quick twitch actions with great regularity.
Over the past two weeks it has become abundantly clear that Greer is not nearly the same shutdown corner he was since 2009, the year he arrived in New Orleans. He has been torched by below-average receivers such as James Jones and better-than-average ones like Malcolm Floyd.
No matter the competition though, Greer’s game has dropped a notch or two or three.
The "Swiss Cheese" Award: Run Defense
Meaning no offense to the Chargers or Ryan Matthews himself, the third-year running back should not make an NFL defense look silly. Yet there were stretches in Sunday night’s game that the Chargers' almost-benched running back ran around a defense built on speed.
Unfortunately, the basis for building a defense on speed necessitates having at least one big mammoth defensive tackle take up blockers and push the offensive line into the backfield. That has happened only on the rarest of occasions in 2012. As a result, the running lanes have been wider than a whale’s you know what.
Congratulations, New Orleans Saints, you are first in something this season.
Unfortunately, that first is actually last—last in rushing yardage allowed at 172.8 yards per game. Well done, Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis.
The "Bruce Springstein A.K.A. 'The Boss'" Award: Pierre Thomas
I’ll be 100 percent honest, I don’t know how many rushing yards or receiving yards Pierre Thomas has in 2012. I know not his yard per carry average nor how many touches he’s had. All I know is, Thomas is the boss.
Thomas is the only player who has actually looked like he cared from the season’s onset, at least on the offensive side of the football. Each and every time he touches the ball you get a sense that Thomas has on his mind that he’s going to kill someone, score or, at the very least, make an impact play for his team.
He runs with ferocity and determination that few players in the entire league can match. He almost never goes down upon the first contact and he is almost flawless in pass protection—something I cannot say of the running back I’ve been defending the past five weeks, Mark Ingram.
I shake and wince thinking about how bad this season would have been to this point without Thomas. I know it’s been painful even with him but at least the Saints have been competitive in every game they’ve played. Thomas is the primary reason among the offensive unit that a statement like that can be uttered as a true.
For that Thomas earns the acclaim as The Boss.
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