The New Orleans Saints have moved their record to 5-0 after defeating the Chicago Bears, 26-18. The Saints have won in a myriad of fashions, displaying a propensity for getting the job done—no matter the task.
Pundits have dubbed the Saints a home-field-dependent team that would have trouble winning outdoors. Well, after beating the Bears, on the road, in less-than-ideal field conditions, the pundits must now think of something else to deny the Saints of being called the best.
After fans (and writers) have openly pinned for the Saints to show more of a commitment to the run, the Saints did just that against Chicago. Running the ball 28 times, despite little success, proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
The Saints were able to play turnover-free ball, all while controlling the clock and forcing the Bears to defend all areas of the field. The Saints only managed 66 yards on the ground, but like a Christmas gift, it's the thought that counts.
For the Saints to get to the penultimate game of the postseason, they will more than likely have to face teams that are built to slow down the pass (e.g. San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks), and it may come down to their ability to lean on another facet of their scheme.
Moreover, coach Sean Payton needs to go outside of himself and provide his quarterback with the type of plays that will slow down opposing defensive lines. It has become apparent that the Saints don't have the type of talent among their offensive line to rely strictly on the pass.
The Saints hold a comfortable lead, but still need to put the pedal to the metal in an effort to widen the distance. They are now looking to keep pace with the elite of the NFC, in an effort to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The difference between playing in New Orleans or playing in Seattle (or Green Bay) may only be a game or two. I have complete confidence that the Saints can win anywhere, but playing at home can only be a positive.
I believed the Carolina Panthers would string together victories after blowing out the New York Giants prior to their bye week, but they looked inept in their game against the Arizona Cardinals. The defense continues to play above expectations; it's the offense that's dragging the team down.
With as much talent as the Panthers have on offense, you can't expect the down slide to continue. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula seems to have coordinated his offense right down the tubes. This shows you how much coaching really matters in the NFL.
Former coordinator Rob Chudzinski, current head coach of the Cleveland Browns, has his offense rolling in Cleveland—and may have done the same in Carolina.
Tampa is coming off its bye week. No scratch that, Tampa has been on a season-long bye. It seems like it's just a matter of time before there's a coaching change in the organization.
The Atlanta Falcons aren't going away easily. It's paramount that the Saints make sure they don't have a chance. Just win baby...
This was the healthiest week the Saints have endured since Week 1. Lance Moore needs to get healthy fast. His presence opens things up for receiver Marques Colston, as well as tight end Jimmy Graham (as if he needs it).
Moore was not playing very well before his injury. But with his replacement Kenny Stills not playing very well, it has become paramount that Moore returns to his previous level of play.
Can you imagine what the pass game would look like if the old Lance Moore was in it?
Defensive end Tyrunn Walker is one of the better players in a deep talent pool of linemen. With Walker coming off his most successful outing against Miami (four tackles and one sack), look for him to move to the front of the pack in the rotation. His ability to play both the 3- and 5-technique makes him an attractive fit in the multiple-scheme outfit that is the Saints defense.
As much as I like safety Roman Harper's tenacious play, I believe the rotation is more potent without him. His absence allows Kenny Vaccaro to play closer to the line of scrimmage—as an outside linebacker in some packages.
It also allows Malcolm Jenkins to defend the tight ends in certain situations. His absence has also allowed safety Rafael Bush to emerge as a solid player. Bush has the type of range that's coveted in the style of defense with which the Saints employ.
Things to Improve Upon
It's rare that you can point to one unit that is holding an entire team back, but it can't be stressed enough, the offensive line is the Achilles' heel of this great team. The Saints' inability to run the ball hasn't been more vivid than in the Chicago game.
When you only gain 66 yards on 28 carries (2.4 average), it may be safe to say you're struggling.
In addition, quarterback Drew Brees has been sacked 14 times, which notches him seventh.
Running back Mark Ingram fell on the proverbial sword in an early attempt to deflect the blame away from the line. Some questioned the scheme in another at diffusing the energy of the situation.
While I believe the Saints lack the necessary personnel to succeed in the run game, it should be noted that they are taking the necessary steps to improve.
My two heroes of the game were fullback Jed Collins and tight end Ben Watson. New Orleans showed a commitment to the run by tailoring its personnel groupings to the run. The Saints employed a ton of "21 personnel" groupings (two backs, one tight end) in an effort to get the best blockers on the field.
Teams like the San Francisco 49ers can afford to run out of three-receiver sets, due to the quality of their line personnel. The Saints need to provide the line with an ample amount of help; this grouping provides that.
The Saints even positioned Collins and Watson in the backfield to assist with blocking. This is what I like to call quality runs. When you try to match the amount of blockers to the amount of defenders, it's called quality. The Saints often try to spread teams out with three-receiver sets, but are usually still outmanned in the box.
The days of the one-back set should predominantly be over. Smash-mouth football should be alive and well for the "Black and Gold."
Collins reminds me of Raven's fullback Vonta Leach. His size, hands and blocking ability are off the charts. He's a very good athlete who deserves more time on the field. At times, I forget he's even on the team.
Even with only two receivers, the pass game could still thrive. One of the receivers should be Graham. His ability to stretch the field is unparalleled. This would force teams to defend him with a corner, which would be a football form of suicide.
Both Collins and Watson have excellent hands and would contribute mightily to the West Coast offense portion of the scheme. I was impressed with the way the Saints leaned on their short game. The Bears were determined to not get beat deep, so the Saints leaned on screens and digs for the majority of the game.
Another way the Saints ensured quality runs was by the use of pulling guards. When you have Collins, Watson and guard Ben Grubbs coming your way to block, the results could be damning. The line is full of athletic talent that could be of use in the pull game. The athleticism is apparent when the Saints call a screen pass.
The Saints aren't having success in the run game, but they are taking the necessary steps to do so. They have shuffled personnel and even given one back the majority of the carries—with Pierre Thomas receiving 19!
Eventually, they will right the ship. And when they do...lookout Lombardi!
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