It's like bowling; they keep setting these teams up just for them to be knocked down.
The now 8-2 New Orleans Saints survived their staunchest test of the season (NFC) in a 23-20 scare at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. Coming into the game, most wondered if the Saints could match physicality with a hyper-physical 49ers squad.
Well, wonder no more.
At least on a one-game basis it could be argued that the Saints are the more physical team. To think, this is the same team that ran the ball only 13 times against the New York Jets—while giving up 198 yards on the ground!
Limiting the 49ers to 81 rushing yards on 22 carries (3.7 average) is championship football. For the Saints to gain 92 yards on the ground (23 carries) for a 4.0 average is definitely championship football—especially considering the opponent.
Moving forward, the Saints may see teams that are better than the 49ers, but none that are more physical.
What it will boil down to is the Saints' ability to both run and stop the run. Doing so against San Francisco sends a message to the rest of the NFC that these aren't your daddy's Saints (unless Tom Benson is your father).
The Saints have won in just about every conceivable way. If they need to shoot it out, they can do that in their sleep.
If it's a defensive battle...yawn.
The Saints have the ability, and personnel, to be the most balanced team in the entire NFL. When you have the ability to go downfield or chip away with "small ball," you force the defense to defend all areas of the field.
When you're great against the pass, and stout against the run, all opposing offenses can do is pray. And considering most games are played when people are supposed to be at church, those prayers may fall upon deaf ears.
|NFC South division standings (as of Monday night)|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Points for||Points against|
The Carolina Panthers are a force to be reckoned with. This article is being written before the Panthers' victory over the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Panthers play the style of football that will give the Patriots fits.
They can control the clock with one of the, if not the, premier rushing attacks in the NFL. The running back trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert could lead the Panthers deep into the playoffs alone.
When you factor in the human highlight film that is quarterback Cam Newton—you can see just how dynamic the Panthers' backfield is. The Patriots will struggle to stop the run in this contest.
But the Panthers are first and foremost a defensive team. Coming into this game, they are currently the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will give Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski all he can handle.
The best end duo in the league, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy will force Brady off his spot and expose the little talent New England has at the receiver position.
I don't believe any team can blowout the Patriots, but the Panthers will win convincingly. If not...the comment section will be full of its normal vitriol.
Tampa is coming off a convincing win over the Falcons as many suspected would happen. Tampa is a scary team that is chock-full of talent on both sides of the ball. It is built in the mode of the Panthers with a football character-like approach (stout on both lines).
With reserve running back Bobby Rainey going over 100 yards rushing against the Falcons, Tampa now has three backs that have achieved that feat—with both Doug Martin and Mike James doing so as well.
Quarterback Mike Glennon is looking like a young Matt Ryan (Falcons QB) with a much stronger arm. They are one of the rare vertical-based offensive schemes that force teams to load the box against the run.
The Falcons aren't very good. People are using injuries as an excuse to mask the lack of depth. Can anyone say the Falcons are any more injured than the Patriots? The season-ending injury to receiver Julio Jones was huge, but the rest of the players who were injured are average at best.
A player like defensive end Kroy Biermann would be collecting splinters in his butt on a team like the Seattle Seahawks, but on the Falcons, the perception is he's the next Clay Matthews III (Green Bay Packers).
The reality of the situation is that the Falcons need talent and plenty of it. They have one solid player on both their offensive and defensive lines combined—in defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.
You can't win in the NFL on a consistent basis relying solely on skill players. The Falcons need a major overhaul in both talent and talent evaluation. If the Falcons get a top-five selection in the draft, they should entertain offers for the pick.
One player won't fix their problems. But with that said, they are still a threat to upset the Saints on Thursday Night Football in a few days.
As we all know, familiarity breeds contempt.
|Injury report prior to 49ers game|
|TE Jimmy Graham||Elbow/Foot||Probable|
|S Roman Harper||Knee||Probable|
|DE Akiem Hicks||Back||Probable|
|S Malcolm Jenkins||Hamstring||Probable|
|DE Cameron Jordan||Ankle||Probable|
|ILB Curtis Lofton||Hamstring/Ankle||Probable|
|S Kenny Vaccaro||Concussion||Out|
|DE Tyrunn Walker||Knee||Probable|
|TE Ben Watson||Concussion||Out|
I'd expect both Kenny Vaccaro and Ben Watson to return against the Falcons. Safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins both made their returns against the 49ers. With the emergence of fellow safety Rafael Bush, the depth chart has officially gone to Overstock.com.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the gruesome-looking injury sustained by veteran corner Jabari Greer against San Francisco. Corner Corey White warranted starting over Greer, but nobody wants to see someone lose their job in that manner.
Greer was a really good corner who used to have some of the most entertaining battles against Falcons' star receiver Roddy White. If he's played his last snap in a Saints uniform his presence, knowledge and overall corner acumen will be sorely missed.
It's funny to see members of the New Orleans' media running around like chickens with their heads cut off over a certain personnel grouping that was finally unveiled against the 49ers. As predicted by yours truly (what's next section), the Saints employed the all pass-rush scheme on passing downs.
This is where defensive coordinator Rob Ryan identifies his best rushers and have them all attack from either a rush linebacker or down lineman position.
Here's how it looked when Ryan was the coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. End Jason Hatcher was the only down lineman, and even he was in a rush linebacker stance. Ryan requires his rushers to be versatile in order to participate in this personnel package.
When you take linebackers and have them rush from an interior position, they must possess both speed and power. Having them stand up negates the strength disadvantage they may have going against interior linemen.
Here, the Saints rush outside linebackers Keyunta Dawson and Parys Haralson from the interior. Both are pretty stout for the position, so it works well from a personnel standpoint. This sheds light as to why a thinner linebacker like Martez Wilson was released in favor of Dawson.
This grouping allows for stunts and two-man games to be run at nausea—much to the chagrin of opposing coordinators.
Ryan forces offenses to prepare for so many looks that it takes away from normal preparation. This is an aspect that most don't account for...except you, the reader.
So the next time one of those New Orleans' journalists brags about a schematic development, tell them you already know (months ago) because you follow Bleacher Report's coverage of Saints football.
If you're not following me on Twitter, what are you actually doing?
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