With the Saints' training camp less than two weeks away, it is now entirely acceptable to begin salivating. Last year’s season was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. It left me weary and frustrated, but also optimistic.
Even though the team didn’t live up to its post-2006 billing as the team to beat in the NFC, the Saints still managed to show that their magical run to the NFC Championship game wasn’t a fluke.
Drew Brees proved that his surgically repaired shoulder wasn’t wearing down, Marques Colston made it clear that his magical rookie campaign wasn’t a mirage, and Pierre Thomas sidled his way into the hearts of the "Who Dat" nation as the next fan favorite.
Yes, not all was lost in the midst of a disappointing 2007 season, which means there is much to be optimistic about this year. With that said, I think a season preview is in order.
This is Part One of a four-part series preview of the Saints' 2008 opponents.
Game One, Bucs: The Saints begin their season on Sept. 7 at home against the Tampa Bay Bucs. It will be the first season-opening game at home since 2004, and you can bet the Dome will be rocking.
The Bucs are a formidable challenge for the Saints. They are older than God at four crucial positions, QB, MLB, CB, and WR, but they do have a little bit of young blood to help sooth the joints of their decaying roster.
Barrett Ruud, a fourth-year linebacker out of Nebraska, exploded onto the scene last season as a tackling angler. He cleans up whatever the archaic Derrick Brooks leaves on his plate. The Saints would be wise to run the ball away from him.
Aquib Talib, the Bucs’ first-round pick this year, was brought in to eventually replace Ronde Barber, though he’s good enough to make an impact immediately. I’m not sure if he’ll play much against the Saints in the season opener, but he might. Regardless, he’ll be a force that the Saints will have to deal with eventually.
What New Orleans must focus on most in this game is the Garcia-to-Galloway connection. Over the years, no one has burned the Saints as badly as Joey Galloway. And it doesn’t matter who’s throwing to him either. Galloway could put up 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns against the Saints with Dr. John throwing him the ball.
The Saints must figure out a way to stop him. But I have a creeping suspicion the likes of Jason David and Usama Young probably won’t get the job done.
So, to win this game, the Saints’ offense must come out with guns blazing. I think they do and I think the crowd wills them to a 30-21 season-opening victory. Saints start 1-0.
Game Two, Redskins: From there the Black-and-Gold travel to Washington. The Redskins are going to surprise some people this year, even though they made the playoffs in 2007. When you think of NFC powerhouses, do you think of Washington? Probably not.
In fact, the Redskins even have trouble getting noticed in their own division.
The pieces are in place, though, for the Redskins to do some quality work this season. They’ve got a young offense with playmakers everywhere. Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley, Santana Moss, and Antwaan Randle El are all touchdowns waiting to happen.
The defense is strong in the secondary with Sean Springs, Fred Smoot, Carlos Rogers, and Leon Landry. London Fletcher and Marcus Washington provide adequate support at linebacker.
Where they may be weak, and where I think the Saints have the advantage, is in the coaching department. This may be hard to believe, but none of Washington’s three primary coaches have ever coached their respective positions before!
The offensive coordinator, Sherman Smith, has spent the past 13 years as a running-backs coach with Tennessee. The defensive coordinator, Greg Blache, coached D-line for the past four years. And Jim Zorn, the head coach, has never even been an offensive or defensive coordinator! Are you serious, Dan Snyder? These guys are greener than the grass they’ll be playing on.
Despite loads of talent, coaching inexperience will cause Washington to struggle early on, and Sean Payton will take advantage. Saints take down the Redskins 28-17 and improve to 2-0.
Game Three, Broncos: Denver coach Mike Shanahan is cocky. That’s the only reason I can think of that explains why Selvin Young is the best running back on Denver’s roster.
You know what? It doesn’t really matter does it? My mistake. I shouldn’t be so naive as to question the legitimacy of the Broncos’ running game. Oprah could line up at tailback and gain 1,000 yards.
Though Denver always has a strong offensive running game, their run defense sometimes isn’t up to par. Last season the Broncos ranked 30th against the run. They didn’t do much to improve in the offseason either, waiting until the fifth round to draft a defensive lineman.
The question is: Will the Saints be able to exploit Denver’s weak run defense? Possibly.
If they do, it’ll be an easy win for Drew Brees and Co. Something tells me they might struggle in this one though. I see a big day for Cutler and Brandon Marshall against an overmatched New Orleans secondary. Broncos top Saints 30-27. Saints fall to 2-1.
Game Four, 49ers: San Francisco is a bad team with a lot of good players. You would think they could win some games with guys like Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, and Nate Clements—all high quality NFL players. But for some reason they just don’t get the job done.
The 49ers’ struggles stem from the quarterback position. Alex Smith is skating on paper-thin ice right now. If he doesn’t start living up to his potential as the No. 1 overall pick, the man with small hands might be out of a job.
What I want to know is why doesn’t Mike Nolan run him more often? His legs are what made him so effective as a college QB, so why won’t the coaches let him move around a little bit? What’ve they got to lose? He obviously can’t handle being a pocket passer. If he gets hurt, they might actually improve by default.
As for their matchup with the Saints in Week Four, I don’t see them having much of a chance, especially if the Saints lose to the Broncos in Week Three. The Black-and-Gold will be returning to the Dome, thirsting for fan support after two weeks on the road. Saints steamroll the ‘Niners 38-21 and improve to 3-1.
Stay tuned for Part Two.