It’s that time of the week again: Getting to know the Chiefs’ next opponent. This week, it’s the New Orleans Saints. So sit back, relax, and read some stuff.
The Saints have been in the limelight for quite some time. The travesty that was Hurricane Katrina coupled with the sudden and drastic improvement of the team under the leadership of Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton catapulted a once downtrodden team into an eventual Super Bowl winner. The darlings of ESPN and bandwagon fans alike, the Saints were in the news this offseason for all the wrong reasons.
Bountygate has been beat to death by media enough this offseason, so I’m sure you all know Payton was suspended for the season, Joe Vitt, the eventual interim head coach and linebackers coach, is suspended the first six weeks, and Aaron Kromer is the interim coach for the first six weeks as well as the offensive line coach. If you found that confusing, it’s because it is. And it appears that some of that offseason turmoil and distraction has carried over to season, causing a 0-2 start for a team not used to missing the playoffs in recent years.
The Saints might be the only 0-2 team in the NFC, but the fault certainly does not rest with the offense. Drew Brees & company scored 32 points in week one against the Redskins and 27 against the Panthers. In fact, the Saints haven’t failed to score at least 20 points in a regular season game since week 17 of 2010. So yeah, they’re pretty good.
Brees, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing record last season, is also the proud recipient of a five-year, $100 million deal. And with Brees, he is not short on offensive weapons.
With his receivers, Marques Colston is the one you always think about, but like the greats do, he’s been known to make his surrounding cast better.* But Colston himself, coming off a 1,143 yard and eight TD 2011 season, is questionable entering Sunday, and the number two receiving option, Devery Henderson,** is also injured, but listed as probable.
*Which could be the reason Colston decided to stay and sign with the Saints. That, and $40 million.
**Former number two option, Robert Meachum, left NO and joined San Diego in the offseason.
But the biggest receiving fear for the Chiefs should be tight end Jimmy Graham. The supposed second coming of Tony Gonzalez (or was that Antonio Gates?), Graham uses his rare combination of speed and size to turn the football field into his own personal basketball court. Holder of the tight end record for yards in a season (1,310) for a couple of minutes,* the former 2010 third-round pick Graham is one of the elite tight ends in the game.** And with the trouble the Chiefs defense has had against lesser tight ends such as the Bill’s Scott Chandler this season, Graham could be primed for a BIG game.
*Rob Gronkowski with the Patriots broke the record the same day Graham set it.
**Taken two spots after the Chiefs own tight end Tony Moeaki.
An aspect of the Saints that tends to get overlooked is their running game, although they have two big name guys on their team. Mark Ingram, the Heisman winner and their second first-round pick in 2011, is a bruising runner who is used to pick up the hard yardage and close to the goal line. Although he’s struggled with injuries, Ingram is still a dangerous runner.* Pierre Thomas is perhaps their most complete back at this point, and currently leads their team in rushing. And although he hasn’t accounted for any rushing attempts yet after leading the team in yards last season, Darren Sproles is probably the most dangerous of the three. Picked up as a free agent from San Diego before last season to replace Reggie Bush, Sproles went on to break the single-season, All-Purpose Yardage record that had stood since 2000. Sproles is definitely a threat the Chiefs will have to keep in check.
As far as the guys that allow Brees to sleep sound at night, the offensive line, they took a big hit in the offseason losing guard Carl Nicks* to Tampa Bay in free agency. Replacing Nicks is free agent acquisition Ben Grubbs (former 2007 first round pick by the Ravens), who some consider a slight downgrade, but still good enough to keep their offensive line should in the top half of the league after finishing in the top ten of both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders rankings last year.** From left to right: Jermon “Mr. Tackle” Bushrod (2011 Pro Bowler), Grubbs (2011 Pro Bowler), Brian De La Puente, Jahri Evans (2009, 2010, and 2011 Pro Bowler), and Zach Strief.
*Who insisted he wanted to be paid more than former teammate Evans who received a 7 year, $56.7 million contract in 2010.
**Also, they are the two-time, Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award winners, having won it for the 2009 as well as the 2011 seasons.
It’s easy to put the lion’s share of the blame on the defense; after all, they’re tied* for most points allowed through the first two weeks of the season at 75. As the Chiefs know, it’s hard to win when you’re defense is allowing the opponent to score at will.
*And the team they’re tied with: the Chiefs.
The bounty scandal this offseason hit the defense the hardest. Veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the season (and then it was reduced and now Vilma is fighting Goodell to clear his name while he waits for his knee to recover), veteran defensive end Will Smith was suspended for part of the season but had it overturned so he could return to play before the year began. As for the guy who wanted to kill the head so the body would die, Greg Williams, he got out of Dodge and left for St. Louis before being suspended indefinitely this offseason.*
*He is now using this time to embark on a journey of self-discovery and some other hippie crap.
The new defensive coordinator, former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, is still trying to teach the Saints players his defense, but it is clearly still taking some time. Admittedly, it’s a complex defense to learn, as former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said it took the team until about week ten to fully grasp and understand Spags’ system when he was the Giants defensive coordinator.
Although Vilma is still out, they acquired former Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in the offseason. The 2011 first-round pick, Cameron Jordan out of California, plays defensive end opposite Smith; and former 2008 first round pick Sedrick Ellis and former 2006 first round pick Brodrick Bunkley sure up the middle of the defensive line. Scott Shanle and David Hawthorne play on either side of Lofton.
In the backfield, two-time Pro Bowler Roman Harper is at strong safety, 2009 first round pick Malcolm Jenkins has free safety, Jabari Greer returns from injury to take over at starting cornerback, and 2010 first round pick Patrick Robinson mans the other starting cornerback position.
Despite all this talent on the defense, the team has yet to perform* and is 26th in passing yards allowed (275 yards per game) and dead last in rushing yards allowed (186 yards per game). While the defense has been gashed so far, they have played two teams with quarterbacks that are hard to game plan for: Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. Both quarterbacks had much success throwing and running. Going against a more traditional (and mediocre) quarterback in Matt Cassel, it will be interesting to see how the Saints defense responds.
Kicker: Garret Hartley* – 86.5 career FG percentage, 3/3 in 2012
Punter: Thomas Morstead – 46.1 career net punt average
In summary, both teams are desperate, both teams want a win, but it’s not going to be easy for the Chiefs in the Super Dome.