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saintz08 12-31-2002 02:32 AM

Roth Analysis
 
If there really was a St. Orleans, she would likely have been a middle-aged, matronly sort, and the patron of frustration born of life’s missed opportunities.
She would be the comforter of the tardy salesman, the gentle rest of the 11th caller into the radio contest, the soothing croon to “fifth Beatles� everywhere.

In losing to the Panthers by a score of 6 to 10, the New Orleans Saints took a golden opportunity to slink into post-season play, got it mixed up with the Christmas wrapping paper, and threw it out with the Turkey carcass. Even the unexpected gift of a Cleveland victory over Atlanta wasn’t enough to push the dying, obstinate camel that the New Orleans Saints have become to the shady oasis of the playoffs.

This game’s effort will slouch its way into Saints history as much more than one more exquisite portrait of disarray. This was a masterwork of indiscipline; an archetypical vignette of apathy; a moving tribute to indifference and a dark, deeply indulgent celebration of fatalism.

It will also mark the last time in 2002 that at least one would-be writer would be able to use tons and tons of big words to describe a Saints loss.

This game would be a rather yucky mess from the start.

Or, rather, before the start. The Saints, proactive in their disorganization, initiated a fight with the Panthers in the pre-game warm-ups. Nice.

But, it was the first drive that really foretold of icky things to come. A 30-yard return by Michael Lewis was squandered by a Stallworth drop on third down. The Saints have the ball a whole 50 seconds before kicking it back to the Panthers.

Fortunately, the Saints have Jay Bellamy standing in for their Linebacker Corps, and he ends the first Panther series by dropping Nick Goings for a two-yard loss on third down.

The Saints look like they might be putting together something of note on the next series, as Deuce starts out with a 12-yard gain, and Joe Horn pulls in another for 10 yards. Sadly, this spark is extinguished by an ill-advised attempt to run the still-injured McAllister around the end (he’s not fast enough), and the troubling return of Aaron to an old habit of throwing low, easily tipped passes. The Panthers will get it back with ten minutes left to play in the first.

The Panthers then give the Saints their first opportunity. On second and long, Goings loses the football and Grady Jackson pounces on it. First and 10 at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The Saints start out with a play action pass, a play that would likely work well if Deuce was (a) functioning at 100% and (b) not being run to the outside for losses. Neither being the case, Aaron is sacked 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. On second, they’ll get 5 out of Deuce, which the Panthers are happy to give up, as it means that the Saints are back where they started, but two downs the poorer for the experience. A third down throw to Jake Reed is not perfect, nor is Jake’s attempted catch. Net contribution of offense: zero yards, three points. Saints 3, Panthers 0.

The Panthers get scary on the next series, as Peete opens the drive with a 14-yard completion up near midfield. He has Hoover wide open downfield (due apparently to blown coverage by Sedrick Hodge), but that’s all he’s got, and the Saints will get the ball back on their nine, with about 5 ½ minutes to go.

This is not a pretty series. A respectable 8-yard catch by McAllister downfield is defiled by a muffed snap (recovered) by Brooks on second down, and a dropped pass by Horn on third. Fortunately, Gowin has the presence to boom a huge kick which puts the Panthers back on their own 15.

More fortunately, the Carolina offense is having problems of its own. After an easy, unhurried 15-yard completion to Wiggins, Rodney Peete completely overthrows the open Goings on third. Charles Grant gets in on the action by causing a fumble on third and the series ends at the Carolina 41.

The Saints take the ball back at their 25, and it is immediately evident that something is troubling Aaron Brooks.

His first pass is thrown directly at, but somehow dropped by Panther Terry Cousin. His second is very nearly picked off by a defensive tackle, off all things. Fortunately for him, Deuce is quietly building up steam, and his consecutive, Terrelle Smith-led runs of 21 and 8 yards bring the Saints a new first down up around their own 40.

As the quarter ends, however, Aaron is still having trouble. He’s moving too slow to pull off a QB draw, and a throw to Joe Horn passes way behind him.

But Aaron can still find open receivers, and Donte Stallworth catches a slant pass at the Carolina 26 for a first down. Donte is so excited to catch the ball that he slaps his tackler on the top of the head no few than six times in rapid succession.

The cranial drumming does little to help the cause, though. Aaron follows the play with an out-of-bounds throw to Michael Lewis and a ridiculously predictable draw play.

The big story of this drive, though, is the next play, during which Jake Reed catches a first down pass at the Carolina 10, then fumbles the ball away to the Panthers, who take it back up to their 30.

With 12:43 left in the half, the Panthers start out on the ground, which turns out to be a very good idea because the Saints have chosen to cut back on their tackling. Second string fullback Nick Goings runs for an enraging 15 yards on first down, through what is more accurately described as “friendly wavingâ€? than “tackling,âà ¢Â‚¬? per se. As before, the Saints are saved on this drive mostly by the incompetence of the Panthers offense, and they will kick it away from their own 43.

With a little under eleven minutes left in the half, Michael Lewis now takes matters into his own hands. A 61-yard return will set the Saints up at the Carolina 33 or so.

The down side to this gracious act of teamsmanship is that it points out the actual lack of a team to “manshipâ⠂¬? with. The Saints offensive line is not blocking, and when combined with the weird decision to abandon the lead blocker strategy, kills any chance of a decent running game.

But it’s Brooks that will add the Piece de Incompetence to this little escapade. Still trying to find his range, on this play he will lead Stallworth too much instead of too little. All Donte can do is get enough of a hand on the thing to make it easier to intercept. The fact that this red-zone turnover is much less the product of a poor choice, and much more the purview of simple mechanical inaccuracy, leads one to speculate about the possibilities of lasting physical effects of Aaron’s shoulder injury.

Whatever the cause, however, the Saints have brushed aside yet one more chance at a score, and must defend the flimsiest of leads against the Panther offense. These efforts aren’t helped by an apparently high level of confusion in the Saints’ backfield. A few quick probes for 8 or so yards set up two ridiculously long completions; the first to an apparently uncovered Smith for 29 yards, then one of 31 yards to Muhammad, who has easily outrun Keyou Craver. It is only the heroics of Sammy Knight, a close call on possession, that prevent this drive from ending in a touchdown. Sammy is named the winner of a tug-of-war with J. Wiggins, and the Saints have the football at their six.

The Saints return to using a lead blocker for Deuce on first down, and he dutifully gains 6 yards. However, this approach makes entirely too much sense to the Saints offensive coaches, who deny Deuce a pathfinder on second down. On third and five, Brooks throws a pass that could only be called “badâ⠬? by the kind of person who would refer to Attila the Hun as “a little antisocialâ€?. Someday there will be an English word that will suffice, but I hope that I’m not around to use it.

By yet one more miracle, this pass is not intercepted, but the unthinkable situation is now very real, and very clear — Aaron’s play, for whatever reason, is killing any chance of victory in this game. The time honored tradition of booing the quarterback returns to the Superdome.

The three and out gives the ball back to the Panthers at midfield, with four minutes and change until the half.

This drive begins with a mixture of positive and negative omens for the Saints. Continuous deep penetration by the defensive line is escorted by offside penalties and missed tackles in the backfield. When the Panthers go for it on fourth and 1, rookie linebacker #50 has a shot at Rod Smart in the backfield, but misses, and the Panthers keep it going. On the next down, a four-yard throw to Wiggins turns into a 17-yard gain because backup linebacker Roger Knight seems confused as to his defensive responsibility. No wonder — the Saints play this particular down with 12 men on the field, an increasingly common occurrence on an increasingly incompetent defense.

Two plays later, Peete takes advantage of a defense where no-one seems even remotely aware of what is happening, leisurely lobbing the football to Brad Hoover, who stands uncovered in the end zone.

The Saints get the ball back on their with 46 seconds left in the half. Returning to their “Why Bother� offense, the Saints while away the time trying to further injure Deuce McAllister by meaninglessly running him into the line. Deuce survives and the Saints skulk back to the locker rooms.

Reflecting on the first half of play, it would seem quite likely (if not assured), that the Saints would lose this game. Almost the entire team is playing as if they had been eliminated from playoff contention six weeks prior.

The closest analogy that leaps to mind is shopping in a store that has just notified its employees that they will all be laid off, and the store closed. Most of the employees still around don’t care about the company or the customers, and some may even be hostile. A few consummate professionals remain at their station, doing their job out of professionalism--and pride-- but the general mood is one of defeat and paralysis.

But analogies, especially ones made in the intellectual dark like this one is, seldom answer all of the questions in any satisfactory way. Here’s one:

Why on earth did Haslett keep Brooks out there with at least one and a half games worth of evidence that there are some persistent, motor skill-related problems from the injury? I am no doctor, but I am a statistician, and I find it hard to accept that someone so accurate just happened to become wildly inaccurate by sheer chance. I don’t buy the “no ground attack� theory either. If the pressure of no running game was the cause, we’d see a lot more bad decisions along with those bad throws. These were bad throws, plain and simple.

I’m not one of those people who see pulling the QB as the answer to everything, and there were more than a few dropped balls out there, to be sure. However, given that the drops will persist, there is still a point where the contribution to victory of the healthy second stringer exceeds that of the ailing first stringer. We can only wonder where we would be now if Aaron was rested for 2 or 3 weeks while Jake took the reigns. Call me a master of hindsight, but it seems to me that the signs have been there for quite a while.

Regardless, the Saints opened the third quarter on defense, with no more life than they had shown in the first two. The Panthers offense tears the Saints wide open for 24 yards in the first three plays. This includes a 15-yard breakaway on third and one, during which Charlie Clemons so overruns the play that one is left to wonder if he misidentified the ball carrier. Confusion in the Panther backfield is the only thing that stops the Panther advance, and they will kick it from their 34.

Keyou Craver kicks off the fun by muffing the punt, but the Saints somehow keep possession of the football, which is spotted at their 32.

New Orleans is clearly concerned about what might be happening at QB, so they go back to Deuce McAllister in the hope of avoiding future problems. He fights for 5 or so on his first few carries, and Aaron is able to scramble enough to earn another four downs.

Cue the circus music as the offensive strategies slips into “wildly experimental� mode.

This works on the first try, as a flea-flicker gains a full 28 yards. Keeping the ball away from Aaron, the Saints add 12 more from Deuce, placing the ball at the Carolina 12.

At this point, with 7:13 left in the third quarter, the Saints make a quarterback change — to Deuce McAllister. In a poorly considered and executed “playâ⠬? of sorts, Brooks pitches the ball to Deuce, who pulls up from an apparent sweep to throw.

To the untrained and philistine eye, there might, in fact, appear to be many convincing arguments against such a choice. One of the more compelling might be the fact that the play relies on the defensive fear of the outside run, be it a sweep or any other incarnation.

The Saints haven’t had an outside run threat since Deuce got hurt.

Fortunately, the play only ends in a loss of 7. It could have been much, much worse.

This loss so terrifies the Saints that they address a third and 13 at the Carolina 20 with a meek off-tackle by Deuce, for the expected gain of zero. Carl Smith would indeed be proud as Carney boots it through to make the score Saints 6, Panthers 7.

Rodney Peete resumes his abuse of the Saints defense at his own 30 with about five and a half minutes left in the third quarter. In a few minutes he is at the Saints’ 33, but a few misfires to some ridiculously open wide receivers allow the Saints to escape with only a three-point injury. Saints 6, Panthers 10.

New Orleans starts at their 21, and on first down Brooks is very nearly intercepted trying to throw the ball away. Deuce gets a full 8 on his own efforts, but Brooks on third down throws into a crowd and almost turns it over once again. The Panthers pick up the story at their 37, and the quarter closes as Rodney Peete runs 2 easy yards on a QB sneak to make a new Panther first down.

This drive stalls out in the first moments of the fourth quarter, however, as Sammy Knight, Ken Irvin and Grady Jackson are trying to breathe life into the Saints defense. The offense will take it at their 28.

Deuce kicks off the possession with a 13-yard blast up the middle on a direct snap. Better still, Donte’s back in the game, and says so with a pair of consecutives for a total of 20 yards.

Once again, however, the drive stalls as Brooks is pressured, throws bad passes, and has good ones dropped. A particularly nasty 3rd and 9 through is dropped by MLB Will Witherspoon, who has the ball delivered right into his hands by Brooks.

With ten minutes between them and post season, the Saints now face back-up QB Chris Weinke, who can’t get anything going.

Neither, of course, can the Saints, but at least they will entertain the crowd while (not) doing it. On the resulting punt, with about nine minutes left to go, the Saints return once more to the “Complete and Utter Panic� page of the playbook.

Now, one would think that someone with the station of Michael Lewis would be above such foolishness. Nevertheless, during the punt return, Michael stops, holds up the ball, and throws A FORWARD PASS to no-one in particular down the field.

There are two sides to every argument, of course, and one could argue that Michael’s maneuver was, of course, the safest one; if his intended receiver dropped the pass, then it wouldn’t be considered a fumble. Unfortunately, officials like to have an intervening event-- such as a “snapâ⠬? for instance—between the return and the first forward pass thrown on the possession. The intricacies of efficiency are clearly lost on these folks. Dock Michael 5 yards pay for his creativity.

The Saints fortune, it seems, will turn on the sore foot of Deuce McAllister, who runs the first three plays for 18 yards. The weird decision to roll out Brooks for a pass on third and two, however, costs the Saints the drive. They kick it away on 4th down with a little over seven minutes to play.

The defense, or at least Sammy Knight, hasn’t quit altogether, though. Sammy intercepts a pressured Rodney Peete throw and the offense takes over at mid-field, with 6 minutes to go and four points to get.

Of course, it won’t be easy. They will gain a measily 16 yards in three minutes. They’ll even go for it at the Carolina 30, but Aaron, lacking any viable targets downfield, is sacked 12 yards back.

With just under three minutes left, the defense will bend, but stiffen against Carolina’s run. Sammy Knight is everywhere; almost everyone else is elsewhere.

The defense will present the ball back to the offense at the New Orleans 40 with a minute left to play. For the October Saints, sixty seconds was enough time to score 14 points, let alone 4, but for their remains in December, there aren’t enough grains of sand in any hourglass.

In the cruelly optimistic glare of a certain Cleveland victory and a tipped 20-yard fluke completion to Joe Horn, the boat begins to groan and roll over. Joe just can’t get loose, and the whole nasty business ends with a horrible throw directly into the hands of Terry Cousin.

Thus endeth the 2002 Season for the New Orleans Saints, one in which hopes soared to their highest levels in years, only to once again crash violently to earth in the general vicinity of “Wait Till Next Year.�

hitman007 12-31-2002 10:07 AM

Roth Analysis
 
:casstet: Just beautiful..........

JOESAM2002 12-31-2002 03:03 PM

Roth Analysis
 
Excellent post Saints08. Seems we\'re always waiting till next year. :casstet:


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