What could go wrong?
The table is set for an exciting promising season. On paper this team (roster) looks more like a winner than ever before. So what exactly could go wrong? Well there are some legitimate concerns that I hope don't surface.
1. Key injuries. Aaron Brooks. Love him or hate him, if he goes down early with a serious injury we're in huge trouble. Nearly every other position on this team could survive an early injury. But Boumann has looked horrible, Kliff is still a project and A-Mac isn't ready and probably won't be till next year.
Other keys: LeCharles Bentley, Dwight Smith, Deuce McAllister (if its an extended injury)
2. Gelling. While reports of the new additions to the staff sound promising, it is a new system that takes some time to perfect. This team has shown it hasn't picked up changes to the system quickly (see 2-TE set) There may be a learning curve that might be ugly early in the season. We will get burned now and then with our new "attack" approach, but I think its going to pay off in more wins than less.
3. Youth. This team is young. It is going to make some bonehead plays along the way. Hopefully it won't cost us. Perfect example: Charles Grant. Early in 2004 he kept busting outside, and they'd simply cut back underneath him for an easy 5 or 6 yards. It killed us. Toward the end of the year he held his containment much better. Same thing with James Allen. Toward the end of the season it looked like he was actually IN position when early in the season he was so often OUT of position.
I look for Jammal Brown to make a few boneheads along the way.
4. THE GLARE. OK, every position looks to have a decent player, except that ONE GLARING weakness. Its more of a questionmark than any other spot on this team. The 2-gap DT. We do have several candidates, and its likely that one will emerge as the clogger. BUT, if one doesn't the run is going to kill us again. Bryan Young is a really good 3-tech DT. But if he doesn't have that one gap to exploit due to the other DT needing a double team, he will struggle. Its like having only one good WR. If you don't have a decent #2 on the other side your #1 can be easily shut down.
RE: What could go wrong?
5. TEAM CHEMISTRY. Back-to-back losses early in the season could lead to fingerpointing. Individual clashes might include a Brooks vs. Grant rematch, Brooks vs. Horn/Stallworth (who takes the blame for dropped a.k.a. badly thrown passes and Howard vs. DTs ("I already have a job on the outside of the line, how about you do yours?!?"). I believe there was something boiling last year and it was Haslett's biggest accomplishment that he didn't let it get out of hand. Benson's "highschool" comment might have actually helped.
RE: What could go wrong?
I don't know how I feel about this. Danno and NC, I agree with everything you guys said, but as always, something is sticking in the back of my head. I am getting excited about this team, b/c the talent level may not be the best its been, and it was pretty good to start with. However, when I look at this team, it's pretty easy for me to break it down.
Think about it. If you were an opposing coach, how would you try to beat the Saints?
My D v. Saints O
Seems pretty easy. Assuming my secondary isn't totally worthless, I bring a safety up and tell my LBs to play one step closer to the line. I stack the middle and put 8 in the box. I take away Deuce and send someone on a blitz every play. The O-line is young and reshuffled and may not be able to respond to blitzes well. The whole world knows that if you put pressure In Brooks' face he's bound to give the ball away or throw in the dirt or over the moon. I put my corners on an island and home that we can stop Joe Horn enough to win, b/c to date, Stallworth and Henderson have amounted to about squat in the NFL and I don't see them winning many games for the Saints, especially if I can get pressure on AB. So I put 8 in and attack the line on every play. I have ever defensive player playing downhill.
My O v. Saints D
Well, the first option is obvious. I run up the middle. Until the Saints terrible DTs and young and unexperienced LBs prove they can stop me, I just keep doing that over and over. If the Saints wise up and move Howard into the DT rotation, along with Green, and the new young guys, and their LBs actually step up and are playing well against the run, my next option is to exploit the middle. Make those LBs cover my TEs and backs in the middle of the field. Finally, if all else fails, I put 3 WRs on the field and attack Brown or the nickel with quick short routes. I don't want to put WRs down the field and have to throw at D Smith. I also don't want to have to throw at McKenzie. I also don't want my QB taking 5 or 7 step drops with that pass rush. So, you look at the matchup of my #2 and #3 WR against Fahkir "who the hell is that" Brown, and the guy who wins the I'm not good enough to beat out Fahkir Brown competition. Throw quick short routes on 3 step drops. Get the ball out fast, and hope my WR can run with the ball.
When I think about that, the basic formula for beating the Saints hasn't much changed. Stop Deuce. Run up the middle. That gives me reason to pause, any time I start to get excited. This year, I really don't know. I think that we have the talent across the board to be 12-4, but the coaching to be 5-11. With key weaknesses still glaring at me, I have a hard time being real optimistic. Then again, I can definitely see this team picking up two extra wins, as compared to last year, and that likely puts them in the playoffs.
RE: What could go wrong?
Our team will only go as far is our defensive tackles take us. If Brian Young, Howard Green, Jonathan Sullivan, and Leisle cannot hold at the point of attack... no matter how much every other position has improved, we won't be looking at a record that's better than 8-8 again.
Our offense is fine like it is every other year. It will only get better with a healthy Deuce, improved line, and better depth.
WhoDats D vs. Saints O
But thats the same plan for 3 years so whats changed now?
1. I'd say our main weakness against that plan was McCarthy's stubborness. When teams put 8 in the box we STILL ran the fricking football. I'd get so dang mad at that I'd scream and yell like a little kid. I think Sheppard (with input from the Turkster) will be a welcome change to McCarthy's playcalling deficiencies. Even as successful as that strategy has been in stopping Deuce, we still put up pretty good numbers. I think we could give our opponents our playbook and we'd still have put up about the same numbers.
2. Also, our O-line will unquestionably be better this year than last. I doubt we'll see Deuce hit by 3 defenders 3 yards behind the line all year like last year. Actually if McCarthy had this O-line his predictable playcalling may have actually worked.
3. Mike Karney. I think you'll see much more of this guy. Deuce likes a FB, he's a good one, and we've had success when he's used. Uhh, sounds like a no brainer to get this guy involved more.
WhoDats O v. Saints D
So whats changed that may help versus this game plan?
1. Three young guys, a year older, a year stronger, and a year wiser. Leisle, Green, and Jefferson. All three good run stuffers who should all be better. Its still the weak link, but I feel its a bit stronger than last year.
2. Peases rotational plan seemed to click as the year went on. Tony Bryant looks like a younger Willie Whithead. I know he's listed at 286, but look at the last 4 games on tape. He's pushing 300 lbs easy. Bryant, Whitehead, Howard are all a bit too small to play DT every down. But as part of a rotation with Leisle/Green/Jefferson they should be fine. And there's always a chance Fats McBusto may contribute, but I'm not counting on it.
3. Our LB unit is in better shape than any of the last 5 years. Watson is a year older, stronger and wiser. Bockwoldt and Allen both looked like totally different LB's at years end than they did at the start. Add a firey player in Fincher, a healthy Fisher, maybe a healthy Grant, and this unit is MUCH better than the one that started 2004.
4. Willy Robinson/John Pease. Admit it. Someone else took over for Venturi the last 6 games. I don't care who it was, but it was somebody. This year I'd be shocked if we went back to Venturi's bend AND break defense.
5. Don't underestimate McKenzie's and Smith's impact. They'll both allow our LB's to cheat up against the run more. We'll have more success with the run blitz, and obviously a better pass defense. Hell, our nickle and dime backs are better than our starters were last year.
Ambrose/Thomas/Tebuckey/Bellamy versus McKenzie/Brown/Smith/Bellamy. Sorry, no contest. We went from a D to a B.
All in all, our offense will be better, our defense will be better, and our coaching should be better.
I think that adds up to two more wins for a probable 10-6 season and a playoff birth.
Whodat v. the 2004 Saints. Whodat.
Ditka v. the 2004 Saints. Ditka.
Ditka v. Whodat. WHODAT!!!
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