This post was going to be a reaction to Sunday’s games, but then I looked down and saw that I was over 1200 words after the NO vs. Pitt game. So, I guess we’ll split it up over two days. The rest will be here tomorrow.
Saints vs. Steelers
The 2010 Saints are a mystery to me. As Tony Dungy stated after Week 4, this team could easily have been 0-4 if a couple plays go differently. Ordinarily I would say that the Saints’ struggles have a lot to do with having to play a schedule that doesn’t include the bottom of the barrel NFC teams, but the schedule has turned out to be pretty favorable based on some surprisingly bad teams like Minnesota, San Francisco, Dallas, and Cincinnati. The opening seven games of the season were supposed to be the cake walk that preceded a rough second half stretch. It hasn’t worked out that way as the Saints went 4-3 during the supposedly easy stretch, and the record of the four teams they defeated was only 7-17. Throw in losses to a bad Arizona team and a mediocre Browns team in the Super Dome, and there is cause for concern. The Saints may be finding out that it takes more than being able to get up for the good teams to succeed consistently in the NFL. You have to beat the teams that you are supposed to beat, and their inability to take advantage of the weak part of their schedule is not a great omen for the season. However, with this Saints team, anything could happen.
The Saints have been an offense-driven team throughout the Drew Brees era, but this year seems different. The defense is the only thing keeping this team above water because the offense has been a shadow of its former self. The offense has only been able to claim one game (Tampa Bay) in which it would have won without needing the defense to play a huge part, and the rest of the victories have been almost entirely due to the defense keeping the sputtering offense in the game.
The Saints defense has had their hands full so far this year, yet, they have played over their head and stepped up the whole year. They are third in the NFL in total defense, and while they haven’t played any strong offensive teams, Brees has made it tougher on them than the opposing offenses have. In the last four games, Brees has thrown as four INTs that have been returned for touchdowns, while the Saints defense has only given up four total touchdowns on defense. Think about that for a second. The defense has held opponents to fewer than 300 total yards in each of the last five weeks, and the Saints are only 3-2 in those games. They’ve played with a depleted secondary but continued to get the job done. Now, granted, they’ve been lucky to have only played one QB (Roethlisberger) that is good enough to take advantage of those deficiencies, but it has still been impressive.
So what is the deal with the offense? Or should I say, what is wrong with Brees? He is giving the ball away at an alarming rate. He has already matched his INT totals from the entire season last year, and he’s turned the ball over 13 times in eight games. Throwing the ball to the other team is one thing, but the terrible decision-making that has led to those INTs is quite another. I don’t understand the transformation he went through in the off-season, but I can only guess that he saw how much press Favre was getting so he went out and attempted to duplicate his style. I’d like to take this moment to advise Drew to keep the camera on his phone turned off.
Let’s go through a few reasons that have been given for his struggles.
First, Pierre Thomas is injured so the running game hasn’t been as good as it should be. In actuality, the Saints have been better running the football since Thomas was injured. In his three games before getting injured, the Saints ran for 79, 50, and 43 yards. In the games since, the Saints have run for 121, 85, 212, 58, and 30. While the running game may not be as good as it was expected to be this year, it doesn’t seem to be due to injuries.
Second, Brees is trying to do too much because he has to carry the team if they want to win. Based on how well the defense has played this year, that idea is completely wrong. That may have been true in recent years, but this version of the Saints defense has been legit (so far). What Brees may be thinking is impossible to know, but it’d really dumb for him to think he has to take crazy risks to carry the team. The better solution would be to manage the game and stop throwing ridiculous interceptions and giving out free defensive TDs like Halloween candy.
Third, and the worst reason of all, the Saints have been behind a lot which has forced Brees to throw too much. This one just isn’t true. I don’t think there has been a situation where the Saints have been down big causing Brees to throw a lot and abandon the run. If anything, the only deficits that the Saints have faced have been caused By Brees throwing INTs early in the game. He has put himself in that situation so using that as an excuse just doesn’t fly.
The fact of the matter is, the Saints are in the bottom half of the league in scoring, and they are the fourth worst team in the NFC in turnover differential (-5). As Ronnie Jones pointed out last week, teams with negative turnover differentials rarely make the playoffs. Luckily for the Saints, the NFC is horrendous so they might have a chance.
One last note. I really thought I was going to get through the game without the mention of how hard the Saints supposedly work on forcing fumbles in practice. Alas, Heath Miller killed that hope with his drive killing fumble. Practicing stripping the ball and causing fumbles is a groundbreaking idea! I can’t believe no other teams in the league work hard on forcing fumbles. Give me a break.
Moving on to Pittsburgh.
Big Ben was awful last night. The Saints were so decimated in the secondary that the only way they could have hoped to stay in the game was to blitz a lot and hope they could confuse him. Pittsburgh had to know this, but Ben looked shockingly unprepared. His inability to diagnose the blitzes killed the offense, and one has to wonder what he was doing in the week leading up to the game.
The Steelers showed plenty of flaws last night, and it makes this season even more wide open. Roethlisberger showed that he can be rattled and confused, but more importantly, the Steelers defense showed some issues against the pass. Having both of their defensive ends inactive for this game definitely hurt them, and the loss of Aaron Smith is going to hurt them for the rest of the year. Let’s not forget that this team started 6-2 last year before losing Smith and Polamalu and subsequently missing the playoffs.
Regardless of the outcome, the most amazing part of last night for me was watching the Steelers tackle in the open field. If only the Colts could do that.