Monday, September 15, 2008

Just Where Did This Guy Come From? Oh right...

Posted By on Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 1:22 PM

click to enlarge Horton Skins

Photo by Jonathan Mcdonnel, lifted from the Washington Post.

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Considering all the injuries and how we've said repeatedly that the NFL is unpredictable, the Saints' 29—24 loss to the Redskins shouldn't have come as a complete surprise. Nor should it be considered that it's the end of the world. The Saints are 1—1, hardly a panic-worthy record. And despite all the stats pointing to the contrary, the Saints were not horrible. Hindsight 20/20 (isn't it always?) the Saints gut-wrenching loss in Washington D.C. can be attributed to three things: Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell, the Skins' D and the Saints' injuries.

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Before we get into what went wrong for the Saints, let's talk about what went right:

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  • Jonathan Vilma had 16 total tackles, 10 solo, and has clearly become the heart of a Saints defense that didn't play as bad as the box score may suggest. Take away Santana Moss' 27-yard end-around and the Redskins had just 122 rushing yards. Take away Moss' 67-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter and...well the Saints may have won. But Campbell (more on him later) was playing against a very depleted defense.
  • Robert Meacham finally caught a TD. So there's that.

-Now onto what went wrong:

  • After a few middling preseason games and a sluggish start against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (in New York, no less), there were some doubts raised about whether Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell could succeed in this offense. Conventional wisdom said that the Saints defense would be able to take advantage of a young quarterback in his first year in a new system. Then this happened:

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  • Who remembers a young high school safety over at De La Salle by the name of Chris Horton? You know, the guy who went ended up going to UCLA and then getting drafted by the Redskins this year? Horton stepped in for safety Reed Doughty who came up with a stomach illness before the game and showed he's a quick study. Unquestionably, Horton delivered three of the key blows to the Saints hopes for winning:

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  • After the Saints last preseason game this year, I asked Sean Payton what his biggest concern was. His answer was simple: "Staying healthy." There's no question that the injuries to the Saints defense hurt them. You think that Randall Gay and Mike McKenzie would've let Jason Campbell pick them apart so consistently on those last two drives? What about the fact that a very tired Saints defense could've used some depth in the fourth quarter (not to mention some innovative cooling techniques thought up by Skins' head coach Jim Zorn)?

So is the nature of the NFL, where a team that's up one week can suddenly find themselves down the next. You could blame it on injuries, bad luck or even some sort of magazine cover jinx, but at least it's only Week 2. Now if only the Panthers hadn't started 2—0...

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