Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Orleans Sports Scutllebutt 10-16-09

Posted By on Sat, Oct 17, 2009 at 2:30 AM

By Clay A. Smith

The New Orleans Saints cruised into their week five bye with a surprising 4-0 record, and they've done it with relative ease. When the Saints aren't blowing away teams (and the point spread) with their explosive offense, their defense is clamping down on the opposition with vice like ferocity.

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Just how dominant have the Saints been this season? They're winning by an average of almost twenty points a game, and have yet to trail this season. They've beaten the Lions (45-27), the Eagles (48-22), the Bills (27-7), and the Jets (24-10)-and are finally garnering some much deserved recognition around the league. So how does a team that has been a .500 or less squad the last two seasons start undefeated? There are a lot of factors that go into a 4-0 start, but here are the top five:

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5.) Luck- "Oh no, not the L-word!" Simmer down New Orleans. I'm not "that guy"-the one who (for whatever reason) bares such a bitter contempt for the Saints, he attributes every first down to an act of God or a second shooter on the "grassy knoll." But with any substantial run, especially in a league with great parity, a measure "Luck" is involved.

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The Saints have managed to stay relatively healthy. Last season was marred by injury, with a different black and gold jersey being carted off the field with alarming regularity. Up until now, the Biggest (and I mean laterally the biggest) loss the Saints have suffered has been All-Pro OT Jamal Brown, who is out for the season after undergoing hip surgery during the preseason. Combine the Saints' relatively low "body count" with Darren Sharper's (this season's "Johny on the spot) late game heroics and vuala, 4-0.

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4) Darren Sharper and the Saints' new and improved secondary-The Saints lead the league in interceptions with seven, by-in-large because of a league high five by the venerable safety. Sharper has already returned two interceptions for game changing  touchdowns (bot 90+ yard). His 99 yarder against the Jets was a Saints' record, stopping New York on a critical drive.

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Sharper's leadership has also been a big factor in the Saints' success. After team practice, Sharper and the rest of the defensive backs hold their own-and it shows. This year the Saints are ranked fifteenth against the pass, thinks to contributions from guys like: CB Jabari Greer, CB Tracy Porter, S Roman Harper, and CB Randall Gay.  In '08 they were twenty-third.  The Saints held their last two opponents to well under two hundred yards passing (the Bills 154 and the Jets 112), and against the Bills they held All-Pro WR Terrell Owens without a catch for the first time since 1996.

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3.) Offensive/ Defensive line-If you control the line of scrimmage, you control the game, and the Saints have been doing it both sides of the ball. The Saints are in a three-way tie for ninth in the league in sacks. Heading into the bye, DE Charles Grant was tied for seventh with three. DE Will Smith isn't far behind with 2.5. They're also getting good play out of DE Anthony Hargrove, DE Bobby McCray, and DT Sedrick Ellis.

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Its been their ability to get pressure on the quarterback using their down linemen that has allowed the Saints to eliminate what had been their undoing for what feels like forever-the BIG PLAY. The Saints' secondary doesn't have to cover receivers for thirty seconds while the quarterback meanders around the pocket like he's lost his car keys. And the safeties don't have to cheat up to stop the run, because their run defense is ranked ninth (honorable mention to the linebacking corp)-making the play-action pass a virtual non factor.

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Despite a huge loss in Brown, the offensive line has continued to push forward. Insert any running back you'd  like, and this group is going to make him look like the second coming of Marshall Faulk (second best rushing attack entering the bye). OT Jermon Bushrod and OT Zach Strief have filled in admirably for the injured Brown, but the entire unit (G  Carl Nicks, OT Jonathan Stinchcomb,  G  Jonathan Goodwin, G Jahri Evans , C Jamar Nesbit ) has been unstoppable all season (only allowing four sacks this season).

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2.) Drew Brees-Every time he and the Saints' offense step onto the field, they're capable of putting up "video game" type numbers. Out of the gate, he and the Saints offense put up 93 points against the Lions and Eagles. He's currently second, behind last year's MVP Peyton Manning, with a QB rating of 108.4. Number nine threw just as many touchdowns in the first two weeks and his mere presence forces defenses to respect the pass, opening up opportunities for the Saints and their revitalized running game.

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1 ) Gregg Williams, Gregg Williams, Gregg Williams-Players play, and coaches coach, but before Williams' arrival in New Orleans, neither were doing a very good job on the defensive end. Williams has put defensive players in positions to make plays all season. The Saints' defense has carried their offense in the last two games and has leap frogged all the way from twenty third last year, to ninth this year.

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Williams taylors his complex schemes and exotic blitz packages to fit his personnel and not the other way around. He has the Saints  giving up only sixteen points a game. In fact, in the game againts the Jets, the Saints' defense out scored their own offense 14-10. His emphasis on turnovers has the Saints among the league's best. But perhaps what is most important is that he has the Saints plyaig with "swagger." They not only  believe they can win, they expect to win, and thinks to Williams they haven't done much else.

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