1. ) One of the things that jumped out from the New England Patriots game was that Drew Brees’ favorite target did not receive a single catch. Did the Patriots find the “Magic Bullet” to shut down Jimmy Graham and are there any adjustments the team can make to avoid him being shutout again?
Mike, It was a great gameplan and Aqib Talib put on a clinic on how to stop a big time tight end. For Jimmy Graham this was a learning experience. Talib put on a “mugging” out on the field and Graham was not use to that.
He was talking trash and holding him and just trying to “punk him” out on the field. Graham is a good guy and still learning the position. People kept calling our shows or on the TV shows and saying the Pats were holding Jimmy, but if the referees weren’t calling it then it is technically not holding.
Not everyone has a Talib, but everyone will try and copycat it. Graham needs to be just as physical with the defender and try and muscle him also. New England did that because other teams were doing the same with their guy, Rob Gronkowski.
Tight ends like Graham are like the Football Queen piece out on the field and so Jimmy has to adjust to getting that sort of treatment and learning countermoves to get separation downfield.
2.) When the season started did you expect the Saints to be 5-1 at this point?
Mike, No, I thought they would be 4-2. I thought they would lose both road games at Chicago and at New England before the season started.
3) Before the season started you said you thought the Falcons would take a step back. Are you surprised by the just enormous drop-off by Atlanta and can they overcome the loss of wide receiver Julio Jones?
I thought they would be a 9-7 team. You don’t win the games they did a year ago at the end for a second straight year. Those games sort of flip on you. I thought the Saints would win the division and that Atlanta would slip a bit because of concerns I had about their offensive line, their pass rush and they were jackpot lucky to win those very close games like they did a year ago.
They paid a heavy price for Julio Jones and he is a very good player, but he is a better player when Roddy White is healthy. They are a a lethal duo and throw in Tony Gonzalez and they are tough, but that young secondary is going through some growing pains too. Not surprised to a certain extent. I am surprised about the meltdown in Tampa.
4.) How much of a threat are the Carolina Panthers to the Saints to win the NFC South Division?
The Saints haven’t matched up well against them in the past. Sean Payton is a .500 coach against them.
split with them, with the Black and Gold winning in the dome and then losing in Charlotte
The key for Carolina is the play of Cam Newton. They will play good defense and their secondary is just OK, but Newton and DeAngelo Williams have given the Saints’ defense fits.
5.) Which new Saints player has impressed you the most?
Clearly Kenny Vaccaro.. He is a really good player. Strong in run support, a very aggressive performer, a physical openfield tackler, an intimidating presence and he matches up well in the coverage part of the game.
Offensive line at both tackle and guard. Areas of major concern and this team has taken a step back due to the free agency losses of Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks and Jonathan Goodwin.
Mainly an offensive line issue. The backs are getting hit in the backfield many times. Sean Payton has been brilliant in using the short pass to Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Jed Collins like a run. Like an extended hand-off, but the holes just aren’t there.
Now, I will say it was better against the Patriots and a lot of that was because of Khiry Robinson. He is physical, he runs hard and he seems to always be falling forward. He was also running against a defense in New England that had backups at defensive tackle starting, but this is the NFL. It will always be running back by committee in New Orleans under Sean Payton, but the biggest issue is that they are not nearly as good upfront along the offensive line, like they were in 2009 and 2011. It’s a talent drain upfront and it has affected the running game and Drew Brees is getting hit more this year than any other time since he signed with the Saints when trying to throw the football.
8.) The Saints offense has sputtered at times this season. What can be done to correct this?
Get a better running game and the next two weeks should be interesting. Buffalo and the New York Jets are pretty stout upfront. The Saints have the huge advantage at quarterback but a running game makes Drew Brees even more dangerous.
Jimmy Graham got hurt against New England. Health is a major concern for me down the stretch offensively and they need more production from Robert Meachem, Kenny Stills and Nick Toon also.
9.) How do you grade the Rob Ryan defense thus far and why do you think he has been successful?
An easy A. The results are stunning with a lot of the same talent as a year ago. He has been the assistant coach of the year in the first part of the season for what he has done with a defense that set records for being so bad.
He brings confidence to this team. They believe in what he is coaching will give them the best chance to succeed and they are aggressive. They are also getting a pass rush with just four rushing. They have 20 QB sacks now, last season they had a total of 30.
Cam Jordan is playing like a Pro-Bowler. I really like the long range potential and talent of Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins and teamed up with Jordan. A year from now this may be the best 3-4 front line in pro football.
Junior Galette is playing very well also, especially in getting pressure and I like his hustle and he is playing much smarter against the run.
They believe in Rob Ryan and what he is coaching and they are pretty talented upfront. Also they are more aggressive on the back end with Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins is playing the best football of his pro career.
That first game and how they won it did wonders for this team and that they won the game with the defense on the field stopping a very potent Falcons offense late.
10.) How do you think the Saints will do in the rest of the season?
I thought they would be 10-6, but I think now they end up 11-5. You better have a QB. that can match up with Drew Brees to beat this team and with some luck 12-4 finish is not unrealistic. You are going to have a tough time beating this team without a quarterback that can be in at least in the same zip code as Brees.
Getting homefield advantage is critical at playoff time. No one wants to play a game in San Francisco, Seattle or in New Orleans. It means a ton to play at home for all three come playoff time and Sean Payton has never lost a “home” playoff game and never won one on the road, other than Super Bowl Sunday in Miami.
11.) If you were given a franchise today and allowed to take one player to start a team from scratch who would you take?
Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts. He had the highest grade I ever gave a quarterback to come out of college in 28 years doing this and he is playing to that level in the pros in Year Number Two.
12. ) Jumping off topic a bit. LSU appears to be headed to another mid-level or just a slightly above mid-level bowl game at best. Why are the Tigers having such a rough season?
Well to be honest I thought they would finish 9-3 in the regular season and I think that will be right. When you lose 9 players that are in the pros on defense, you have to rebuild, not reload. The lack of a pass rush is evident and to be honest this is the poorest tackling and the poorest take-angle-of-pursuit defensive team I have seen at LSU in ten to twelve years.
Aside from the talent drain, the SEC has changed dramatically. The offenses you see today from Missouri, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Auburn and a really talented Georgia team before the injuries started to ravage them has everyone on their heels on defense. The offense has the major advantage and that will not change anytime soon.
There is much more talent on offense today than on defense. It is what is being fed from the high school ranks.
The real skilled people in football today are the pass rush defensive ends and outside linebackers. You just don’t see them at the prep level anymore in numbers. Those 6-3, 6-4 or, 6-5 guys are playing tight end or wide receiver and the bigger linemen are protecting the quarterbacks or playing college basketball.
Get used to this. The SEC looks today like what the PAC-12, Mountain West and the Big-12 looked like for years.
LSU does not have one signature player upfront along their front-seven on defense, not a one. I like the young freshmen cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson and they have a lot of talent, but it is a major sea-change happening across the SEC.
LSU is built this season around QB. Zach Mettenberger. I really believe he is nicked up in the lower body right now, (either shin or knee), but he is the key down the stretch. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are the best duo of receivers in college football and other than Todd Gurley at Georgia, Jeremy Hill is the best running back in the SEC.
They will win on offense, but the defense is mediocre at best and most of it is because of a lack of a strong pass rush and to be honest they have not done a good job stopping teams that are committed to running the ball on them.
Their play in the middle of the line has been inconsistent and average at best. I would like to see a bigger player in the middle at linebacker and I hope that Kendell Beckwith gets more time at the “Mike” spot. The Tigers also have no depth along the defensive line and teams are wearing them down.
The scary part is that you could quite possibly lose Beckham and Landry early to the NFL and also their best offensive lineman in La’el Collins and Jeremy Hill are not returning to LSU next year. Zach Mettenberger is a senior. That would really be a major rebuilding job on offense if that happens, which is quite possible.
I think they lose to Alabama and beat Texas A&M in a shootout game. It does give LSU a shot to win double-digit games with a bowl win. You really can’t complain about that considering the losses to graduation and to the NFL on defense.