It’s rare when the football stars and planets align but this weekend, Louisiana will be the center of the football universe when LSU hosts Alabama in Death Valley on Saturday night and then on Sunday afternoon when the one-loss New Orleans Saints face off against the perfect Los Angeles Rams for what will be a decisive contest for the number one seed in the National Football Conference.
WWL 870 AM football commentator and draft guru Mike Detillier offers his take on both the Saints at the midpoint of the NFL season and one of the biggest games ever played in Baton Rouge.
1) Let’s start off talking about the thing the sports world has been talking about- quarterback Drew Brees breaking the passing yards record and now he has thrown for 500 career touchdowns. How big of an achievement is this?
In today’s world of throwing the ball it could be broken in our lifetime, but you better have big time production, longevity and a system in which you are going to hit some high passing marks.
Drew Brees changed the football world for New Orleans and at a critical time saved the team for the city due to his success and the Saints’ success. What is remarkable is his passing skills and accuracy at 39 years old. He knows where to go with the ball and the system he works under with Sean Payton is the perfect fit.
Now, the chase is on with Tom Brady to overtake Peyton Manning’s career TD mark. Brees has been a great ambassador for the Saints and he has become the face of the franchise since 2006 and in a commuter world of sports you connect him with New Orleans.
The record is remarkable for him to break and we won’t fully understand just how good of a player he was here until Brees is not around anymore.
2) How does Brees rank amongst the great signal callers?
Listen that will always debatable. My dad lived in another era and he would always say that there would never be another Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas and yet we have seen Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach and Drew Brees.
Regardless of era, Drew Brees will be in the conversation as one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
3) Sticking with #9, how much tread is left on those tires?
Drew Brees trains like an Olympic athlete and he’s been lucky injury-wise since the real serious shoulder injury late in the 2005 season. I have long said this that I feel he has two more real strong seasons after the 2018 season.
4) Moving on to the Black & Gold as a team, most people pegged the Saints as 5-1 going into the Minnesota Vikings game. You also said that they would finally snap that Ravens’ streak. How have they met your preseason expectations?
They got off to a slow start, as usual. Not having Mark Ingram affected them early in the season, no question about it. They have played much better versus the run defensively than I thought. When teams were patient in rushing the ball they had success versus the Saints. Not this year. They have shut that down.
The Saints have struggled with miscommunication and being out of position in coverage. That has been the biggest disappointment. None of the secondary guys have had a stellar year. We all thought Lattimore and Marcus Williams would make leaps in their game, but that hasn’t happened yet this year. Ken Crawley has been picked on and that will continue until he is replaced. That part has been a disappointment.
Overall they are at the point I thought they would be at, but the journey has followed a different path, particularly having outrushed their opponents the past five weeks. That is a huge key.
You have to have some balance offensively and I think Sean Payton has been more patient running the ball than in the past. It started last year and that continues.
5) Thoughts on the trade for Cornerback Eli Apple ?
Eli Apple is talented. Physically he has what you are looking for in a cornerback. He has really good size, quick feet, an explosive catch-up ability, great speed and great length, but he hasn’t always played up to his talent. It’s been a lot of up and down play and at times a lack of focus. He hasn’t always gotten along with coaches and teammates, but to be honest I never thought he was a good “fit” for the Giants. I think he’s a better “fit” player with the Saints, he has a host of former Ohio State Buckeyes in Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell and Marshon Lattimore on the Saints squad.
Apple didn’t handle getting picked on in coverage well. No one picked on him in high school and not much at Ohio State. Future NFL Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed told me this many years ago, “In the NFL they don’t care about what you did in high school and college. This is a production league. You have to be mentally tough. And you have to add some amnesia skills to your game. When you start getting beat it wears on you mentally and then it affects your physical play and your attitude changes. It happens. You change your attitude and your personality changes.”
I think that happened to Eli Apple with the Giants. But you didn’t give up much to get a guy that was a 1st round pick and the 10th overall pick in the draft.
6) Running back Mark Ingram came back to the team after serving a four game suspension. How badly was he missed by the team?
Ingram brings a certain enthusiasm and toughness that the Saints really liked. Mark is a tough inside runner, the best screen-pass receiver they have, he has a burst off the edge and that combination of Ingram and Alvin Kamara is as good as it gets in the NFL today.
Also he is a terrific pass blocker. He was averaging 93 yards per game total offense last year. Fans are “Well that’s easy to replace”- no it isn’t. He’s a key player down the stretch and into the toughest part of the schedule. His inside running toughness, his pass catching skills and his pass blocking are big pieces of the puzzle for the Saints to make a Super Bowl run.
7) What has been the biggest surprise thus far for the Saints in 2018?
No question Taysom Hill.
On special teams covering kicks, used as a gadget player on fake punts or kicks, using him as a Run/Pass/Option quarterback –well may the Run/Run/Option play. His running skills are outstanding and he’s s tough guy. He’s a weapon as a specialty player. Hill’s an interesting guy and now if you are a defensive coordinator you have to prepare for him as a runner at quarterback, possibly throwing the ball in that position and being used all over the football board. And it opens up things and opportunities to go for it on 4th down plays.
He’s a weapon.
8) The Saints made some interesting choices when paring down the roster at the end of the preseason. Do you think they might have done things differently in retrospect?
I think to redo things it would be to keep some of the younger players in the secondary. They really liked the young defensive backs in Natrell Jamerson and Kamrin Moore and praised them quite a bit in training camp and during the preseason, but thought they could somehow sneak them back on the practice squad after being released. Payton wanted to keep certain players to upgrade his special teams. Both Jamerson and Moore got picked up quickly after being cut.
And I still don’t understand what they were doing as a backup to Alvin Kamara early on. That was baffling to me.
9) The Saints secondary took some big hits early this season. Is there anything the team can do to supplement the loss of CB Patrick Robinson?
That was a big loss because Patrick was really a top flight “nickel” cornerback the past two seasons. Injuries, you have to deal with them, but that was a huge financial payout to P-Rob and it’s a tough position to play in the nickel today. Bringing in Eli Apple helps, but he’s more of an outside cornerback than in the nickel. I still believe even after acquiring Eli Apple the team is looking to upgrade their secondary.
10) How has (or rather, what’s left of) the 2018 draft class performed thus far?
Nothing close to 2017, but that was the best draft of the 2000s, so you know it wasn’t going to be close.
This draft will be defined on defensive end Marcus Davenport. He’s played better versus the run than I thought. He’s still a work in progress as a pass rusher. He has played well in spurts and is piecing together a good string of moves and countermoves to defeat his man. Athletically Davenport is off the charts. Now it is a matter of physically getting stronger, especially in the lower-body. Athletes generate speed from lower-body power and also upgrading his pass rush moves and countermoves. The Saints need him to play big come December and into January. I like what I have seen from him.
I really like what I have seen from wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. He’s not super big, super fast or a super elusive player, but he’s a good route runner, sure-handed, smart to set up defenders and gain separation downfield and he has some scoot after the catch. Smith has good rapport with Drew Brees.
Boston Scott is a good prospect. He’s not very tall, but he’s elusive, very instinctive, he hits the hole with force and he’s a good receiver coming out of the backfield. Hopefully he will get his chance this season and will be elevated from the practice squad.
LSU’s Will Clapp is a tough guy. Very strong player and excels as a run blocker. I believe he’s a better guard than center and he needs to upgrade his pass blocking skills.
11) Finally Coach O bagged the biggest win of his LSU career upsetting Georgia in Death Valley. Dare Tiger fans dream about beating number 1 in a few weeks without Devin White?
Even with Devin White in the lineup I thought it was a Mount Everest climb to beat Alabama this season. The Tigers have played excellent on defense and no one really knew the impact of quarterback Joe Burrow, place kicker Cole Tracy, kickoff specialist Avery Atkins and we have seen the development of running back Nick Brossette, outside linebacker Michael Divinity, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, having the NCAA reverse their ruling on cornerback Kristen Fulton-who has played an excellent brand of football and certainly the development of safety Grant Delpit.
Coach O told me he has given leeway to only one other player in his college career that he has Grant Delpit and that was when he had Troy Polamalu when he was at USC. That’s high praise.
But Tua Tagovailoa takes Alabama football to another level. It’s hard to believe but that’s accurate. He’s the most talented and the most accurate passing qb in the SEC since Peyton Manning and he has much better movement skills than Manning had at Tennessee. He’s the Drew Brees of college football. Unless something happens to him physically no team in college football will beat Alabama. Tua is the best player in college football.
Tua is healthy and Alabama beats LSU.