24 September 2012

Week 3, Chiefs at Saints: Stumbling into Goodell's Abyss

First, for those interested, the stats:

Final Score: Chiefs 27, Saints 24
Record: 0-3
Complete Box Score
Stat Chart:


Here's the thing: every loss hurts.

Every single one of them.

Remember how you felt after that loss at San Francisco last year? Have you completely moved past it? Will you ever?

All of these losses are painful, and a lot of them stay with you forever. In that regard, yesterday's loss was no different.

What was different about yesterday's loss was that it felt so ... permanent.

At least with the handful of losses in the recent past, there was still that beam of hope on the other end. But now? After three games, it's exceedingly difficult not to feel hopeless for 2012.

Look, I've been among the most myopically deluded of Saints' fans when it comes to this season's prospects. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about if you've periodically read this blog. But at some point, you see reality for what it is. And that reality now is downright fucking bleak.

It's not a situation we Saints' fans are that far removed from, which means it won't be that difficult to reacquaint ourselves with the possibility of being emotionally shanked on a week-to-week basis this season. Beyond that? Who knows? And that's the real question.

Will the Payton/Brees Saints ultimately recover from this? Or was this offseason a death blow?

It would be pointless to microscopically deconstruct the ubiquitous contributions to the Saints' precipitous decline; that would be to miss the overarching point. That point, specifically, is a team that is operating in a hopelessly overwhelmed state of dysfunction. I tried my best to suppress that reality, but I can't do it anymore. The signs are everywhere.

To say Kromer's in over his head is an obvious understatement. Is it any coincidence why the offensive line--the position group coached by Kromer--has looked consistently and terrifyingly overmatched in three straight games? But come on, it's an enormous mistake to blame "0-3" on Kromer.

Yes, the defense is staggeringly, hypnotically bad. The Saints' still might be 2-1 or 1-2 with Payton around, but I'm sure it wouldn't reek of morbid doom.

One can no longer--and maybe I'm just speaking for myself here--in conscious, lucid thought look at the 2012 Saints' season and not see it for what it is right now: a painful, unmitigated disaster. Maybe that will change, but I wouldn't count on it.

The feeling that engulfed me near the end of the third quarter is still lingering. Specifically, it's this: what if the championship form of the Payton/Brees era is now permanently behind us?

Sure, that might likely be a raw overreaction. Even if it is over, it's not the end of the world. But if it does end this way, it's a travesty regardless of who you blame. After everything that's happened over the past seven months, it's difficult for me not to rationally believe it's at least possible now.

Regardless, at present, it's not the fault of Aaron Kromer's unpreparedness or Brees' contract demands or Spagnuolo's bad defense or horrid officiating or an unconscionably porous offensive line. The ineptitude is so pervasive, it's faulty to assign it to one area. I tried already, and was clearly oversimplifying it.

Try as I might to avoid thinking it, it's impossible not to pin most of this on Roger Goodell. Laugh at me all you want and call me a delusional homer.

The Saints' performance on the field is largely the end result of Goodell's misguided quest to use the Saints as a one-alarm fire he publicly extinguished in a transparent gesture of five-alarm nobility.

Yes, it's partly fair to blame Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton for not stopping the pay-for-performance program they'd been warned to stop, especially in light of the Vicodin scandal. But because they could have potentially prevented this outcome doesn't mean that whatever consequences are levied upon them are acceptable.

It doesn't justify Goodell's decision to railroad the Saints' into irrevocable oblivion and pawn them off as some taxidermied pelt of "culture change."

Pinning the blame on the Saints' organization for what's happened as a result of BountyGate is to accept a system in which evidence is meaningless; recourse is absent; and proportionality of punishment rests on an arbitrary standard. Doing so--laying the blame on the Saints like Boomer Esiason did on Sunday--is a faulty way to rationalize the disastrous results of 2012. This is a perfect storm of the Saints' disregard for opinion outside of their organization, and Goodell's incapacity for reason.

Goodell wrecked the 2012 Saints only because he (thought he) had something to gain by doing so. Not for anything they actually did.

And while NFL observers nationwide decry the glaring hypocrisy of the NFL's employment of scab refs, the astute among them will look at the Saints as representative of the NFL's larger truth: Roger Goodell's conscious destruction of a once high quality product, all in the name of what he perceives to be the interests of the NFL's owners.

Goodell's self-deluded infallibility knows no bounds and it won't be complete until he's burned Rome beyond repair, while his rich enablers fiddle away what was once an unrivaled product.

The Saints are just a portending microcosm of the larger doom.

The evidence is not just suggestive, it's an all-encompassing mushroom cloud: 18 game seasons, European expansion, London Super Bowls, Thursday night games, primetime drafts, open collusion, scab refs, and a whole host of other shit I'm sure I'm neglecting.

When it all comes to pass, when Goodell and the owners have sucked every penny out of the NFL before they let it perish with a whimper, at least we'll be able to utter the four greatest words in the English language:

"I told you so."

17 September 2012

Week 2, Saints at Panthers: On Borrowed Time

First, the stats:

Final Score: Panthers 35, Saints 27
Record: 0-2
Complete Box Score
Stat Chart:

Clearly, something is amiss.

Mostly, it's an inability to stop the opposing QB. Even remotely.

A 134.6 passer rating allowed over the first two games? That's off-the-scale bad.

If you want to identify why "0-2" is twisting its rusty, jagged blade into the small of your back while you writhe hopelessly, then direct your foggy gazes accordingly.

For context, 158.3 is a perfect passer rating and thus far in 2012, RG3 and Cam Newton have been damn near perfect against the Saints in consecutive games.

In eight quarters played, the Saints' defense has allowed opposing QBs to perform at such an extremely high level that the outcome of each game shouldn't have been as close as each has even been.

Here's another layer of context: when Brees' passer rating is north of 120, the Saints are 21-1 (Tampa '07).

How many times over the past five seasons have you heard some random talking head say "It's a passing league now."? When a QB does whatever he wants, whenever he wants to, opposing teams have virtually no chance of winning. What's worse? The Saints' defense allowed Cam Newton to rush for 71 yards and Robert Griffin, III 42 yards in addition to their pristine passing performances. Winning can't be much more difficult when that's what you're up against.

From 2009-2011, in the 188 games in which a QB's passer rating was 120+, his respective team was 173-15 (92%). When it's 130+? 99-5 (95%). One can identify any number of reasons for the Saints' failures thus far in 2012. But look no further than the opposing QB's passer rating as the primary villain in this evermore ominous sideshow.

Forget about Sean Payton or Aaron Kromer or a clearly deficient WRs corps or a weakened offensive line or a rattled Brees or a hobbled Colston. None of that is affecting Spagnuolo's flaccid, gauzy defense through two weeks. If defending the opponent's QB doesn't improve markedly, then the Saints are living on borrowed time whether Sean Payton is on the sideline or not.

Sure there are holes in other places. But they're minor in comparison, and not nearly as injurious to the Saints' chances of winning. Payton's presence hasn't significantly altered the performance of the defense in year's past, so it seems disingenuous and lazy to lay the blame there now.

It's simple: when you're incapable of stopping the opponent's QB, even in the most cursory ways, your chance of winning plummets. There's no way around it.

Nowhere has this inability been more pronounced than in the red zone. In two games, the Saints have allowed the Redskins and the Panthers to score TDs 70% of the time when they get inside the Saints' 20. That stat alone is death. Coming off a season in which the Saints allowed a near league-worst 62% TDs in the red zone, the defense has continued the trend of being more openly permissive than a Deadwood brothel.

If the Saints are intent on lifting the damp, rank disquietude lingering over the team right now, then functionally defending opposing QBs is a good place to start.

Other thoughts:

I previously mentioned this, but replacing Robert Meachem wasn't a simple plug-and-play proposition. Meachem is a borderline #1 WR and the Saints were fortunate to have him manning the 4th WR spot. The resulting drop-off has been noticeable.

So much for "balance," right? Shows what some of us lowly bloggers know. 163 yards rushing (6 yards per) plus 323 through the air, all for naught.

Update: 24 games without an INT for Saints' safeties. Add to that yet another easy INT dropped-this time by CB Patrick Robinson--and the Saints' secondary couldn't look any more feeble.

Cameron Jordan has been one of the lone bright spots on the defense. Following up a stellar week one performance, Jordan again looked worthy of his high draft status against Carolina.

Pierre Thomas continues to be a reliable, indefatigable playmaker. An all-time Saint. It's apparent that PT has modeled himself after Deuce, and his consistency, toughness, and positive attitude speak to that.

Let's be hopeful for a week 3 breakthrough. Keep the faith. It's a long season.

10 September 2012

Week 1, Redskins at Saints: Kromer's Choice

Each week this season, I'll provide a quick recap of relevant stats and a brief commentary from each game. At four-week intervals, I'll provide a more comprehensive breakdown of Saints' stats and measure how the team ranks league-wide over a variety of categories.

If you have feedback or requests for this weekly spot, please suggest those in the comments section.

With that said, here goes.

Final Score: Redskins 40, Saints 32
Record: 0-1
Complete Box Score
Notable Stats:

It all came to a head when, down 30-14 late in the third quarter, the Saints sent in Garrett Hartley to attempt a FG from the Redskins' three yard line on 4th and goal. Guh. 

It might or might not have been a theoretically sound decision, but it was damn sure uninspiring nonetheless. 

On a day of listless performances, this decision reflected the whimpering tenor and passivity with which the Saints played all day. 

At the commercial break, I couldn't help but think of the Dolphins' game in 2009. As I'm sure you recall, Coach Payton eschewed a safe FG attempt right before halftime, and instead opted to let Brees sneak it from the one-yard line. When the Saints scored a TD as a result, it helped spark a rally that ultimately became a defining point for the Saints' championship season. Equally important, it further entrenched a mindset of aggression and confidence that has become a key organizational tenet over the years.  

"Taking the points" vs. Miami in 2009 might have been the safe, conventional choice with an entire half to play. But in realizing there was perhaps some hidden negative value in embracing timidity, Payton did more than simply gain an additional four points. And, in general, the Saints have been better because of that mindset of aggressive decision-making. 

On Sunday, the decision to kick the FG was a questionable departure from the norm; and aside from everything else that happened yesterday, it was the one sequence that was most concerning. In recent years, we've seen the offensive line fail; we've seen the run game disappear; we've seen the defense give up big plays and fail to tackle. But we've never seen timid surrender from the coaches. 

One can only hope that Kromer's choice in that moment was a temporary miscalculation by a rookie head coach, and not a portending signal of ineffectual leadership.     

Either way, it was a shortcoming on a day filled with dispiriting moments. Moreover, it was a glaring reminder of Payton's absence crystallized in one decision. 

Unfortunately, we didn't need that lone moment to remind us because the on-field evidence was suggestive of a team coached (or prepared) less than optimally. 

After one week, it's easy to fall into the trap of overreaction. When you take into account the events of this offseason and combine that with the Saints playing a home game against a rookie QB, it's even easier to slip down the rabbit hole of panic. But let's play a few games before we start making any definitive claims. 

The coaching will (I think) improve, and the execution from the players certainly will. Well at least on offense. They've earned the benefit of the doubt. The defense? It's anybody's guess at this point. But the early returns were not too encouraging. 

Mostly, we know these things after one week:

A 52/10 pass/run ratio is unsustainable, as is a -3 turnover margin. The Saints' ten rushing attempts were their second-fewest since the 1970 merger. 

A 2:1 deficit in time of possession is an indicator of disaster, and yesterday's 20:50 mark is just a few seconds off of the worst clip of the Payton era. Not good.

The glut of dumb penalties is uncharacteristic of this team. The comparisons (of the bad variety) to the Raiders will only get more obnoxious if those continue.

Let's hope the offensive line doesn't perform so atrociously every week, especially the tackles. This was a unit considered the NFL's best in 2011. Surely it wasn't all due to Carl Nicks.

Darren Sproles and Marques Colston need to get healthy. Sproles looked rusty, Colston seemed tentative, and neither appeared as sharp as normal.

A fourth WR is important, and Joe Morgan hasn't done much to impress besides run fast. With Devery being hurt (concussion?), WR depth is a lingering concern.

Jimmy Graham might be just as dominant as Calvin Johnson. The Redskins had him perfectly double-covered in the end zone in the first quarter, and he still found a way to grab the ball.

As much as I think he can be great, Mark Ingram continues to look unremarkable in limited action. Maybe I'm scarred by the inconsistency of the Reggie Bush experience. We'll see. I still have hope.

At some point, the defense needs to learn how to tackle and, periodically, secure an interception. By my count, Saints' safeties haven't intercepted a pass in 23 games.

The pass rush continues to be non-existent. I have high hopes for Junior Galette becoming a reliable pass rusher this year, but he didn't see too much action yesterday. So what do I know?

The scab refs, while not to blame for the loss, were mostly bad.

04 September 2012

The 2012 Who Dat Manifesto

courtesy of SI.com

Congrats, Mr. Goodell. You’ve succeeded admirably. 

As if the Saints and their fans needed any more reason to be purposeful and defiant, you delivered a ready-made platter of all-you-can-eat motivation for 2012. Much appreciated. Allow me to stuff my face. 

While it’s become increasingly evident that this ‘bounty’ thing hasn't really worked out the way you planned—no really, you’re being sued for defamation by one of your players—it does have the legitimate capacity to get even more embarrassing for you. 

I'm not talking about courtrooms or judge’s verdicts or interpretations of collective bargaining agreements. 

I'm talking about New Orleans in February 2013, a place you can’t be eager to visit no matter how unaffected a face you publicly display. You fucked it up, and now you’re faced with potentially looking even more foolish than ever. Surely a tough task, but you've managed it. 

So lovely the prospect. 

It seems hard to fathom that after the myriad public gaffes orchestrated during your tenure that you could once again raise the bar on looking ridiculous. But be certain, it's in play. 

Just imagine this bumbling fool who vacuously purports to defend “integrity” at every turn, this groveling wannabe who luckboxed his way into a dream job, this overmatched sockpuppet who fails to understand the nuance of leadership, ultimately awarding the big prize to a team he attempted to castrate, in the same city where Saints’ zeal outpaces its legendary propensity to indulge.

Just you wait, big guy. 

Handing over Lombardi 47 to Drew Brees will be a humiliating, fitting end to your laughable buffoonery. 

Much more pleasant is the thought of internationally-televised ridicule than is a largely unheard smattering of localized disdain. The once reactionary hate has fully given way to the gleeful potential for public humiliation. I'm hopefully giddy these days. 

Mr. Goodell, I see your scarlet letter and raise you one pair of clown shoes. How’s that work for you? 

In case any of you bigshot pundits in the national media are following along, I'm happy to see many of you doubling down on the stupid. Right on message, eh fellas? I'd point out the multitude of idiocy on display via the “failed season” narrative, but that would take too long. Instead, we’ll just use ESPN's Jeffri Chadihi as the embodiment of the fraudulent, condescending, toothless hackery that's ever so prevalent. 

Let's all remember that Chadihi already asserted that Mickey Loomis “destroyed [the Saints'] hopes for a successful season.” 

I don't know what possibly impregnated Chadihi’s brain with that rotten seed of tragic logic, but it's illustrative of a media unconcerned with paying attention to facts and instead too happy to parrot spoon-fed tales of unfounded legitimacy. 
here we come ...
to get you ...

I guess Loomis fucked it all up by signing Brees to the biggest contract in NFL history, and saving cap space in the process. 

Or replacing one all-pro guard (Nicks) with another one (Grubbs) at a cheaper price. 

Or signing away a division rival's best defender (Lofton), bolstering the weakest unit on the team. 

Or landing one of the top run-stuffing DTs in the NFL (Bunkley). 

Or uncovering promising talent at bargain prices (Hicks, Cadet), a move that's become so routine it's barely noticeable anymore. Am I right, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, and Jimmy Graham? What do you think, Jahri Evans? What about you, Chris Ivory? 

I guess none of that matters to Jeffri, though. It's not actually about rosters or talent or continuity or leadership or having the most wins in the league for the past three seasons. 

Nope, the Saints are screwed. 

Jeffri, you and your buddies can take whatever angles you choose, no matter how silly. Just remember there's a delicate balance between your quest for pageviews and your credibility. Then again, you work for ESPN. Credibility doesn't appear to be in the mission statement over there. So hack away, I guess. 

Okay ... enough of the petty grudges with the media for the time being. The season is here and the offseason drama and controversies take a backseat to the main event. All that matters now is what happens on the field. On that level playing field, I like the Saints' chances this year. 

The “us against the world” thing is a bit passé by now, but hey, it's a reality. No better time than now to embrace it. Storylines abound. There is a legitimate chance for an epic ending to the season; it's the proverbial silver lining amidst the dark offseason clouds. I can't wait for the story to be told.

Lucky are we who call ourselves Saints’ fans. 

Being a Who Dat means always having hope and always looking forward to game day, no matter the other troubles in your life. Being a Who Dat means Bloody Marys and beers for Sunday breakfast. Being a Who Dat means selling out the Dome year after year after year, even if the team sucks. 

Being a Who Dat means lining up en masse at the airport in the middle of the night to cheer the team's return from a road game. Being a Who Dat means 800,000 people come to the party when your team wins it all. Being a Who Dat means spitting in the face of adversity. 

Try as you might, Roger Goodell, you can't take any of that from us. 

If there's any justice to be had, a storybook-worthy comeuppance awaits your sorry ass.  

As will another legendary party in February 2013. 

Game on, bitch.