Game 2 Preview: New Orleans

If I believed in upset specials– or more strongly in the 2014 Browns– I’d suggest that you take the points. The Saints combine three things that I dislike intensely.

1. Teams that play in domes.  As a fan I prefer to see a game in a dome– it’s infinitely more comfortable. As an analyst, I’m convinced that they breed mediocre teams. Only three teams who played in a dome (St. Louis in 1999, Indianapolis in 2006, New Orleans, 2009) have ever won a championship. Only four other teams (Atlants in 1998, St. Louis in 2001, Arizona, 2008, Indy in 2009) have reached the Super Bowl.

A dome removes the four factors– temperature, wind, precipitation and field condition– that create random events. Because they let a team perform in absolutely controlled conditions, they produce high-scoring offenses– which don’t travel well.

2. Erratic offenses. Consistency matters. The ability to perform at a certain level week in and week out is the mark of a good team. Teams that score consistently (or defend consistently) get better results in the playoffs.

Last year the Saints scored 414 points (25.9 per game). But they scored within a TD of that average only 6 times. In 4 games, they scored more than 33; in 6 games, they scored less than 19.

Seattle scored 417 points– only 3 more– but their offense was +/- 7 of that average in 10 of the 16 games.

The most consistent offense was Green Bay. They also scored 417 points, and were within 7 points of their average in 11 of 16 games. And in 4 of the 5 games where they were out of that range, Aaron Rodgers didn’t play.

3. Undisciplined coaches. Fans and writers love ‘colorful coaches.’ I don’t. People who give entertaining press conferences almost always have losing records.

13 coaches have won multiple Super Bowls. There aren’t many loquacious men on this list:

  • 4 wins: Chuck Noll
  • 3 wins: Bill Belichick, Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh
  • 2 wins: Tom Coughlin, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Flores, Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells, George Seifert, Mike Shanahan, Don Shula

Trying to rank the top 5 in terms of quotability… Lombardi, Parcells, Walsh, Johnson and Gibbs? It’d be hard to rank the worst.

Now the ability to bore your audience to tears doesn’t show competence. Nobody was duller than Ray Perkins, and he went 42-75-1 in the NFL. But a coach who can’t control himself– who constantly lashes out at players, opponents, writers or fans- isn’t likely to be able to control his players.

Rob Ryan, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, is one of the most colorful assistants out there. He’s also one of the lest successful. In 10 seasons running a defense (Oakland, Cleveland, Dallas and now Nw Orleans), 2013 was the only time that Ryan’s teams have been in the top 10 in points allowed. His teams have finished in the bottom 10 five times– 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2012. And they’re currently last in points

The problem with Ryans teams is that they’re as restrained as his hairstyle. Like the other members of his family, he likes to rush the passer. Unlike father Buddy and brother Rex, Rob does it whether or not he has the players he needs to make it work:

  • In the 18 seasons that Buddy Ryan ran a defense, 10 teams finished in the top 10 in points allowed.
  • In 4 seasons as a coordinator in Baltimore and 4 as head coach of the Jets, Rex Ryan has had 5 teams in the top 10.

When that fact is pointed out to him, Rob blames the players for not performing and the front office for not getting him the players, The notion that it’s his job to construct schemes that make the players look better seems not to have occurred to him.

If I could be sure that the Cleveland defense would perform– or that the offense could perform effectively again– I wouldn’t have any trouble taking the home team. The problem is that there is no reason to think either will occur.

1. Drew Brees threw 42 passes last week and wasn’t sacked once. Four different receivers– RB Pierre Thomas, TE Jimmy Graham and WRs Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks– caught at least 5 passes and also gained at least 50 yards.

2. New Orleans rushed 28 times for 139 yards (5.0 a carry and 3 TDs. The Atlanta Falcons, based on what I saw of them on HBO, looked more than slightly inept on defense, but the only player who didn’t rush for at least 4 yards a carry was Brees.

Both of the starting guards have been to the Pro Bowl; the line is veteran and well-coached., If the Browns ignore assignments the way they did a week ago, they could get demolished.

3. Pittsburgh got stomped Thursday. In their 26-6 loss to Baltimore. WR Antonio Brown (7-12 for 90 yards) and RB LeVeon Bell (11 rusher for 59 yards; 5-5 for 48 yards receiving passing) had credible games, but WR Markus Wheaton (6-7 for 98 yards against the Browns) looked distinctly mortal. (5-9 for 38 yards). QB Ben Roethlisberger went 22-37 for 217 yards (5.8 per attempt) and threw an interception. His rating was 64.8.

Also, not to take anything away from Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, but both of  Baltimore’s running backs had good days. Bernard Pierce went 22-96 and Justin Forsett had 8 carries for 56 yards.

There is a universe where the Browns exploit Rob Ryan’s deficiencies by calling a series of draws, screens, play-actions and counters, burning the Saint defenders repeatedly. DE Cameron Jordan, LB Junior Galette and SS Jairus Byrd are the only playmakers the defense has– the Browns’ line (supplemented by the tight ends and the fullback) ought to be able to handle the first two.

There is also a universe where the offense struggles to put things together and fans start screaming for Johnny Football.

On defense… the best thing I can say is that Graham caught only 6 balls for 41 yards against Donte Whitner a year ago., Perhaps he can shut down Graham again, But Whitner doesn’t have the other members of the 49ers defense surrounding him

And if game 2 was representative of the true level of the Pittsburgh offense, the Saints should be able to destroy the secondary. It is true that Joe Haden, for some reason, has always had some of his worst games against Antonio Brown. But he hasn’t played well at any point this year. Until he does, I’m not going to say “Don’t worry about him…”

Cooks is 5’10” so Buster Skrine Can play him effectively. But if the Saints go with three receivers, it means Justin Gilbert will play– and he got torched last week. And if they don’t use him, it’ll be K’Waun Williams or Pierre Desir.

It could be very different than Saints 41-16,– the Browns could win. But I’m not going to bet that way, based on less than one half of football against a bad team. Expect to see a package of plays with Johnny Football by late in the third quarter.

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