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Steve Geller

"WWL First News" Sports Anchor
Weekdays 5am-10am

"Sports Talk" Producer
Weekdays 4pm-8pm

Twitter: @stevegellerWWL
Email: steve@wwl.com

Steve: It seems to be 'Always Sunny in Philadelphia' for Saints

Sunday, October 11th, noon on 870AM/105.3FM

Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA

Saints +4.5 Under/Over 49

We are entering the 2nd quarter of the NFL season this Sunday and the Saints hit the road again and will head up north to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. Both ball clubs find themselves in a worse position then many projected as the two teams own identical sub-par 1-3 records. While Philly is favored to win, it's been the Black & Gold who have prevailed in each of the last three meetings in this series; two were at Lincoln Financial Field.

After some big acquisitions this offseason the Eagles offense has struggled to look even remotely effective. They are ranked 29th in the NFL (30th rushing / 26th passing) and are averaging only 19.5 points per game.

One of the new additions to coach Chip Kelly's offense is quarterback Sam Bradford. He was acquired from the Rams for last year's starter Nick Foles. Bradford has looked like a round circle trying to fit into a square hole in Kelly's up-tempo scheme. A porous offense line hasn't helped either as the former top overall pick of the 2010 draft has completed 88 of his 145 attempts for 948 yards, 6 TDs and 4 INTs.

The Eagles receiving corps is made up of a lot of young talent. Jordan Matthews is in his 2ns season and leads the team in receptions with 25 for 281 yards and 1 TD. There is a big drop off after that. TE Zach Ertz has caught 10 passes, rookie wide receiver Nelson Agoholor has just 7, while big Kenny Chesney fan Riley Cooper has 5 and vet Miles Austin brings up the rear with 4 catches.

Philly's 3 running backs are also involved in the passing game and on paper look like they should dominate the league. Last year's leading rusher DeMarco Murray switched NFC East teams signing with the Eagles after leading the league in rushing for the Cowboys in 2014. He looks like another guy that just doesn't fit into Kelly's scheme. Murray is averaging a measly 1.6 yards per carry and has been vocal about being frustrated saying he doesn't get the ball enough. Meanwhile Ryan Matthews has led the way gaining 132 yards on 33 carries. The 3rd option in the backfield is former Saint Darren Sproles. He is still doing his thing at the age of 32. Whether it's rushing receiving, or on special team the guy's ability and speed makes him always exciting to watch.

Philadelphia's defense had as many holes as a slice of Swiss cheese a year ago and that trend has continued in 2015. The unit ranks 21st in the league (13th vs. the run / 25th vs. the pass) and surrenders on average 21.5 points per contest. They are actually pretty good at taking the ball away though creating 9 turnovers; 5 interceptions and 4 fumbles recovered.

The leader on that side of the ball is safety Malcolm Jenkins. Yes, that Malcolm Jenkins. The former Saints 14th overall pick in 2009 is smart, tenacious and a leader by example that also isn't afraid to be vocal on the sidelines and in the locker room.

Jenkins leads the team in tackles currently with 31, has 5 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. Defensive back Walter Thurmond III has also been getting the job done. He leads the team in interceptions with 2 and has 4 tackles for loss.

Up front the Philly pass rush has looked worse than the Saints. Hard to believe I know. Opposing QBs seem to be able to count to 20 and have been shredding the secondary. The Eagles have 6 sacks which is tied for 23rd in the league. The Black & Gold are even better having 7 quarterback takedowns.

While their records are the same, N.O. and Philadelphia are 2 teams clearly heading in opposite directions to me. You can see the progress the Saints have made on both sides of the ball week-to-week, while the Eagles struggles have remained constant and unchanged. The biggest issue is that the offense is out of sync and is unable to sustain drives causing the defense to spend way too much time on the field. I really think the Saints are going to have their way in Philly again giving the Black & Gold their 4th straight victory over the birds.

PREDICTION: Saints 24 Eagles 20
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Steve: Payton says Eagles create substitution problems for Saints defense

While the Saints defense is currently ranked 24th in the NFL out of 32 teams, the unit is getting healthier and has seemed to shown improvement every week. The Fleur Di Lis D goes on the road to take on an Eagles team that may also own an identical 1-3 record but has some lethal weapons on offense. Philly's problem is they just haven't been able to put it all together yet.

Mad scientist, or Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, made a number of changes this offseason including at quarterback and running back. Nick Foles was traded for Sam Bradford; also Pro Bowl RB LeSean McCoy was shipped off to Buffalo. Free agents DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews were added to replace Shady in the backfield.

While personnel changes were made, Kelly's up-tempo offensive scheme has not. In 2014 Philly led the NFL with 1,127 offensive plays from scrimmage. This year though the new players haven't been able to assimilate to the system and the unit is ranked 26th in offensive plays run with 241. Still there have been times, albeit very little, that the Eagles offense has clicked.

Saints head coach Sean Payton knows not letting Philadelphia find their groove Sunday will be vital to coming home with a win.

"It (Philly's offense) challenges you with substations", said Payton. "And so, there's a group on the field and they get going, and they're moving and they're moving. It's hard to try and sub one-for-one even without getting caught short handed or too many on the field. It can have an adverse effect on your pass rush because of attrition. It can have an adverse effect on a lot of areas if they get the rhythm and the tempo going that they desire."

So far the Eagles lack any sort of rhythm. They are dead last in the NFL in time of possession and are averaging just 19.5 points per game.
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Steve: Payton calls Malcolm Jenkins "a fantastic leader"

A couple of familiar faces will be on the field Sunday in Philadelphia when the Saints take on the Eagles. The Fleur Di Lis D will have to contend with running back Darren Sproles, while safety Malcolm Jenkins runs the show in the Philly secondary.

Jenkins was New Orleans' first round pick in 2009. He has taken with the 14th overall pick and donned the Black and Gold for 5 seasons before being let walk out the door when he became a free agent. At the time, Jairus Byrd was looked at as an upgrade, but so far that decision has not panned out due to injury.

Saints head coach Sean Payton still holds Jenkins in very high regard.

"He's a fantastic leader. He's tough, he's smart", said Payton. "Every time you go down the hallways, anytime you pass by the defensive room; he was watching tape. He's one of the better defenders, if not the one of the top defenders for that team right now, and he's playing at a high level."

"I can't say enough good things about him," added Payton. "He epitomized what we were looking for when he came in here. He's got a lot of positon versatility. All in all, he's a real good football player."

In Jenkins 1st season in Philly last year he totaled 80 tackles with 15 passes defended, has 3 interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 1.

What stood out to me about his departure was last year in the locker room safety Kenny Vaccaro said that Jenkins was their "speech" guy. Meaning he was the one who fired up the players, something that was sorely missing in the locker room in 2014.

I don't think Payton or the rest of the team realized how much he meant to the team and may regret letting him go. Jenkins is 27 years old and has 31 tackles this year and has forced 2 fumbles.

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Steve: Kickers and punters in town for workout with Saints

Saints Coach Sean Payton said after the Saints win Sunday night that the team might have to go for more 2-point conversions following Zach Hocker missing a 30 yard field goal in regulation that would have won the game. Well, Fox Sports reporter Alex Marvez reports that the Black & Gold could be looking to kick Hocker to the curb: Payton also revealed on the Saints Coaches Show last night that punter Thomas Morstead has a strained quad, which is why Hocker was called on to punt late in the game Sunday night. Makes sense since Marvez is also reporting the team is looking yet another leg.
The Saints could just be updating their emergency go-to list, but it's possible the team could have two different people at both kicker and punter Sunday in Philadelphia.
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Steve: Tulane, LSU and Saints all win for rare football trifecta

What a weekend of football, folks! Tulane started things off with an impressive 45-31 victory in Yulman Stadium over Central Florida.
Later on Saturday it was the LSU Tigers toying around with but finally putting away East Michigan 44-22 in Death Valley. Then it was the Saints turn, and they made our hearts skip a beat a few times put took care of business against Dallas Sunday night in the Superdome winning 26-20 in overtime.
The last time that trifecta of victories occurred in the same week was back in 2013. On November 21st of that year, the Saints beat the Falcons 17-13. Then on the 23rd, LSU downed Texas A&M 34-10 while Tulane was victorious over UTEP 45-3.

Hopefully we don't have to wait another 2 year for this to occur!
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Steve: Bama at Georgia headlines week 5 in SEC football

As we get past the one-third mark of the college football season, it's time to truly find out which teams in the Southeastern conference are going to be contenders for the conference championship.

Let's go "Inside the SEC" for Saturday October 3rd:

South Carolina at Missouri – 11am kickoff
There's a sizable group of middling teams in the SEC this year, and South Carolina and Missouri both claim residency. The Tigers' Gary Pinkel has proven himself as a coach who can get his team to improve over the course of a season. But with their offensive struggles right now, it will be tough, and losing QB Maty Mauk for the week won't help. For Steve Spurrier, this game may be his last chance to salvage the season for the Gamecocks and stave off the critics who want him to call it quits at year's end.

#13 Alabama at #8 Georgia – 2:30pm kickoff
There is no question which team is under greater pressure. With a loss, Alabama probably sits out the year end playoffs. Georgia, meanwhile, is out to prove it can beat tough teams. I see Alabama thriving "Between the Hedges" with a strong, consistent effort from the offense coupled with a nasty performance from a defense that won't allow a thing on the ground and will get to the QB for a handful of sacks. Have you ever seen Bama play with a sense of desperation? Well, now you will!

San Jose State at Auburn – 3pm kickoff
The Spartans couldn't have come along at a better moment for Auburn, whose season took a nosedive last week with an unexpected loss at home to Mississippi State. The Tigers offense is struggling mightily, the fault of a quarterback position that has imploded and an offensive line that was overhyped in the preseason. Unless Auburn wins convincingly here, critics will continue to call for more than just simple edits to their depth chart.

#3 Ole Miss at #25 Florida – 6pm kickoff
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain could do his former employer a favor by beating Ole Miss. The Rebels have to lose twice before the Tide can represent the SEC West again in Atlanta. But Florida, which has gotten off to a strong start under McElwain, likely doesn't have the offensive firepower to keep pace with the offense of Ole Miss.

Arkansas at Tennessee – 6pm kickoff
Arkansas was supposed to be on the verge of moving into the top echelon in the SEC West, but have suffered three close losses. Now the Razorbacks are just trying to salvage the season and get a decent bowl invitation. Tennessee has blown big fourth quarter leads and in the process has fallen off it's the darkhorse bandwagon. This game comes down to a question of which team is closer to folding up. The Vols are more talented, but lack a passing offense. The Hogs' depth issues at running back and on defense have caught up with them. Arkansas' season is already teetering; if Tennessee were to lose this game, the Volunteers would be right there with them.

Eastern Michigan at #9 LSU – 6pm kickoff
The Tigers return to Baton Rouge for what should be a relatively easy victory. There aren't many storylines here except how many yards Leonard Fournette will run for in the first half before giving way to other backs in the Tigers' stable.

Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee – 6pm kickoff
If Vanderbilt plays against Middle Tennessee the way it did against Ole Miss, the Commodores will win the game. But therein lays the problem: Vandy doesn't play that way on a consistent basis. We'll see after this weekend whether the Commodores improvement against the Rebs was just a mirage.

Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky – 6:30pm kickoff
The Wildcats have needed something to get them pointed away from the cellar of the SEC East for years, and the confidence they gained from the win over Missouri means volumes to the program. Kentucky better not just expect to show up and beat Eastern Kentucky though, or the Cats could find themselves suffering a crippling defeat.

#21 Mississippi State at #14 Texas A&M – 6:30pm kickoff
The Aggies are 4-0 but the record may be a bit misleading. Arizona State has not lived up to expectations, and the Aggies had to go into overtime in their own state to knock out a mediocre Arkansas team. Mississippi State won in unconvincing fashion over Southern Miss, nearly beat an LSU team some have ticketed for the final four, and then beat Auburn on the road in a physical, yet sloppy game. The Bulldogs' defense has been erratic at times, while the offense took a step back as a result of a high graduation count following last year. I just feel it's too much to ask Mississippi State to beat both Auburn and Texas A&M on the road in successive weeks.
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Steve: Cowboys looking to rustle up the Saints in prime time

It's week 4 in the NFL, and the Saints are still in search of that elusive mark in the win column. The Cowboys come into town this week for a Sunday night showdown in the Superdome, and while Dallas is without their top two offensive players; they've still managed a 2-1 record. Big D leads the all-time series 16-11, but New Orleans has taken 8 of the last 10 meetings and are 6-3 against Dallas in the Dome.

A big reason the Cowboys can still have success without quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant is the fact they have maybe the best offensive line in the league. Without their two stars, Dallas has still managed to move the football and they are ranked 8th in total offense (16th rushing / 9th passing) and average 25 points per game.

With no Romo, the keys to the car have been given to Brandon Weeden. The former 2012 1st round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns has completed 29 of 33 passes for 1 touchdown and 1 interception in the 2 games he has appeared in. While Weeden has good size and a quick release, accuracy and touch are an issue. In his career he has appeared in 30 games, completed 57% of his passes for 5,724 yards, 27 TDs and 29 INTs.

With no Dez, Dallas' top offensive weapon has been running back Joseph Randle. He has gained 203 yards rushing, averaging 4.2 a carry and has found the endzone 3 times.

The Cowboys RB stable also includes Darren McFadden. Now in his 8th season out of Arkansas, the often injured tailback is a used sparingly. He has racked up 82 yards on the ground this season with 1 TD.

As for receiving threats, tight end Jason Witten is now Dallas' biggest threat. The 33 year old future Hall of Famer always seems to be battling injuries but is still a difference maker on gamedays. Witten has 21 catches for 181 yards and 2 scores this season, but has never scored in the 8 games he's played against New Orleans.

The other top target for the Boyz is Lance Dunbar. While he hasn't scored yet this season, he is tied with Witten for the lead in team receptions with 21 for 215 yards. Terrance Williams didn't register a single catch in last week's loss to the Falcons, but has scored 1 TD despite 9 total catches this year. There's also Cole Beasley who has tallied 12 catches for 122 yards in 2015.

The Cowboys defense is currently ranked 8th in the NFL (10th vs. the run / 13th vs. the pass) and is giving up on average 25 points per contest. That ranking is way out of whack, though, since the Eagles put up a stink fest against Dallas in week 2 in which Philly managed to rush for 7 total yards the entire game.

After missing all of last season with an ACL injury, linebacker Sean Lee is healthy and looking good. He is ranked currently 2nd in the NFL in tackles with 33, has 1 sack and 1 interception.

The Cowboys pass rush is struggling, as they are without defensive ends Greg Hardy and rookie Randy Gregory as well as linebacker Rolando McClain. Hardy and McClain's 4 game suspensions end after this week, while Gregory is dealing with an ankle injury.

It's hard for me to do this, but I am actually going to pick the Saints in this one despite my preseason forecast of this game being a loss. I feel like a perfect storm is brewing this for the Black and Gold with Drew Brees and Keenan Lewis likely back in action and the game being at home in prime time where history tells us they've been so good. They are 8-0 at home on Sunday Night Football (9-0 if you include the 2011 Wild Card game against the Lions). A desperate team is a dangerous team, and boy, are the Saints desperate for a victory.

PREDICTION: Saints 27 Cowboys 24
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Steve: Payton says Saints need help at TE; trade in the works?

This morning on his conference call with the media, Saints head coach Sean Payton let it be known that he was not comfortable with the team’s depth at tight end right now.  “We’re one short at tight end and that’s an area that concerns me.  We’re light there; that’s an area we’ve look at and will continue to do so,” he said.

Those comments prompted me to start scouring the free agent pool to see who was out there and obviously nothing stands out. But, what about trading for someone?

The Chicago Bears are 0-3 this year and have seemingly given up already this season.  They’ve already dealt defensive end Jared Allen to the Panthers and New England acquired linebacker Jonathan Bostic from them.  So who’s to say the Saints don’t give them a call and try and pry Martellus Bennett away from the Windy City?

The 6ft7, 270 pounder is 28 years old and had a monster of a season last year, catching 90 passes for 916 yards and 6 TDs.  He has two years remaining on his current four year deal that was worth $20.4 million. Bennett is set to make $4.9 million in base salary in 2015, and just over $5 million next season. The price may seem too steep for the Saints' cash-strapped wallet, but they did just rework Drew Brees’ contract to free up some money

Bennett would give the Saints the “Jimmy Graham” type player they are missing.  I thought that Marques Colston or Brandon Coleman could be red-zone threats this year because of their size, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. Colston seems to have 2 or 3 drops per game and Coleman’s production is inconsistent. 

What would it take to pry Bennett away from Chicago?  If I had to guess I would think a 3rd or 4th round pick would get a deal done. 

The other question... is he worth it? That’s tough to answer because of the state of the Saints.  Is this team really in contention for anything? Add in to that, Bennett wants a new contract because while he is amongst the top tight ends in the NFL right now, he is not being paid like one.

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Report: Saints restructure Brees contract, free up some cap space

The Saints have reportedly restructured quarterback Drew Brees' contract, freeing up some additional cap space, as first reported by ESPN's Field Yates.
To me, this signals that the team is looking to bring in someone to help either in the receiving game or add a pass rusher. The options available in free agency are slim to none, so maybe a trade is in the works? Hmm.

What does it mean?  Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic says, "First, it creates room to make some moves this year if the team is inclined to do so.  The Saints are cash strapped and might need to add a player via trade in the coming week or so."  

"As far as Brees and the future are concerned, the team has three options.  In the off-season the Saints could decide to restructure his contract again and add two or three years to it and try to continue and rebuild around him.  The Saints could honor the final year of the deal with a $30 million dollar cap figure for next season, or release him and create $13 million in dead money for the 2016 salary cap." 

"Another possibility would be to attempt to trade Drew in the off-season but that one is less likely, considering Brees' age, and coming off a shoulder injury this season."  
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Steve: Brees expected to throw at Saints practice today

Drew Brees threw a football Tusday for the first time since injuring his shoulder on September 20th.

The reports from ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder brought a smile to the faces of the Who Dat Nation and maybe some hope of a victory is on the horizon.
BOOM! Brees is actually throwing the football; unlike last week where he just took mental reps during practices with the team. In the end he wound up sitting out the game against the Panthers, while Luke McCown filled in and did a solid job finishing 31 of 38 passing for 310 yards.

We'll now wait and how Brees' shoulder reacts to the workout and if he is able to have the necessary zip on his throws.  One thing for sure is that this is a huge positive sign #9 could be ready for Sunday night in the Superdome against 2-1 Dallas.
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