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Kristian Garic's Blog


 WWL Saints Sideline Reporter

 Kristian@wwl.com

 @Kristiangaric1
Posts from October 2012


Drew Brees: 3rd down the most critical stat in Broncos loss
Following the Broncos drubbing of the Saints, I spoke to QB Drew Brees for our "Monday Morning Quarterback" interview.

Drew agreed that getting just 1 of 12 on 3rd down attempts is an area he would point to in the loss. 

"That's the most critical stat, when you're talking about possessing the ball, keeping drives alive...and we didn't do that," he said.  "I think we're #2 in the NFL, close to 50%.  There's no reason we shouldn't be one of the top teams in the NFL week to week, on 3rd downs. "

Click HERE to listen to my full interview with Drew Brees...

Brees said the offense does feel partly responsible for not being able to sustain drives and giving the Broncos so many chances to get back on the field.

"Absolutely, I think we still have to take a hard look at offensively, how we can help the bigger picture and be more complimentary to our defense.  Yeah, scoring on big plays is great, and we're not going to apologize for that," Brees said.  "And we talked about it...their offense is good, and we're going to try to keep them off the field as much as possible, keep our defense rested, and convert those third downs, and sustain drives...but we hit a dry spell mid-way through the game."
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Kristian Quick Hits: Looks like a Saints loss in Denver
Graham: 

Really no change in the Saints injury report for TE Jimmy Graham Thursday.  "Jimmy Graham is about the same as he was yesterday.  Our doctors and trainers are evaluating him right now, he's still limited," Coach Joe Vitt said.  Graham missed last week's game against Tampa with an ankle sprain. His status remains up in the air for this Sunday night's primetime game against Denver.  Wide receiver Joe Morgan (chest) was ruled out for this week's match up against the Broncos.  Vitt said Morgan "is just not ready" after suffering a chest injury last week.

Sproles: 

Running back Darren Sproles missed practice again Thursday for what is being called an excused absence, dealing with a family matter.  I wouldn't get too concerned with this one.  Sproles knows the offense cold.  I think he plays Sunday vs. Denver. 

Ivory "ain't going nowhere": 

The NFL trade deadline is at the end of the month, and RB Chris Ivory is a prime candidate to be moved on or before the deadline.  Ivory expressed his frustration to me this week about his lack of playing time this season, and he noted the upcoming trade deadline.  Coach Joe Vitt says Ivory's very much in the plans for the Saints. "We're excited about Chris Ivory.  We got a great stable of backs right here.  Chris is going to get his chance.  Chris ain't going nowhere."  That may or may not be true.  None the less, Ivory just has to sit and wait for his chance - here in New Orleans or in another NFL city. 

My take: 

At 2 and 4 the Saints have little margin for error, and yet it's still hard to pick against them this week.  However, I just think a leaky defense is not what you want as Peyton Manning sets his sights on you.  New Orleans and Denver each average 29 and 28 points per game respectively.  The Saints will score their points, but so will Denver. 
Prediction: The Broncos win this win in a shootout 35-31 over New Orleans.
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Kristian: Graham practices, Ivory may be traded?
Where is Chris Ivory? 

I get that question all the time. I talked to the Saints running back this week, and he told me, "I'm frustrated (by the lack of playing time)".  Ivory has been inactive for all but one game this season, while the Saints running game has struggled for consistency and effectiveness.  Ivory was quick to point out the trade deadline is coming up at the end of the month. 

I asked him if he would request a trade and he responded, "No comment."  Ivory went on to say, "At this point in the season I do feel like I should be on the field." 

He's says there has been no communication between him and the Saints coaches about why he's not on the field.  "Deep down, yes I'm frustrated.  It's a little frustrating to just sit back.  I feel like my worth is more than that."  Ivory also said he plans to talk to the organization this week or next about his playing time. 

Stay tuned, I wouldn't be surprised if the Saints trade Ivory.  For what it's worth, Ivory isn't the savior in the running game, but he sure breaks a lot of tackles and is excellent at gaining yards after contact.
 
Graham Back? 

Saints TE Jimmy Graham fully participated in practice for the first time in over a week.  Graham missed last week's win over Tampa with an ankle sprain. 

"He did what we called land based stuff, routes on air.  He looked very, very good," Coach Joe Vitt explained about Graham. Officially the Saints had Graham listed as "limited" in work out.  We'll know more tomorrow, but a really good sign that Graham was back on the field.  I thought he had a chance to play last week against Tampa. 

If nothing else, he draws a ton of coverage from opposing defenses, so the Saints could use him as a bit of a decoy this week against Denver.   Wide receiver Joe Morgan (chest) also was limited in practice as the Saints began preparing for the Broncos.
(Photo by Chris Bennett)
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Kristian: Frustrated Ivory may be heading for a trade
Kristian@wwl.com -  Saints running back Chris Ivory told me after Wednesday's practice that he's not happy with cooling his heels on the sidelines.
 
"Deep down, I would have to say, yes, I'm frustrated," Ivory told me.  "It's a little frustrating to just kind of sit back.  I just feel like my worth is more than that, than just, you know, sitting back on the side."
 
The Black and Gold rank near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per game.  Not too long ago, Ivory led the league in yards after contact.  A lot of people, me included, think that he could be breaking some tackles and giving the offense some juice.
 
"Well, that's out of my hands...but at this point, you know, in the season, I do feel that I should be on the field, you know," Ivory said.  "But I'm not playing, they're not putting me out there, so I guess I'm going have to continue to try to be patient to try to see, you know, how things go from here."
 
He told me the Saints coaches haven't said why he's not getting playing time on the field.
 
"No, I don't really get too much communication from them, they don't communicate with me.  But, that's where I stand, just waiting and being patient.  And I do understand the deadline of this trade is at the end of this month...we'll see what happens."
 
When asked if he would request a trade, Ivory replied, "No comment."   
 
So, why isn't he playing?  Well, the only thing that makes sense to me is that the team is not playing him because they DO plan on trading him.
 
I mean, there's no upside for the Saints in playing him now if they plan to trade him before the deadline at the end of the month.  If they play him and he gets hurt, his value as a trade plummets.  If he plays and has an outstanding game, and then they still trade him, the fans would go crazy.
 
No one knows for sure why he's not playing...but remember, there are FIVE running backs on this roster.   You can't carry five forever.  Something's going to give, and I think we may see Ivory playing for someone else the first week of November.
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Kristian Quick Hits: Vitt takes over and the air will be thin
Vitt is back: 
Assistant Coach Joe Vitt said he agonized while watching the Saints from afar serving his 6 game suspension.  "I looked at my calendar and my watch a lot," Vitt explained.  To pass the time Vitt kept himself busy with a few speaking engagements, but said, "Nothing can fill the void of not being around the team." He also stressed he’s not a miracle work and merely a "spoke in the wheel."  Vitt insisted the message and approach is the same for the Saints final 10 games of the season, starting this Sunday night against the Denver Broncos in prime time.  Vitt will serve as head coach until Sean Payton returns after the season.

Graham update: 

Saints TE Jimmy Graham (ankle) missed Sunday’s win over the Bucs, and Vitt said the team will "re-evaluate Graham on Wednesday." He also said he expects Graham to be ready for Sunday’s primetime match up with the Broncos Sunday. Graham is off to a relatively slow start this season, but as we know is a huge weapon for the Saints - especially in the red-zone.  Ankle sprains have a way of lingering for skill players, so we’ll see how he reacts to treatment on that ankle this week.

Altitude Change: 
 
"There are a lot of excuses you can find as to why you lose and altitude is one of them," Vitt said - tongue cheek - about traveling to Denver this week and playing in the mile high city. New Orleans is considering traveling to Denver a day early (Friday) to get the players used to the climate.  It is a tough place to play, but the players downplayed the significance of the thin air. Scott Shanle told me, "The bottom line is you win and lose games because of execution, not that altitude." 
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Kristian Quick Hits: Vilma in or out?
Vilma: 

This week Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma participated in practice for the first time this season.  The 21 day window to remove him from the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP)  has been set into motion.  There are so many variables here.  Vilma is currently appealing his reaffirmed season long suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  The commissioner is expected to hear the appeals on Tuesday.  The Saints did not make a corresponding roster move, so technically at this point Vilma would not be able to play Sunday against Tampa Bay.  If they remove Vilma from the PUP list and place him on the active roster, that would be a sure sign that he'll be suited up for the game.  Saints Interim Coach Aaron Kromer says, "We have three weeks to decide ( if to put Vilma on the active roster), all we can do is see how he practices this week, and see how we can work him in. From there make a decision on a weekly basis."  If he doesn't play this week and presumably loses his appeal next week, however, unless a judge steps in... it looks like we may not see Vilma on the field this season.

Injury bug: 

Tight End Jimmy Graham (ankle) has been limited this week.  This week WR Lance Moore (hamstring) practiced for the first time in two weeks.  Defensive back Jabari Greer also returned to practice after leaving the Chargers game early in the second half with a groin injury.  LB David Hawthorne (hamstring) missed practice time again. Hawthorne has not played since week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Defensive End Turk McBride (ankle) was back on the field this week.  Kromer says the team is taking the right approach with Graham's ankle injury.  "You know anytime you have an ankle, you want to slowly work your way back until game day."

Hard feelings for Nicks: 

Former Saints offensive lineman Carl Nicks received a huge pay day from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during free agency. The Bucs made Nicks the highest paid guard in the NFL.  "Everybody thinks it was about the money, but it really wasn't.  The challenge here was to be something the Saints didn't look at me as, and that's being a premiere player and being a leader," Nicks said.  He went on to say he has looked forward to this week's game against his former team for a while. "Mainly so I can play the guys and play the team that let me go," Nicks explained.  "I don't hate anyone at the organization, they drafted me.  I won a Super Bowl there. At the Same time they had (Ben)Grubbs in the same day free agency started.  You can say I left, but you could also say they sent me packing."

Quiet Storm: 
 
WR Marques Colston has quietly lit it up over the last 2 games.  He has 18 receptions, 284 yds (15.8 avg.) & 4 TDs.  Colston was hampered by a foot injury the first few weeks of the season and didn't seem to be his typical productive self.  Now it appears as though Colston is back.  If Graham cannot go this week, the Saints will rely on Colston heavily in the red-zone.
Predictions:

Vilma will not play Sunday.  Saints will beat the Bucs: 24 -21
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Kristian: Vilma wants to play...But should he?
Kristian@wwl.com  Saints LB Jonathan Vilma says he will be allowed to practice this week and play Sunday against Tampa Bay.  Vilma is appealing his season long suspension, and is currently on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.  

So, WILL Vilma come off the PUP list Wednesday?  Coaches weren’t saying at Monday’s Q&A with the media.  “We’ll have to see about that,” Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said after practice.  

Vilma can’t officially practice until week 6 comes to a close after the Monday Night Football game between San Diego and Denver.   If Vilma is able to go this week…and if they do take him off the PUP list, the Saints are looking at different combinations of linebackers.  We’ll find out more Wednesday, when the first practice participation report is issued.  

The whole process of the suspension and appeals is confusing.  Listeners ask why Vilma is saying he's ready to practice and play at Tampa, if he's still under suspension.  Well, technically, he's NOT under suspension at the moment, because the re-affirmed suspension from Goodell is under appeal.  Under CBA rules, that technically makes Vilma, Fujita, Smith, and Hargrove eligible, until those appeal hearings are heard October 23.  But, once the Commissioner hears the appeals, and Goodell once again shoots them down, the whole thing will again take another step in the process.   Until then, they’re technically able to play under CBA rules.  

But, should Vilma play, even if he can?  With everything that's happened, with the PUP list, the injury and the looming suspension, I don't know if it makes sense to play him in this game on three days practice.  It will require shuffling players around, and then you'll just see Vilma suspended again in a week or two.  So I think it's highly unlikely that you'll see #51 Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Plus, when you hear “he’s got a long way to go” from Saints coaches, that tells me its unlikely Vilma will go this week.

“Jonathan Vilma loves football.  If he can come anywhere close to being near able to play, he’s going to say he’s playing.  That’s just Jonathan Vilma.  He’s jumping out of his shoes (to play)," Kromer said.  

Moore and Graham:  Headed into the bye week some key Saints players were a little banged up:  WR Lance Moore (hamstring), TE Jimmy Graham (foot) and DB Jabari Greer (groin). Kromer did not talk about injuries during his meeting with the media Monday.  

The Saints have a “bonus” day this week coming off the open date, and are not required to issue an injury report until Wednesday.  Its wait-and-see right now, but it would be a significant blow to the Saints if Jimmy Graham can’t play in the Bucs game.  Moore did not play in the Saints win over San Diego in week 5.

Defensive progress:  Defensive line coach Bill Johnson did a study on the Saints run defense during the bye week.  20 rushing plays against the Saints account for half of their run-defense totals.  “We talked about it this morning in our defensive meeting.  We’re not that far off, but yet you can’t allow those explosive plays because they lead to bad things,” explained Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

This week’s opponent (Tampa Bay) racked up 145 yards on the ground and average 101 per game for the season.
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Kristian: Brees spreads the credit for record & win
Following the historic night in the Superdome, I spoke with Saints quarterback Drew Brees.  And in typical Drew fashion, he was quick to praise the efforts of his teammates in getting the win over the Chargers.
 
In particular, he was glowing about the standout night by receiver Marques Colston.
 
"Yea, Marques had a great night...just one of those guys that when you need him, he's going to be there.  So dependable, such a tough guy.  Such a big night for him, passing Joe Horn as the all-time leading TD leader.  Well deserved a guy who means a lot to this team."
 
Brees also noted how RB Pierre Thomas helped fire up the ground attack, and how #23's energy is contagious.  "Here is just one of those guys, when you need a big play, you need a hard-nosed run, you get the ball to that guy, and he's going to make it happen.  It's been that way for a long time, he's really a mainstay in the backfield.
 
Drew also said that the roughing the passer call that came on the a play that otherwise would have been an interception served as strong motivation.
 
"Sometimes that'll jar you a little bit...get the competitive juices flowing.  Thankfully that happened, obviously if the guy doesn't hit me, I think I drop it over Marques for a big play.  They had gotten a couple of good breaks on their end...so I think that was just our way of getting a good break."
 
I also asked Brees about what it was like seeing Coach Sean Payton for the first time in months.
 
"It was awesome.  He's in pretty good shape, a little more rocked up than I remember. It was great to see him, it was great to have him in the building...I think he provided some positive mojo for us."
 
Click HERE to listen to my "Monday Morning Quarterback" interview with Drew Brees...
 
 
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Kristian Quick Hits: Saints should win despite Moore hobbled
Prediction:

Justifying a Saints win these days is as hard as solving a Rubik's Cube, but I think the Saints will beat the Chargers and here is why:

1.    Drew Brees record-setting day:  The atmosphere in the Dome will be electric with the potential for Brees to shatter one of the oldest records in the books, Johnny Unitas' consecutive games with a TD pass. 

2.    Sean Payton  in the House:  You don't think the Saints are going to lay an egg with their suspended coach looking on inside the Dome do you?  No chance!

No Show:

Saints GM Mickey Loomis and Assistant Coach Joe Vitt will not be at the game Sunday night in the Superdome.  While the NFL said they could attend, Loomis and Vitt say they don't want to be a distraction as Brees goes for the record, and will not be there.

Injury report:

WR Lance Moore (hamstring,) defensive end Turk McBride (ankle,) Linebacker David Hawthorne (hamstring,) and RB Travaris Cadet (shoulder) all did not practice this week.  Defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley also missed practice (illness.) Safety Roman Haper was limited.   With Moore missing practice this week, Interim Coach Aaron Kromer said, "Guys have to step up and we have to adjust what we're doing.  It's hard to replace a guy like Lance Moore." The re-signing of veteran wide receiver Greg Camarillo makes more sense now.  Moore has a history of hamstring issues.  He missed a few games last year because of a sore hamstring.

Pass rush: 
 
The Saints haven't been able to generate a consistent pass rush from their front four this season.  "A lot of times it comes when you are up in a game, and teams are playing catch up. So that's when guys can pin their ears back and get a great pass rush.  We're improving, and we have to keep working on it," Kromer explained.  The Black and Gold defense has totaled just 6 sacks through the first four games of the season.

Photo courtesy the Mercedes-Benz Superdome
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