3 weeks into the NFL season and the Saints are rolling along at 3-0. What’s surprising is that the Black and Gold have been winning games because of the play of the defense. The unit has really done a complete 180 from last year and is currently ranked 5th overall in the NFL…5TH!!!
The Saints opponent this week, the Miami Dolphins, are also unbeaten on the year. The ‘Fins are a young team on the rise and 2nd year QB Ryan Tannehill looks to be the real deal. Here are some players that I’ll be on the lookout for in this one:
OG JAHRI EVANS
The Saints All-Pro offensive lineman missed last week’s contest against Arizona and his absence was quite evident. Brees was sacked 4 times in the game brining this year’s total to 10 (yowser!) He was sacked 26 times total last year for crying out loud.
Evans has been nursing a hamstring injury to start the year and saw his ironman streak of 114 games come to an end. Him being hurt has contributed to opposing defenses teeing off on Brees as well as the struggles in the run game. Hopefully a week off was enough to get him back on the field.
OLB JUNIOR GALETTE
I will still never forget Saints training camp 2010. Sideline reporter Krisitan Garic and I were talking, going through our roster sheet at the start of practice as the team began to stretch. Out of nowhere this undrafted rookie out of Stillman College passes by both of us and says, “THEE Junior Galette.” Krisitan and I were left scratching our heads, laughed, and were left wondering who this guy thought he was.
Since then Galette has proved to be a talented pass rusher with speed being the name of his game. He has 2 sacks so far this year and is thriving in Rob Ryan’s system. Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is not very mobile and I think Galette is really going to shine in the prime time lights of Monday Night Football. FEAR THE BEARD!
TE JIMMY GRAHAM
Why won’t anybody trade me Jimmy in fantasy football? I’ll tell you why, this guy is the Incredible Hulk in cleats. He is almost un-coverable, plays with a ton of passion and is Drew’s go to guy.
Graham has 23 receptions for 358 yards and 4 touchdowns. Don’t expect him to be slowed down by Miami. Jimmy hungry, Jimmy eat Dolphin!
DT RANDY STARKS
This mammoth tackle is a terror and will likely be a thorn in the side for the Saints offensive line. His bull rush is not easy to handle and in turn is very disruptive to the running and passing game.
He lost his starting job to open the season to Paul Soliai but due to a knee injury Starks has been thrust back in a starting role. Starks isn’t likely happy about his situation and I’m afraid the 2 time Pro Bowler just may take out some frustrations Monday night for the world to see.
CB BRENT GRIMES
This familiar name flew the Falcons coop and landed in South Beach this offseason in free agency. He tore his Achilles in the first game of the season in 2012 and missed the rest of the year.
He’s quite familiar with the Saints and Brees having spent 6 season in Atlanta and has picked off #9 twice before. Grimes is just 5 ft 10 in, 190 pounds but the 30 year old is a danger in the ‘Fins secondary. He signed a one year deal in Miami and is looking to prove himself all over again.
RB LAMAR MILLER
Miller was drafted last year and after a nice rookie campaign, the Dolphins were comfortable letting Reggie Bush walk in free agency. The homegrown talent out of the University of Miami has breakaway speed, but hasn’t quite got things going yet this season.
He has improved each week after a brutal week one though and is now averaging 4.2 yards per carry while finding the endzone once. The small speedster may give the Fluer Di Lis D fits as the Saints rushing defense is giving up on average 111 yards per game.
Just eight of the 32 teams in the NFL are 2-0, and the Saints are in that number. Both wins might have been too close for comfort, but those kinds of games build team chemistry and character. Many analyst and players will tell you, 'Good teams just find ways to win.'
The defense has been a huge surprise to me - considering what they looked like last season combined with the fact that a lot of key players are injured. The biggest thing standing out to me is the improved tackling.
The Arizona Cardinals come to town this week at 1-1 and have a lot of new faces on their roster - including at head coach.
Here are some players I'll be keying on in this one:
RB Pierre Thomas (yes again)
While Jaguars fans are trying to convince their owner that the team should sign Tim Tebow, the Who Dat Nation might be thinking about doing the same thing with the Saints to get Thomas more carries.
Once again PT managed to lead the Saints in yards per carry with 5.2 but was handed the ball the least amount of times. Say what? Sean Payton seems stubbornly committed to Mark Ingram being "the guy", but Ingram continually proves that he isn't. Hopefully we'll see the PT Bruiser get the bulk of the carries this week, or I firmly believe the ground attack will continue to be nonexistent. It definitely won't be easy though, as the Cards have been monsters against the run this season. Arizona is allowing just 58 yards per game, which is 3rd best in the NFL.
Saints Offensive Line
The Bucs whipped this group last week, and Brees took way to many shots for anyone Saints fans' liking. Now they face an AZ defense that hasn't been able to find a pass rush. The Cardinals have just one sack on the year, so the Saints o-line should not struggle.
Charlie Brown's been no clown though; the Saints left tackle has held his own through two games. The biggest problem just may be that All-Pro guard Jahri Evans isn't 100% healthy.
LB David Hawthorne
I had a feeling the Saints wouldn't miss Jonathan Vilma much because Hawthorne looked so darn good during training camp. Currently he is 2nd on the team in total tackles with 11 (4 solo / 7 assisted) and has one tackle for loss. There were some concerns heading into the season because Hawthorne had never played in a 3-4 defense, but he looks right at home in Rob Ryan's system.
The Saints could use another tackling machine, and Hawthorne had 338 over three years from 2009 to 2011. He also twice finished in the top 16 of NFL tacklers.
CB Patrick Peterson
Just two years in the league and Peterson has cemented himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the game. His interception total jumped from two in his rookie season to seven last year, and the former LSU Tiger is a huge threat on special teams as a punt returner. This year under new head coach Bruce Arians, Peterson is an offensive weapon as well.
He made his first catch of the season last week against the Lions and then showed off his quarterbacking skills by completing a 17 yards pass where he scrambled away from the D and chucked a nice pass on the run to Kerry Taylor. This guy is going to be a force in the NFL for a while.
S Tyrann Mathieu
All Chris Carter did was catch touchdowns, and all Mathieu does is make plays. The player formally known as the "Honey Badger" continues to be a game changer in the pros the way he was in his days at LSU. In week 1 against the Rams, Mathieu tracked down St. Louis tight end Jared Cook before he could reach the end zone and knocked the ball free to prevent a score. Against the Lions last week, Mathieu stopped Nate Burleson one yard short of converting on 4th down, which sealed a Cardinals victory.
Arizona might have ended up with the steal of this year's draft getting Mathieu in the 3rd round. His stock fell due to off the field issues; but his teammates have praised his work ethic, maturity and dedication since arriving in Arizona. Through two NFL games, Mathieu has 13 tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defended.
QB Carson Palmer
Sorry, I didn't add LB Kevin Minter to my list to complete the Cards trifecta of LSU players. Palmer headed to the dessert after a two year stint in Oakland that wasn't terrible considering who he was playing for, and the lack of weapons he had around him. His top target, Larry Fitzgerald, is not fully healthy. If given the time, though, Palmer will make you pay. If the Saints can get to him with the pass rush, he is susceptible to throwing a bad pass or two, or three, or …well you get the point.
Week 2 and a chance to not only go 2-0 on the season but also the division as the Saints hit the road to tussle with Tampa. The Bucs will be out for blood since they lost their season opener and were swept by the Black and Gold last season. Here are a few players I’m taking an extra-long look at in this match-up:
RB PIERRE THOMAS
The ground game struggled in the Saints’ win over Atlanta gaining just 2.7 yards per carry. You can’t blame the PT Bruiser though, as he averaged 4.8 YPC unlike Sproles (2.8) and Ingram (1.2).
I said it last week, and continue to preach, that Thomas should be the Saints’ top option in the backfield. PT is great at following his blocks and always seems to get that extra yard.
Thomas has done well in his career against Tampa amassing 7 touchdowns and over 5 yards a carry along with 12 yards per reception in 8 career games. Get him the damn ball!
NT JOHN JENKINS
The rookie was thrust into more playing time last week when Brodrick Bunkley went down with a leg injury and did a great job. The nose tackle helped the Saints D by occupying 2 or 3 offensive linemen, which allowed others to get to Flacons QB Meg Ryan…I mean Matt Ryan.
The Bucs O-line surrendered 3 sacks last week and could be without big money guard Carl Nicks again. The former Saint is suffering from a staph infection in his toe. I’m anxious to see if Jenkins can handle the increased workload for a 2nd straight game.
LB PARYS HARALSON
I was really surprised by the linebacker’s production in week 1. Haralson was acquired via trade with the 49ers on August 26th and after a short week of practice with the Saints contributed with a sack and a QB hurry.
He fell down San Fran’s depth chart after missing all of last season with a triceps tear, and was picked up by a desperate Saints team following the loss of Will Smith for the season. Can Haralson rebound to 2008 form, a year in which he recorded 8 sacks? That may be a stretch, but the 29-year-old still looks to have plenty left in the tank.
QB JOSH FREEMAN
To me, Mr. Inconsistent is the one thing holding this Tampa team from being more of a force in the division. Sure the QB looks great at 6 ft. 6, 240 pounds…mobile, strong arm, but accuracy is an issue. We saw his interception total jump from 6 to 22 in 2010 to 2011. Last year that total went down slightly to 17.
The last time these 2 teams met, Freeman threw four interceptions in a 41-0 loss against the league’s worst defense. In his career against the Saints, the 25-year-old has a record of 3-5 and has tossed 10 scores with 9 picks. The new-look “Fleur De Lis D” might have a field day against him this Sunday.
RB DOUG MARTIN
The Jets made it their top priority to contain the running back, and they managed to do a really good job. The Pro Bowler was held to just 65 yards on 24 carries.
Against the Saint last season in his rookie year, Martin totaled 101 yards rushing in 2 games with 1 TD while adding 79 yards receiving. Look for the Saints to follow the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS model and stack the box daring Tampa to throw the ball.
CB DARELLE REVIS
The Bucs acquired Revis for match-ups like this one. When healthy he is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL and looked just fine in week 1 as he continues his road back from a torn ACL. The shutdown corner finished with two pass breakups, and the only receptions he allowed came as a result of a teammate blocking him out of the play.
We’ll see if Payton and Brees decide to challenge “Revis Island” or if they’ll stay away from him completely. The Saints have plenty of options in the passing game though and Revis can’t cover everyone.
The real deal is finally here, Who Dats. Preseason is over and Coach Payton is back, ready to unleash his wrath on the rest of the NFL. The Falcons are first up on the Saints menu and here are 4 players I am taking an extra-long look at:
Safety Kenny Vaccaro
I expect the rookie to be amped up for his first regular season game and love the tough guy factor he brings to the defense. The ONLY thing to worry about is making stupid mistakes that would cause the refs to throw a flag.
Look for Vaccaro to be shadowing ATL tight end Tony Gonzalez. Also coming up in run support will be welcome against Stephen Jackson who is a monster of a back to bring down.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan
It’s safe to say that “the Big Kid” is the Saints’ best player on defense right now. I expect Jordan to make a leap into the NFL’s elite defensive ends this year, and a strong showing against a weak Falcons offensive line is highly likely.
In his first game against the Falcons in his rookie season Jordan said that he wanted to destroy Matt Ryan. He’s the kind of player that wants to show up big in big games so expect the “Saints Sack Attack” to be in full effect.
Running back Mark Ingram
There is a ton of expectations for this guy in 2013. His first 2 season in New Orleans have been average and not worthy of a first round draft pick. Some feel the former Heisman winner is poised for a break-out season now that he’s fully healthy and the team seems more focused on establishing the run.
I still have my doubts, but I also still hope Ingram can make me believer. To me the Saints #1 option in the backfield should be Pierre Thomas.
Wide receiver Marcus Colston
The Saints #1 wide-out finally saw some preseason action versus Miami after missing most of training camp with a foot injury. The good thing is Colston is entering his 8th season with the Saints and his rapport with Drew Brees is already established and knows all the in-and-outs of Sean Payton’s offense.
Colston usually has big games versus the A T L. In his career against them, the receiver has racked up 71 receptions for 876 yards and 6 touchdowns. Falcons DBs beware, “The Quiet Storm” is about to make landfall.