Dr. Payton or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Saints

20 Sep

New Orleans kicked off the 2011 NFL season with a loss to the reigning champs, the Green Bay Packers.  Sean Payton’s crew tried to engineer a comeback, but came up just a little short.  For some odd reason, I’m not completely devastated by this.  There were signs of potential across the board.  For what it’s worth, the Packers did just win the Super Bowl.  New Orleans came into week two determined to notch a win and defeated the Bears handily.  There are a lot of good things to come from this Saints team.  Here is why I am still confident in this season’s New Orleans Saints.

Mark Ingram deserved the Heisman Trophy

 Many doubted the former Alabama running back going into the 2011 NFL Draft.  People believed that he wouldn’t have the same high-caliber performance he enjoyed in his college career.  I’m sure there is more than one front office kicking themselves for not pulling the trigger on this rookie halfback.  He runs with a purpose and fights hard for extra yards, which has garnered multiple comparisons to Hall of Famer and all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith.  He has shown the power and speed necessary to excel at this level and ran right over a few members of the Bears secondary.  I’m looking forward to seeing what else Mr. Ingram has to offer.

Tight ends should have a basketball prerequisite

 Many would consider Antonio Gates to be the top tight end in the league, myself included.  Philip Rivers loves having him as a safety blanket when all other options are covered.  His athleticism combined with his height makes it nearly impossible to shut him down.  Tony Gonzalez also enjoyed many years in Gates’ position atop tight end rankings.  Jimmy Graham is the Saints’ second-year tight end out of Miami.  These three guys have something in common.  Before concentrating fully on football, they were all standout basketball players.  We’ve seen how the skills developed in hoops play can translate to a successful NFL career and Sean Payton hopes the same is true for his starting tight end.  Graham has demonstrated his ability to perform when needed and with Jeremy Shockey being shipped to Carolina, he will get more opportunities to shine.

 Drew Brees is still Drew Brees

Drew Brees is tasked with completing passes to the wide array of targets in the Saints’ receiving corp.  He does it well.  Brees opened the season with an impressive 419 yards and three touchdown tosses in the loss to Green Bay.  He followed that up with a less spectacular, but still decent, 270-yard game and another three touchdowns against the Chicago Bears.  As long as his accuracy remains at the top of the pack, which his seventy-ish completion percentage indicates, Brees will continue to lead the pre-game chanting Saints fans have come to love.  New Orleans may have some glaring weaknesses, but it certainly isn’t under center.

 Reggie who?

 Darren Sproles is not necessarily a household name, but he is surely known throughout the league as a return threat.  For years he supplemented the San Diego Chargers’ Tomlinson-driven backfield with his quick cuts and ability to find gaps in defensive lines.  When Reggie Bush finally got sent to Miami for inconsequential players, the Saints front office really needed to find a player that provided the spark and excitement that Bush exhibited many moons ago.  Enter the Sproles era.

As long as New Orleans doesn’t have any catastrophic injuries or massively underperform in crucial situations, I foresee a solid playoff run.  I’m optimistic about this season.  The defense looks capable under the control of Gregg Williams and Jonathan Vilma, while Sean Payton will continue to call gutsy plays on offense that make me sweat.  Luckily, those calls tend to pay off enough for him to keep his job.  Look for the Saints to make a statement in this year’s postseason.

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