Friday, November 11, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Don't write off the Saints just yet.

It appears many of us wrote the 2016 New Orleans Saints obituary a tad too soon.

Losers of four of their first five games, the Saints have won four of their last five and stand at at an even 4-4 headed into the second half of the NFL season.

Those four victories, step by step, have moved the Saints off the DOA list, on to life support, to critical condition and now alive and well.

To be exact, they are just one and a half games behind the NFC South Division-leading Atlanta Falcons. They still have serious cases of defensive maladies, but they have a Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, who gives them a chance for long-term survival.

Two ways to look at this:

• One, the Saints keep getting key injured players back and of their eight remaining games, five will be against teams with losing records.

• Two, the Saints are a mediocre team in a league filled with mediocrity. Of 32 NFL teams, 21 have records within one game of .500. The New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys are the only two teams that has lost fewer than two games. Twenty-seven of 32 teams have lost three games or more. In the NFL, parity is a fact.

Either way, the Saints have won their way back into the playoffs hunt. They easily could be in even better shape. The Saints lost one game by a single point, another by three and still another by six.

It would be silly to put too much emphasis on what the Saints achieved this past Sunday, winning big on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. After all, the Niners might just be the league's worst team. After an opening day victory, the Niners have lost seven straight, and six of those have been by double digits. And still, the 49ers put up a season-high 486 yards against the porous Saints defense.

Other than Brees, here's what should give Saints fans the most hope: The defense should improve now that cornerback Delvin Breaux, easily their best pass defender, and first-round draft choice, Sheldon Rankins, are back. Rankins, an explosive tackle out of Louisville, came off the bench Sunday but should give the Saints an improved push up front once he acclimates to the NFL's faster pace. Breaux is an upgrade, period, a cover guy with all-league skills.

The Saints can only hope that Rankins advances at nearly the pace second round draft choice Michael Thomas has. Were it not for Dak Prescott, Thomas would be a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. Long and fast and with dependable hands, Thomas has become Brees' go-to guy with a team-leading 47 catches, including five for touchdowns. He will only get better.

That said, the Saints remain Brees' team. The receivers change from year to year and so do the people blocking for him, but Brees keeps on dealing. He remains as accurate a passer as anyone who has played the sport. This season, he ranks second in the league in passing, behind only the Falcons' Matt Ryan, completing 69.7 percent of his throws for 336 yards per game.

Remember when we wondered how Brees would do without All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham who was dealt to the Seattle Seahawks to clear salary cap room? Well, he found Ben Watson for 74 catches last year. (Graham caught 48 for Seattle.) Now, Watson has gone to Baltimore and Coby Fleener and Josh Hill have combined for 36 catches.

Marques Colston gone? Plug in Thomas. Lance Moore gone? Plug in Willie Snead. The point is, no matter who the receivers are, the ball will be there for them. And it will be there to catch in stride.

Brees, at 37, still has his fastball.

The season's second half begins Sunday when the Denver Broncos, defending Super Bowl champions, go to New Orleans. It is a measure of the league's parity that the Saints, 7 and 9 a year ago and 4-4 this season, opened as a one-point favorite over the 6-3 Broncos, who have lost three of their last five since winning their first four.

Sunday's game, with a noon start in the Superdome, should give us a much better reading of where the Saints stand in 2016.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

How awesome would a Cowboys vs. Saints Superbowl be!

Anonymous said...

11:34 it would be kind of impossible since they are both in the NFC.
But a pretty cool NFC Title Game nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

don't write off the Dawgs either. there's a big upset brewing tomorrow. nick's gonna hurt after this one. Coach Mullen's brought this team back to the brink of greatness.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope the Dawgs wear those silver helmets.

Anonymous said...

Them ol dawgs didn't show up to play. Bama walked off and left them.

Larry Cipa said...

You are looking at 9-7 for the Saints.

Anonymous said...

The Dawgs got screwed by the refs today. if the officiating would have been fair, it would have been a different game. we got disrespected.

Anonymous said...

"don't write off the Dawgs either. there's a big upset brewing tomorrow. nick's gonna hurt after this one. Coach Mullen's brought this team back to the brink of greatness. "

LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL


PS - I saw the game

Anonymous said...

I am sure the bullpups are whimpering today. That egg bowl that they thought they had wrapped up....not going to happen now. Patterson is the real deal and is only going to get better and better.

Anonymous said...

Ya'll are just jealous because we have a lot of cool special uniforms. I can't wait to see what we are doing for the egg bowl. We are going to run up and down the field, cause the TSUN rebels cannot stop us.

Emory said...

That's what Texas A & M said.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).


Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.


In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.


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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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