Friday, September 10, 2010
If Favre Can't Handle Pressure, Credit Saints' Stingy Defense
They gathered collectively inside an electric Superdome, on a night when swarms of fans embraced a delightful moment witnessed for the first time ever in New Orleans, releasing bleakness in a town once devastated in a recovery from a disheartening tragedy.
It was a blissful turnout, on a night zealots wildly initiated one of the most thrilling parties on Bourbon Street, still celebrating in high-spirit ever since the New Orleans Saints won their first ever Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Back to defend their title, the rational feeling is that the Saints marched in with the hardware, and considerably are favorites to return to the biggest stage in football and defend their title. In reality, this here, however, isn’t an illusion but a real hangover after hoisting its first ever Lombardi Trophy seven months ago. As always in circles, the Saints were referred to as the Aints, until the improbable pursuit in the postseason alarmed enthusiasts and energized the mood in a flustering environment to deepen the heart and soul of hopeless citizens.
For that matter, this uplifted the sanity of fans and brought happiness. Lately, as a city celebrated a momentous turnaround, from a team once so awful that its fans wore paper bags and regularly protested disappointed in the poor performances, 70,000-plus jammed into the Superdome and were fired up to witness the Saints on Thursday night.
And while the Saints seem to be feeling a hangover during the perpetual celebrations, you are carefully trying to predict whether the team can reach a climax again and sustain rare back-to-back triumph. If there’s a possibility, maybe the Saints are in position to repeat. That seems rational, not necessarily irrational in a way, when New Orleans in the first game of the regular-season respectively played with urgency, firepower, resiliency and balance to survive a 14-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings to begin the season 1-0.
The perception is, of course, that the Saints were the feel-good story a year ago and noticed as the ferocious team in the league, with a much vibrant and monstrous defense which deserved abundantly most of the credit. As often last season, the Saints defense in the shadows of their high-powered offense was rarely anointed. Although it was the ugliest beginning for the defending champs, Brett Favre was doomed in a poor second-half performance and finally played like a senior citizen.
Because of creativity and blitzes, they harassed, abused and knocked out the battered Favre, and he completed merely four of his final 12 passes for 44 yards. The rest of the way the Saints were allowed to secure a stunningly low-scoring win, and proved unflappable with the ability to ultimately inhibit and frustrate Favre, a veteran quarterback whose retiring and un-retiring sagas annoys us during the offseason.
“I can’t say we were hitting on all cylinders like in the championship game. I’d be lying,” said Favre, who threw for a staggering 310 yards on 28-for-46 passing in the NFC Championship Game a year ago. “You can call it rusty. People are going to have their own opinions. Whatever."
“There were a lot of opportunities we capitalized on but there were way more that we didn’t. The fact is they were there. There were plays to be made. That’s what I’m concerned about. If we were not any good, it would be obvious.”
It all means that now, for once, he is playing like an old man, or maybe someone who is very fatigued as his performance level drastically declines. Or is the Saints blistering defense really that stellar? Believe it or not, this is a much-improved unit on defense for the most sterling juggernaut in football. With the expense of dominant platoons and instrumental pieces for prevailing on the biggest stage, the Saints are arguably the most powerful team in the league. And not just on a creative offense. To articulate, the Saints settled for a mere 14 points and still managed to pull away with a convincing win, but amazingly held the Vikings to nine points, 20 below their average of last season.
This is a team, after all, on a quest to repeat triumph, a team anxious to strengthen the foundation in a community where there are a myriad of believers, ready to celebrate another championship as the Saints are ready to watch another banner rise inside the Superdome. There were moments when the Vikings seemed hard-driven at the Saints’ wildest festival, but on the opening drive a night swelled in a hurry.
For that, the most compelling and possibly the most evident storyline is developing under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, an intellectual mastermind admired for assembling forceful plays and cultivating unstoppable schemes that are troubling to all opponents. The basic fundamentals are standing out as a convenient requisite and the Saints needed strong defensive effort from profoundly a physical and experience defense.
“Until Gregg got here, we [the defense] were kind of an eyesore around here,” Porter said. “That’s something we’re working hard to change."
It’s still a work in progress, but the incredible defense is the difference maker and takes a bundle of pressure off the proficient offense. If he wants to ultimately dilate his legacy, then Favre must find a groove and lead the Vikings. Relatively speaking, it’s critical to expose his customary arm-strength and accuracy on the field to preserve his legacy and protect his Hall of Fame status.
As a way to irritate Favre, the Saints exploited the 3-4 and 4-3 front, without even blitzing as much and they still applied enough pressure and made Favre peeved while handling all the tension and blows to the turf. From the beginning, for the most part, it seemed like it would have been a blowout. But the Saints, a high-scoring team, weren’t so overpowering with possession of the ball and instead without possession of the ball.
More surprisingly, is that the Saints were limited to 231 yards after a dramatic 77-yard drive. But as long as Williams is the defensive coordinator, the Saints may slow down opponents and march in as the best defenders in the NFC, if not all of football. More than anything, the Vikings were fooled by the 3-4 alignments, an unusual formation that Williams rarely employs.
Williams, who has numerous tricks in his mind, is an expert at calling defenses and knows how to match the opponents’ personality by using a specific system to slow down the opposing team. It was very stunning to Vikings coach Brad Childress that the Saints limited blitzes. It was common to wonder if he would've plotted to blitz as expected.
“We were right where we wanted to be at halftime,” said Childress. “Unfortunately, we were three-and-out far too many times.
There weren’t exactly any fourth and blunders or Belichick miscues, but the Vikings were too conservative in play-calling which resulted in either second-and-long or third-and-long situations. But of course, the grandfather of quarterbacks has flaws and deficiencies he needs to mend in an instant. The inconsistency is signs of a receding 40-year old, which are glaring archetypes of a receding era already slowly deteriorating before our very eyes. Now, as the football season barely begins, Favre is already showing signs of fatigue and seems battered after one game this season.
“(Favre) was antsy,” said Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. “He wasn’t able to set his feet. He wasn’t able to make the throws he would (normally) make.”
His consistency descended by the second-half after connecting on 11 of 15 first-half attempts. Pressured heavily by Saints’ safety Roman Harper on a blitz, he tossed an interception to Vilma on an ill-advised throw. It’s hard to tell how effective the Vikings are with a struggling Favre, particularly when he’s without Sidney Rice his favorite target.
The absence of his prolific receiver is unhelpful, but he’s expected to be sidelined at least until midseason while rehabilitating from hip surgery. Since he is missing in action, an abundance of pressure is on Adrian Peterson, who is an explosive running back and had a pretty sufficient game on 19-carries for 87-yards.
As he ages, Favre isn't nearly effective in his dropped back passes and has trouble scrambling out of the pocket quickly. This was a rematch of the 2009 NFC Championship game last January that the Saints pulled off in an overtime thriller. But considering that the Saints limited the blitzes like in the title game when Favre was battered and brutally hit 16 times, New Orleans is still the better, fiercest team because of its sturdy, much-improved defense.
That was a wonderful sequence in the opening of a tense and tight rematch. It took only five plays for Drew Brees, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, to connect with receiver Devery Henderson for a 29-yard touchdown pass on a rollout and gained a 7-0 lead. With the exception of free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who is replacing an injured Darren Sharper, Harper who has played a key role, and lastly Tracey Porter, whose interception return for a touchdown sealed the victory and gave the franchise its first ever title, a stingy secondary dictates the fate and complexion of the Saints.
Sure enough, Favre orchestrated a nice throw for a touchdown to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, a primary target and settled for a team-best, catching four receptions for 76 yards. This time, it was a bit surprising to see receivers Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin combined for catches and 15 yards against the Saints’ assertive defense, and Favre stumbled all night.
For once, he played like an elderly man with inabilities to ultimately find his receivers.
It’s very, very difficult to repeat a championship. From the looks of things, it’s certain that the Saints are on track to win it all. The blueprint is defense wins games. And this defense is one hell of a stingy one.
After all, they are marching…