All Day To Throw

30 Oct

This rare photo by Michael Hebert shows a Saints defender somewhere near Peyton Manning.

 
In their last game of October 2011, the Saints fell to the Rams in an absolute debacle. The Who Dat Nation cringed at the Rams’ outplaying of a (supposedly) superior team from New Orleans. They began to lose faith, and many questioned the playoff chances of a team who could drop a game like that in such embarrassing fashion.

And yet, the fanbase would be treated to eight consecutive regular season wins, a division title, and an ill-fated run Deep Into The Playoffs.

See where I’m going with this? You like what I’m getting at? Then fuck off. Not on this blog, folks.

Holy mother of fuck, that was brutal. Most of you already know that I made the trip out – there won’t be any reminiscing about the fun times in Denver and the great places I saw and the great things I got to do. We won’t discuss the awesomeness of their stadium (although it was pretty fucking cool) and we won’t speak of the cheesiness of the non-Superdome game experience (it’s always lame as hell).

That will all come in due time, later this week on Canal Street Chronicles. That’s for that time of the week when the loss starts to wear off, when I’m able to enjoy life a little and reflect on the positives of the entire experience, when we all start looking forward with hope to next week’s game against an opponent in chaos, a perennial disappointment, a team with a coach and a quarterback on the chopping block, one that turns the ball over like it’s going out of style, one that we have maybe a one in four chance of beating. That post will be fun and positive.

I’m not feeling fun and positive today.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: yes, the offense is every bit as much to blame for the loss yesterday as the defense. It’s easy to brush that off because it’s just so unusual. We get a performance like that about twice a year from a Drew Brees offense; they are at three right now, so they should be good for the year. Right?

It was probably over with nine minutes to play in the second quarter, the game still tied 7-7. A defense can be expected to take the field about 10 times a game, give or take. I figured, given our defense and given their quarterback, if we could get about four stops, four dead-end possessions that resulted in no points, we would hold them to a field goal or two – bringing the point total to the high 20s or low 30s – and we’d have a game.

At nine minutes in the second quarter, the Saints’ defense had taken the field four times, and allowed seven points. When by the midway point of the second quarter your defense has made nearly the number of stops even a hopeful fan has asked for over the course of the entire game, and the game is still tied, you have a problem on your hands.

Even then, the defense is what it is, and we knew we should expect a shootout. Just score, take a lead, and play the home team even for two and a half more quarters. Which brings us to 2nd and 2 at the Broncos’ 47. Brees dropped back, threw a short pass to Roby, and gained a first down. Too easy. Wait, what? Yep, that was too easy. The call was challenged and overturned, and I questioned the wisdom of challenging a second-and-short incompletion at midfield in the second quarter. A waste when there is only two yards to gain, right?

Yeah.

Incompletion to Roby. Pass incomplete to Moore. Pass to Graham intercepted by Woodyard. With two yards to gain at midfield, Carmichael called four passing plays in a row.  Four.  And your favorite running back in the whole entire world basically gains exactly two yards, no more and no less, every time he touches the ball.  Way to spread the ball around though, right?

And just like that, the game was over. Everyone knew it, whether they admit it to themselves or not. In past years at this point in the game Wang would tweet #wegotthis, we’d all take a deep breath, have another drink, and watch and wait for the offense to catch fire and just outscore the shit out of those guys.

This year just isn’t that kind of year.

As expected, the Broncos scored on that drive, and throughout the second half the Saints’ defensive line – maybe the worst group since the invention of the forward pass – failed to get to the quarterback. If you’re new to football, the key implication here involves the opposition. When you fail to get to Peyton Manning, he fucking destroys everything you hold dear in your life. That’s what that asshole has done for like 35 years. He does it with whatever team pays him that year, he does it with half a neck, he does it at elevation, and he makes your fucking family watch.  Your kids can cry and your wife can beg him to stop and he just doesn’t give a fuck, because you’re not putting pressure on him.

Perhaps “failed to get to the quarterback” is the wrong term for this bunch. There’s a finite quality to the phrase, as if I mean to say “took too long to get there and Peyton got rid of it.” That’s clearly not what I mean. What I mean is that on most plays, Peyton Manning could have shuffled around a box about 2 yards wide on each side and extended one play for the duration of a quarter without ever letting the ball go or being touched by a defender. I mean that if he chose not to throw he would more quickly have died of starvation than be sacked by the Saints.

We love to gripe about the Safeties, that dynamic duo of run-really-fast-in-the-wrong-direction-like-fucking-Tebucky-Jones Malcolm Jenkins and I-might-not-stop-you-from-catching-the-ball-but-I’ll-hit-you-out-of-bounds Roman Harper. A discussion of the linebacking corps may not even fit within the scope of this post. The corners – well, they’re actually serviceable sometimes (I’m referring here to P-Rob and Greer, not Corey White).

None of that matters, though, without a pass rush. And that’s the good news – we have at least a little hope for next year. Why? Because, contrary to (apparently) popular opinion, we don’t need to blow up the entire defense for 2013. Even if we did, of course, we couldn’t, because that’s not how football works in this day and age. You don’t get a perennial #1 offense and a top 10 defense, so stop wishing for it. It’s not happening, not consistently. You get a mediocre defense and you ride that scoring machine all the way to February. Or vice versa. Don’t get to have the cake and eat it, and all that. Me? I’m fucking hungry. Give me cake.

Anyway, back to my point: the defense doesn’t need an overhaul because it doesn’t even have to be fucking good. It just has to be bad instead of mind-numbingly terrible. And you can get there with one added ingredient: a little talent on the defensive line.

Ralph Malbrough  @MilneMalbrough
 
@angrywhodat AGREE. Having Pass Rush on defense is like having elite QB on offense because it can hide all your flaws(See Saints 1990-1992)

Precisely, Ralph. Or, perhaps, the 2009 Saints. You can mask your weaknesses in the secondary two ways: with talent or with scheme. Gregg Williams masked the inability of the defensive line with his unsustainable insanity for a while, but it was an insanely genius insanity in that it masked the defensive line’s inability to rush the passer and created a pass rush, thereby masking the flaws in the secondary (and yes, they were there in 2009 also).

Of course, there’s a flip side to Ralph’s point. While an effective pass rush masks flaws, the absence of a pass rush exacerbates and even creates flaws. When you have corners like Greer and Robinson who just aren’t built to cover for the duration of a long passing play, you need them to be playmakers. When they know a quarterback doesn’t have much time to throw, they can play aggressive, attack the receivers, and jump routes. That’s what Gregg Williams did with his insane (and still unsustainable) scheme and Darren Sharper. He created a turnover machine.

Spags used the same principle in New York. Instead of scheme, however, he embraced actual talent on the defensive front. Here, he has none. And no, fuck that, get that Junior Galette shit out of here. He’s part of the group, and they’re a massive failure. Here, the line takes fucking minutes to get to a quarterback, and the corners have to play soft, and they know they have to cover for three or four moves, and you can’t jump a route when you have to cover for three or four improvised route changes.

Hell, it’s the entire reason I was so hopeful coming into this game – the defense had allowed 14 total points in the second half of the last two games. They did so by adjusting and getting in the quarterback’s face, making him rush throws. On third down, an incompletion ends a drive just as effectively as an interception. And our defense was accomplishing that in winning efforts (no matter how ugly). In one game Sunday night, the Saints proved two things: that the defense couldn’t adjust like that consistently; and that it doesn’t fucking matter if your offense doesn’t show up. They need help from time to time also. See also: January 2012.

So maybe we don’t even know what we have in the secondary. They’re not great, and they might not even be any good at all. But give us a pass rusher or two, and we know the defense gets better.

Because we certainly know what we have on the defensive line. Utter garbage.

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