Of Course This Is Happening In Your Hometown

12 Nov

Well, that was fun. And we can’t really say we didn’t see that coming, can we? Hey, I’m not going to pretend I saw most yards in franchise history and most first downs in NFL history and most yards ever against the Cowboys and fucking 49 points and an utter failure of a Cowboys passing game coming, but we knew it would be a win and we knew it would be fun, because that’s what Payton’s Saints give us in primetime at home.

Recognizing the inevitability of a blowout win given the time and place certainly doesn’t devalue said win, and this isn’t intended to be a wet blanket – that’s coming later in the post – because a continuation of pre-2011 Payton tendencies is something to be appreciated and celebrated. And goddamn was that fun to watch.

But it seems that a year without the Payton influence gave us just enough time to forget, at times, what we once took for granted. The Saints had possession with under 6 minutes left in the first half, trailing 10-7, when I told the guy sitting in front of me that we’d be up 21-7 at the half. This was intended as a #wegotthis comment, a statement of hyperbolic certainty that we would soon take the game over. I had no fear of overconfidence in this offense and a revamped defense, not at home and not after the sun had gone down.

But neither did I suspect that I might be selling this team short. 6 minutes later bewildered Cowboys fans wandered the concourses, presumably in search of a vomit receptacle, looking every bit the Night Game Opposing Fan Zombie that season ticket holders have come to recognize, dazed and restless, reinforcing Superdome security’s appreciation for the relatively low number of places in the building from which a human can fall a great distance.

The second half, of course, brought a new definition of “I underestimated that guy” the likes of which I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before, or will ever again, as Mark Ingram metamorphosized into a legitimate NFL running back, at least for one game, making a change more drastic than anything nature has to offer (I googled in search of something more worthy of the analogy than caterpillar/butterfly, but alas, nothing meets the mark). 10 yards per carry on 14 carries? Mark Ingram had a total of 20 carries over 10 yards in his entire career up to Sunday night.

The Regulators found an equal level of ridiculousness against their coordinator’s old team and I won’t bore you with the superlatives you’ve heard from Legit Media and Twitter for the last 2 days, except for this one. FG(3&out), TD, punt(3&out), punt(3&out), punt, punt(3&out), TD, punt(3&out), punt(3&out), punt(3&out). That’s just a lot of damn fun to watch right there.

That this win (in theory) was so predictable and yet (in execution) so far beyond even our expectations of a Payton primetime shellacking leaves me wondering why it can’t be replicated, at least to some degree if not to this extreme, on the road. Why is it so different out there than in here, and which team is the real thing? Is the home version reality, and something is going wrong on the road, or is the road team the real thing and home field advantage elevates them beyond their means?

It’s probably somewhere between, of course, and the quality of the Cowboys’ defense surely plays a part. But there is a discrepancy unlike what we’ve seen in recent years. The favorite stat of the Saints-road-problems denier is the “second best road team since 2009,” the argument being that every team is “worse” on the road but that the Saints do relatively well outdoors. Of course that’s a legitimate argument if we’re discussing 2009-12, but anyone who has watched the entirety of 2013 would be hard-pressed to delude themselves into believing that it’s a myth.

I don’t want this to be a “hey that’s great, but why can’t we do this on the road too” post, which would be kind of assholey and entire bitchery. So instead I’m going to say: I appreciate every second of these home victories, but given the stretch that’s coming, I’m worried about the road games. I’m saying it would be jumping the gun to call this a Turn The Corner game. It was a typical Payton-Brees(-Ryan) home beatdown on national TV, nothing more and nothing less, still glorious and boner-inducing and not to be taken for granted.

But now I look ahead, not as “wet blanket guy” or “doomsayer” but as “typical worried Saints fan that looks too far down the schedule.”

The 2013 Saints, at home, have played inferior opponents. But with the exception of the home opener, against a divisional rival, they have blown those opponents out of the building. With a win percentage of .357 otherwise, those teams have been beaten 176-75, by an average of 20 points per game, for a 5-0 record. Against road opponents, who are .500 otherwise, the Saints are 2-2, winning the point differential 89-88.

This hasn’t been the case up to this year, at least not so drastically, which is why we’re conditioned to argue the moronic Legit Media who label the team based on two playoff losses. In 2009, the Saints won more games on the road than at home; in 2010, the split was even counting playoffs; in 2011 their record was 9-0 at home and 4-5 on the road.

Again, the argument is that the Saints fall off on the road even relative to other teams, so according to rankings by point differential:

2009: 5th (home), 2nd (road)
2010: 14th (home), 3rd (road)
2011: 1st (home), 5th (road)
2013: 1st (home), 13th (road)

What is to blame? Small sample size? Dumb luck? A little rust in the get-the-troops-ready-to-fly department or whatever?

It makes little rational sense – of course the home crowd is helpful, but problems materialize that aren’t explained by crowd noise or jet lag: MetLife is a very quiet place, and the offense somehow found a way to commit false starts and use unnecessary timeouts. But football isn’t always rational; it’s an emotional, hormone-driven game played by strange people with strange motivations sometimes.

The defense is significantly better on the road, but that’s more expected, because the Dome IS loud and offenses are handicapped by communication issues and emotion. The three highest-scoring games on defense happened on the road, and four of the five worst rush defenses showed up for the four road games.

If anyone can figure this thing out and get the team playing equally well on the road as at home, at least on the offensive side, I trust it’s Sean Payton. We’ll need him to make it happen, to find a way to produce that first big season-defining road win that Claude over at Girod Street Endzone requested earlier in the season. It’s going to have to happen in Seattle if we expect the road to New York to come through the Dome.

On the bright side, a dominant running game sure would come in handy against a good front seven outdoors on the road, and maybe, just maybe, we’ve figured something out here. I don’t pretend to understand it, but Mark Ingram looked like a different human Sunday night. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit, but it’s not all blocking or bad defense – upon rewatching I saw Ingram make contact with at least one defender on seemingly every carry that, in weeks past, would have taken him down, and yet he kept moving. He hit holes without doing that annoying backfield stutter-step. He was decisive and fucking powerful, everything we wanted him to be out of college (except for the spiking in the field of play thing: that’s against the rules, dummy).

How can a guy be so different all of the sudden? Can you blame two and a half years on injury? Some kind of Hartleyish mental block? Did some coach say something to him last week that just made shit click all of a sudden?

Or is this all just a big tease?

Time will tell. But if he can keep this up, two legitimately good running backs not named Darren Sproles sure would make things easier on the road, in bad weather. And it’s not like Ingram is affected by the at-home-in-primetime nonsense, so we can’t just chalk it up to that. Right?

Well, wrong, of course. Ingram’s 10 yards per carry were by far the best of his career. Believe it or not, he’s had 5 games now with over 6 yards per carry. 4 of them were in primetime; all 5 were at home.

Well, fuck. Let’s just chalk it all up to small sample size, what do you say? Yep. Good news: the 49ers have to come to New Orleans, and the next road game brings the terrible Falcons. We have weeks yet to wait for Seattle.

Let’s just enjoy what we have for now. We’re 7-2, and we just beat the piss out of the Cowboys at home on national TV. What, me worry?

Saints 62, 49ers 6

(All stats taken straight from Pro Football Reference, which is awesome.)

One Response to “Of Course This Is Happening In Your Hometown”

  1. Noodoggy November 14, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    62 – 6! Ya u right, sha! At least it’s an afternoon game… That’ll give the who says time to get rowdy! RedemptSEAN!

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