To Mr. Griffin III:
Hey Rook, welcome to the NFL. Those scripted plays that helped give you confidence while making you look good in the preseason came against opponents who weren't game-planning against you, nor your team. It may have given you a false sense of well being. I've got news for you: you're in for a rude awakening. The coverage's you'll see, the speed of the game, and the pressure will all get ratcheted up a few notches. That's to be expected, especially as a highly touted draft choice for whom the team gave up so much to acquire. I'm sure you've already been warned. What hasn't hit you yet is the very unique situation you'll be stepping into on Sunday.
You see, your opponent was already a Super Bowl contender at the end of last season. Their high powered offense didn't change. You may not have heard, but the Saints actually improved across the board on defense. The defensive tackle position has been overhauled, with competent Broderick Bunkley and high motor Akiem Hicks in the fold. That "mediocre at best" group of linebackers just got remodeled into a group of legitimate starters. On top of that, the Saints got younger and more versatile in the defensive backfield.
The upgrades your opponent made should be enough to force you from believing you'll win, past hoping you'll win, to settling for hoping you don't look too bad in a loss. The Superdome has a reputation for being a loud and hostile environment, specifically tough for rookie QB's making their first start. Ask Hall Of Fame QB's Phil Simms or Troy Aikmen. Ask recently "elite" knighted QB Matthew Stafford. Under normal circumstances, you'd be in for a long day.
However, that doesn't begin to describe the buzz saw you'll be walking into.
The Saints are very angry right now. They're united in their anger, and they have a very large bone to pick. Your team represents the charred skin they'll devour on their way down to the bone. They ended last season with a few notable teams circled on the schedule for 2012. Thanks to Roger Goodell's manufactured safety hazard, the Saints are starting this season with every team circled in red.
The Saints have had their accomplishments, integrity, and manhood questioned and unfairly tarnished in the most extreme and public fashion. To add insult to injury, they've had their coach locked up for a year in solitary confinement (from all things NFL), their GM for half a year, and their next man in charge for the first six weeks. A Federal Judge has already stated, in a court of law, that the facts have only proven that Roger Goodell may have been unfair and prejudiced. How do you think the Saints feel about that?
I know you weren't alive in the early eighties, but find some "tape" on Mike Tyson pre-1990. He won his first 19 fights by KO, with 12 coming in the first round. This man was all rage, all domination, and non-stop fury until the bell rung. He didn't have a punch in his arsenal that failed to cause pain. All of his weapons hurt the opponent. In the event you don't fully grasp how menacing and dominant Tyson was, I'll give you an example I know you remember and can relate to: the 2007 Patriots. After having their accomplishments and integrity called into question during the "Spygate" fiasco, they started the 2007 season with the intent to utterly demolish and embarrass every opponent.
What you'll be facing Sunday in the Superdome won't be that bad; it'll be worse. You see, not only do you have to deal with a Saints team equally capable of going undefeated in dominant fashion while fulfilling a blood vendetta, but you also have to suffer through a fan base united to their team like no other. If the 2012 Saints are like a young Mike Tyson, the Who Dat Nation can be compared to the Spartans from the Battle of Thermopylae. We're die hard, and we'll protect and defend ours unlike any fan base in pro sports. We're their till our last breath. We're faithfully married to the Saints, for better or worse. Do you honestly believe we'll give a chance to hear the call coming from the sideline, or make an audible, or change your protections? Saints fans come about as hardcore as you can imagine. They'll raise the noise level to over 100 decibels when they're happy and content, just because they can. Can you imagine what they'll do now that they are as angry as their team?
To The Who Dat Nation:
Alright guys and gals, I already know what ya'll are going to do Sunday, so this is where I tell you what to expect over the course of the game. RG3 has the potential to start his career in the same fashion Cam Newton started his. He's got the same tools, but he's a bit on the small side and a little quicker. He won't run over you, but he'll run away from you. I've heard he's every bit as smart as Newton, and time will tell if he works as hard at honing his craft and learning to become a great NFL QB. Santana Moss will try to play the role of Steve Smith. Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, and Leonard Hankerson round out the WR group, and Fred Davis plays the role of the athletic/match-up problem TE.
A quarterback with Griffin's mobility and arm is tailor-made for Shannahan's offense. Griffin will do some good things; he'll show flashes, but he'll make plenty of mistakes, thanks to our efforts as well as a smarter "quality over quantity" philosophy Steve Spagnuola brings to the defense. Spags isn't going to send 7 guys on a blitz repeatedly, even when it is continually ineffective, like running into a brick wall. Spags is known for getting pressure with his defensive line. He'll pick spots to send blitzes, but he tends to do a good job disguising them, using zone principles. He baits you and fools you, he utilizes stunts and delayed blitzes. He gives his veteran defensive linemen the freedom to rush how they choose - when to stunt, when to slant, when to shoot the gap, ect. More importantly, Steve Spagnola tailors his scheme to match the players' talents and limitations, and focuses on doing a few things well.
With Galette and Wilson subbing for Will Smith, the Saints will have the speed to match Robert Griffin on a John Elway patented Shannahan bootleg. With that said, you can expect Griffin to earn a few first downs with his legs - it's inevitable. You can also expect a few sacks. I wonder if Griffin can hold up for the entire game.
After Trent Williams, can you name one starting offensive lineman for the Redskins? They've still not fixed that problem, so you can expect Shannahan to move the pocket (or at the very least change Griffin's launch point). Eventually, that will serve them well, but Sunday we'll see a deer in the headlights. Griffin is athletic, but the game will be too fast for him, the dome too hectic. He'll spend more time trying to not get hit than looking downfield (sometimes I exaggerate). Here's the point: he's no Drew Brees; he's not comfortable enough in the offense and knowledge of defenses to slide one way or another while looking downfield and knowing exactly where his targets are in relation to the coverage. So you can expect some interceptions along with a few sacks. I'd say at least two of each.
Mike Shannahan is to RB's what Mike Ditka is to QB's: he's got no patience and will go with the hot hand. I think the hot hand will be rookie Alfred Morris. I am very interested in Alfred Morris. The Redskins still have Roy Helu and Evan Royster, who each had a few 100 yard rushing efforts last season, but I get the feeling both have fallen out of favor with Mike. Morris seems to be his new "late round find" at RB. If they can get a solid performance out of the running game, they just might keep it close in the first quarter. Then again, remember what I said about the offensive line? I don't think it will matter because I believe The Drew Brees Company will force the Redskins to throw more often than they wish, a lot earlier than they wish.
On defense, Jim Haslett has just about finished converting the Redskins to a competent 3-4 defense (from a Top-10 4-3 defense he inherited when he and Shannahan took over). I suppose it has helped their pass rush, because deciding who the 4th rusher is gets a little tricky - unless of course you have Drew Brees and an offensive system designed to force a defense to declare its intentions pre-snap with the use of motions and unconventional alignments (in terms of which personnel line up in the role of slot WR, TE, ect.). The average fan isn't Drew Brees, and like Master of The Obvious John Madden, I'll fill you in on who's rushing Drew: LB Brian Orakpo, LB Ryan Kerrigan, DE Adam Carriker, and DE Stephen Bowen are your pass rushers. NT Barry Cofield gets an occasional sack, but his main job is to eat space and any two blockers he can get his paws on.
The Redskins have a very solid front 7 (defensive line and line-backers). They have average cornerbacks (you hear that MeAngelo Hall?) and average/questionable safeties. London Fletcher is an ageless wonder and leads the team in tackles every year. A CB and S fill out the top 3 in tackles - which means the ball is crossing the line of scrimmage against their defense. Washington made an effort to upgrade at Safety, but it looks like "go for the big hit and forget to tackle" Brandon Merriweather may miss the game. The Saints vertical routes that attack the seams will have much success against the Redskins suspect secondary.
Let me put it this way - remember how the Saints opened the 2009 season against rookie Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions? The Saints scored four consecutive touchdowns and Drew finished the game with six. Sean Payton pretty much spent that season either taking Drew out of the game or tying his arm behind his back and forcing him to hand off for much of the third and fourth quarters of games. Guess what Redskin and Saints fans - thanks to Roger Goodell, Sean Payton isn't here to keep Drew from having fun, to keep the team from making a point, and to keep the entire region from rubbing it in the NFL and Roger's face.
Sure, you'll see some fine action from the Saints rushing offense, but only because it makes the offense that much easier to operate and that much more dangerous. Unlike the Patriots, Packers, and Lions - teams that all threw for over 5,000 yards last year - the Saints have a top 10 rushing attack (6th), and can kill you any way they wish. Defenses have to defend the field horizontally and vertically, every inch. The Redskins don't stand a chance.
The Saints special teams unit has a chance to be very special. Roby and Morgan each have TD ability on kick-off returns, and Sproles is dangerous like Reggie Bush was on punt returns (though Sproles never fumbles or runs sideways). The staff may consider giving the punt return duties over to Morgan in order to preserve Sproles from those nasty full speed collisions. The coverage units look very good, anchored by Wilson, Gallette, Roby, and a few other demons who made their bones in the NFL as a human projectile. Legatron is a top 3 punter in the NFL, and he set a record for touchbacks on kick-offs thanks to the rule change last year. Garrett "fat punk kicker" Hartley might show a little rust, but the kid has great mental fortitude and I expect him to lead the NFL in scoring this year after a slow start. I surely prefer every aspect of the Saints ST unit to that of Washington.
To Mr. Goodell:
Roger, you have the chance to make this right. Sadly, I believe you'll act like a politician (or the lawyer you are) and repeat a lie over and over and over, despite findings and evidence to the contrary, in order to serve your purpose of protecting your pocketbook. You invented a big bad safety hazard, removed it with prejudice (easy to remove something that doesn't exist), and continue to perpetuate the veracity of your claims by repeating a lie. I tell you what, you made your point to the public and a future courtroom (concussion lawsuits) that the NFL has made the game safer and cares about player safety. Like a good parent, after scaring your kid straight and grounding the child for a year, you can lift the punishment after a few months because you know your kid got the point and has shown contrition. Simply put: Free Payton.
To help facilitate this, I'll give you a few safety ideas we can say Sean Payton suggested upon reinstatement:
- Have a representative from the helmet manufacturer visit each team and fit the players for a helmet. Make it mandatory that the players' hair be kept short in order to ensure a proper fit. The NFLPA may cry, but in many industries (and the military), in order to be fitted for a respirator or gas mask, you have to be clean shaven. No different. In order for the safety device to work properly, it needs to fit correctly.
- Make every pad mandatory. I get it, hip pads and tailbone pads don't look cool. Some think padding slows them down. Guess what? If everyone is wearing them, it's not a disadvantage.
- Make mouth-pieces mandatory. Upon impact, the jaw mashes together and this contributes to concussions. That rubber mouthpiece absorbs some of the shock.
- Contact NASCAR and explore their helmet technology. After hearing from the manufacturer of their helmet, I can assure you it's far more advanced than the NFL's. Simply put, an NFL helmet was made to protect the skull from cracking - not prevent concussions.
- Make all chop blocks illegal. As of right now, just the low/high combo chop block is illegal. They should all be illegal.
- Make every hands to the face contact illegal. If CB's can't do it to WR's, ball carriers can't do it to defenders.
- Put padding under field turf. Let Vilma tackle you in the Superdome if you don't believe we need this.
These are just a start. There are plenty of other noticeable improvements that would make the game safer. All you have to do is actually listen and do something. That way you won't have to create a safety hazard in order to eradicate one.
I promise you this - you will forever be hated in New Orleans. But you can redeem yourself enough that it will be safe to show up for the Super Bowl if you Free Payton. If you don't...