Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt , Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception.
That's exactly how the Cincinnati Bengals drive chart read last night. Just wanted to lay it out like that because it looks so pretty that way. I don't know what the heck Payton said to these guys this last week or what he did to motivate them, but it worked. With all eyes on them, the Saints defensive showing was a huge improvement over last weeks. The return of McKenzie, better pressure from the line, a more cohesive linebacking corp, and better play from the safeties all contributed to a defense that actually looked like they knew what they were supposed to be doing out there. I understand there are always going to be those people who say that it's just pre-season and that many Bengal's starters were not active, and they are right. But for this teams defense, one that is oft criticized and rife with deficiencies, to hold any team at any time to no points, not even a field goal, is an incredibly noteworthy feat. Yesterday's battle against the Bengals should be considered a very important victory in the long war that is this season.
On a less positive note, the offense didn't look as smooth and efficient as we all know it can be. The Bengals are not a very good team defensively. This Saints team cannot expect its defense to come up big like this every week and 17 points of offense just won't cut it against stronger teams. One thing that will be ever important this season, and something that I feel plagued us last season, will be for both offense and defense to play well together. I already know that in next week's game against the Dolphins, the most important thing that I will be watching for will be consistent play from all and the ability of both offensive and defensive units to get on the same page and turn in equally impressive performances. It's a must. Otherwise, all of our hope and expectations for this season will flutter up and down in rhythm with this teams inevitable performance as we will all ride along on the roller coaster ride that is a typical New Orleans Saints season.
In the meantime, hope has been restored in Who Dat Nation and all is peaceful. At least for now.
Here are my immediate observations from the game. They may not be completely accurate because they were made on the fly. More in depth analysis will take place this week.
- When it comes to the Saints secondary, there's Mike McKenzie and there's everyone else. Is this guy recovering from a torn ACL? Sure didn't look like it. MM looked solid out there, almost picking off a pass. We can all breathe a sigh of relief now knowing that with MM back, our secondary should never look as awful as it did last week against Houston.
- I don't think Tracy Porter is necessarily ready to start but it is awesome to see some improvement after last week. He made that great play in the first series knocking the ball loose after getting away from his blocker. He also drew an offensive pass interference call by getting great positioning on his wide receiver. However, he failed to do anything in the return game.
- Randall Gay looked just okay. He was caught out of position at least once last night. Sad to say but I don't think he has totally locked up that second starting spot.
- Aaron Glenn is starting to look good. Decent anyway. Dare I say that he gives this unit a little depth? Can I use that word when I am talking about the cornerbacks? I think I just did. He seems pretty solid and consistent. A good "break glass in case of emergency" kinda guy.
- Great play from our starting safeties last night. Maybe it's because he was playing his old team but KK looked solid with 1.5 sacks. Roman Harper also looked sharp making some nice hits, including that hard one against the run when he flew in to fill the gap. Lance Schulters also got into the mix by nabbing an interception.
The Rest of the Defense
- The line as a whole looked much better than last week. To be fair, I don't think the Bengals offensive line was doing such a great job and didn't seem to pick up a couple of blitzes but definitely a noticeable improvement in the application of pressure. Still nothing from the most expensive bookends I have ever seen but Bobby McCray looked awesome! 93 Octane had 1.5 sacks on the night and decided to leave his mark in this game; all over Carson Palmer's face. For a big guy, he sure is fast. I don't mean to rip off McDonald's but, "I'm lovin' it."
- Good news on the defensive tackle front. Even though Hollis Thomas is out for a good while and Young will probably have an injury plagued year, Kendrick Clancy is really stepping it up, as well as Antwan Lake. Clancy came on strong right out of the box and led the team with 3 tackles and 2 assists. Lake added a sack. While Thomas and Young are out, I think Ellis and Clancy are your starters.
- I was very happy to see the linebacking play looking much better. I think this may actually have been a position group whose performance was underrated last night. Those short dump off passes in the flat by our opponents were killing us in the last two games and I am glad to see that get significantly reduced. These guys were covering a lot of ground, doing a great job of containing and on top of their receivers quickly.
The Running Game
- All I asked for was just to see continued improvement out of D Mac and I think it's fair to say we saw that. Of course he's not out there moving piles the way we know he can but give it time. For a second knee injury, he's looking pretty good and he's coming along nicely. Patient with this one you must be.
- Nothing unusual from Pierre Thomas. He only ran five times for 46 yards (by the way, thats a 9.2 average) and caught four passes for 35 more yards. The announcers even complimented him on this blocking. Okay, okay he had a fumble deep in the red zone when he was practically down. It doesn't matter though, don't worry about it. He will stay buried on the depth chart. If I write any more I will get angry and break my keyboard.
- It's unfortunate for Lynell Hamilton that we already have four other pretty talent backs ahead of him because he looked pretty impressive last night. The reality is, at this point, he's probably trying out for another team with these performances in the pre-season for the Saints. Maybe we could package him together with Devery in some sort of trade?
- Reggie was pretty much non-factor last night. Hopefully his injury is not too serious.
- Both Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are starting to prove themselves to be consistent. You can add both of their names to the list of Saints who are playing well but not seeming to get the respect they deserve. Honestly, at this point, they may both be ahead of Devery on the depth chart.
- Oh, Devery. What to do with you...what to do? Technically on the stat sheet he only caught 50% of his passes tonight, but we will give him credit for the nice catch he had for about 20 yards that was inevitably called back, raising his percentage to a whopping 66%. Either way, he continues to be inconsistent leaving me to wonder why Payton continues to think so highly of him.
- Colston looked good in the one series he took part in. He and Drew are on autopilot. We did see a rare drop on the goal line from Colston while taking a tough hit.
- If I'm being honest here, Drew looked just a little off. Just a tiny bit. He threw one a little behind Billy Miller but he was really off with receiver David Patten, overthrowing him and seeming to mix up routes. Minor, I know, but just thought I would mention it.
- Brunell was fine. Ol' reliable he is.
- Palko looked much better last night as well. No bobbled snaps. Had a nifty little run. My question is: How long is this Payton project going to continue?
- Mehlhaff finally kicked one in the endzone but then followed it up with a not so great kick. He did nail his 45 yard field goal however.
- Gramatica was also reliable as usual hitting his field goal attempt. I really have no idea what is going to happen with this position battle. It might come down to a coin flip.
- I think Skyler Green's career with the Saints may be coming to an end very soon. Punt returning is really the only way he is going to make this team and he didn't look impressive at all last night. Unfortunately, he hasn't gotten too many chances and because of that, he is forcing those chances which is only exacerbating the situation.
Of course, I will get into more detail about everything in the upcoming days. As always, the floor is open for your thoughts and opinions.
Here is the final roll call for both open threads combined. Props go to Steve the fan who proves he is worthy of the name he has given himself. Again, I am so happy to see such a good turnout for the open threads. I always enjoy them.
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