After the bye week, my typing fingers are a bit out of shape, I’m makeing lots of typoes, and I keep spilling the beer of the week down the front of my shirt. In other words, everything is as usual.
It’s time for 4th and Geaux.
Last week in review
The bye week was kind to the Saints, giving several players a chance to heal. Reggie Bush will likely play this week and our offense will hopefully be better for it. Jon Stinchcomb has had a little time to heal, and will likely play. Darren Sharper’s hamstring has had a bit of time to heal (UPDATE: Sean Payton has ruled Sharper out for this week), and Drew Brees has had more time to mask his hidden knee injury (I kid! I think.)
And, to top that off, we have a relatively easy opponent coming to town to help us ease into the second part of the season. This is the time in which we start to figure out how good this Saints team is. I haven’t been overly impressed with the Saints for most of the season (compared to last year, that is. Compared to the Saints’ history, this is probably a top-10 Saints team), but they’ve shown flashes of the old magic. Now that they’re getting healthy, and the schedule is remaining easy, it’s time to start making a run toward the playoffs. While I don’t believe in momentum, I do believe in excellence. It’s time for the Saints to excel.
I've got a box full of letters...
Do you have a question for the mailbag? Leave it in the comments or send it via email to stuart (at) whodatreport (dot) com.
Will the Saints win the NFC South? No hedging here. I realize it’s not the most fair question ever, but it should make for more lively discussion. -Joseph William Stern, via the comments.
No hedging? No hedging? But hedging is what I do best! However, we aim to please at 4th and Geaux, so I’ll play along.
Will the Saints win the NFC South? No. I say that for two reasons: (1) the Saints haven’t played all that well this year, once you account for the quality of their opponents, and (2) the Falcons have played better than the Saints this year, even once you account for the quality of their opponents. But let’s go into more detail.
Atlanta’s offense has been better than New Orleans’ this year, although the Falcons’ defense has been worse than the Saints’. Overall, by most metrics, the Falcons have been a slightly better team. But that’s not the main reason I think they’ll win the division.
The main reason that I think the Falcons will win the division is because of their upcoming schedule. The Falcons have the easiest last 7 games of any team in the league, with the only challenges likely coming against Green Bay and New Orleans. Both of those games are in Atlanta, too, where the Falcons excel. The Saints’ schedule isn’t hard going forward, but we have to face Atlanta, Dallas, and Baltimore on the road. The Falcons and Ravens are good, and Dallas might be good again, and the Thanksgiving game is usually tough for visitors (well, except for visitors to Detroit).
So, the Falcons have a one-game lead, an easier schedule, and have beat us already head-to-head. That looks like you’re division winner right there.
(Although I hope I’m wrong.)
Sizing up the opponent
Although the Seahawks have a winning record and looked good last week against the Cardinals, the Seahawks are not a good team. Their winning record is almost entirely due to their schedule strength. The Seahawks won against San Francisco (a mediocre team), San Diego (a good team with bad luck), Chicago (a bottom third team), and Arizona (one of the worst 3 teams in football, Saints game notwithstanding) twice. So, they have 2 wins against decent to good teams and 3 wins against poor teams. That’s not so good.
However, that doesn’t mean the Seahawks aren’t capable of playing decent football. According to Football Outsiders, they’ve been the second most inconsistent team in the league, which means they’ll look okay some weeks and awful in others. If the "good Seahawks" show up and the "bad Saints" show up, then we might be in trouble. Fortunately, even the "good Seahawks" ain’t that good.
Saints offense vs. Seahawks defense
The Seahawks defense is pretty poor, yielding an average adjusted yards per attempt (aYPA, which takes sacks and interceptions into account) of 5.82. That’s the worst defense the Saints have played since the Browns game. Although, maybe I shouldn’t mention the Browns game…
The Seahawks pass defense is one of the worst 5-10 in the league and their rush defense is only middle of the pack. The Seahawks’ secondary does a good job defending against #1 WRs (12 in the league per Football Outsiders) and tight ends (5th in the league), but are absolutely horrible against other wide receivers and running backs. So, that could bode well for Lance Moore (the Saints’ best receiver this year), Devery Henderson, Meachem, and Reginald. Once again, Drew Brees is the key to victory for the Saints. If Seattle is able to lock down Marques Colston, then TeeBall will have to make sure everybody else gets a turn.
In short, the passing game is the Saints’ strength and a weakness for the Seahawks. We excel at spreading the ball around, they struggle against teams that spread the ball around. Assuming the Saints avoid stupid turnovers and give Brew Drees adequate time, he should be able to pick apart their defense like Jonathan Sullivan picks apart a buffet line.
Another interesting note: two Saints running backs have pretty close connections with the Seahawks. The first is Reggie Bush, who played under Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC. When the going got tough at USC last year, Pete Carroll fled to the NFL, and Reginald was pressured into giving back his Heisman trophy. There's a school of thought, echoed by Peter King, that Carroll left Reggie holding the bag during that whole affair, and that the Saints might help Reggie, uh, register his discontent by giving him the ball a few times near the goal line.
While Satch Kelly might disagree, I think King may have a point here. Not necessarily because the NFL is a soap opera where every perceived slight must be avenged, but because Reggie is pretty good at finding the end zone (when he doesn't make a leaping fumble). Given that talent and given the (potential) interpersonal questions, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Reggie Bush score a few touchdowns this week.
The second Saints running back connection is Julius Jones, who was cut by the Seahawks earlier this year. Unlike Reginald, Jones isn't a particularly good running back. In fact, I think he's pretty bad, which is why he was sitting at home smoking his cigarettes when the Saints came calling. So, while Jones has been yapping a bit in the media about how Seattle made a mistake by releasing him, I wouldn't expect him to get the same goal line action that I expect Reggie to get.
In other words, I think talent trumps personal vendettas. However, I'll disagree with Satch to this extent: many great athletes are motivated by (perceived or actual) slights. Michael Jordan famously would invent feuds to help fuel his desire. Drew Brees used the drafting of Philip Rivers and, later, the Dolphins' rejection as inspiration.
Given that Sean Payton fancies himself to be a brilliant motivator (jazz funerals, the cheese, etc.), I would expect him to use any Seahawks/Pete Carroll slights to help his players get an edge and to build their loyalty to him.
Saints defense vs. Seahawks offense
The Saints defense has been improving week-to-week as they get healthier. According to Football Outsiders’ defensive rankings (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef), the Saints’ d is in the top 10 against the pass and top 15 against the run. The reason that Football Outsiders has the defense ranked lower than the conventional statistics is that the Outsiders’ numbers take quality of opponent into account. Sure the Saints defense has looked great, but they’ve done so against a bunch of terrible offenses. Fortunately, the Seahawks have a terrible offense, so the Saints defense should look great again.
Seattle has average 3.72 aYPA, which is the worst offense the Saints have played since, well, Carolina 2 weeks ago. Still, 3.72 aYPA is quite bad. Football Outsiders agrees: they have the Seahawks offense ranked 29th in the league overall. The Seahawks’ offense has been inconsistent: their high aYPA was 8.07, where as their low was a terrible −0.30.
Although he had a pretty good week last week, Matt Hasselbeck is old, injured, and not capable of being consistently effective. He broke his left (non-throwing) wrist last week, but will still play. Seattle’s line is in the bottom half of the league (although rookie Russell Okung will likely return to start at left tackle this week), so the Saints should be able to get some pressure on Hasselbeck, particularly if he’s forced to pass a lot to catch up.
Hasselbeck’s best target is likely Mike Williams, but Mike Williams really isn’t all that special. Williams had a good game last week against Arizona’s terrible defense, but probably won’t be as effective against the Saints. Justin Forsett has been Seattle’s Best running back, but he’s certainly not Starbucks quality and sure isn’t PJ’s, either (you see, Seattle’s Best is a coffee that isn’t as good as Starbucks, which isn’t as good as PJ’s…nevermind).
So really, the Saints defense should handle this bunch without too much problem. That doesn’t mean they will, but they should.
Beer of the week: Because sober analysis requires good beer
This week’s beer review actually comes from super commenter CajunCavern, who knows quite a lot about beer and has a few favorites from the Seattle area. Without further ado, here’s Mr. Cavern:
The Beer of the Week is The Great Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewing Company, Seattle, WA. The Great Pumpkin Ale is a Fall seasonal brew that reminds me of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. It pours a good looking dark hazy orange with a thin white head. It has a very pleasant, but complex aroma of pumpkin with notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. Flavors of pumpkin, sweet bready malts, and a hint of cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Medium-bodied with a clean finish. Make no mistake, this isn't some kind of pumpkin flavored eggnog; it has all the characteristics of beer. Roasted pumpkin seed is in the mash for that "little something extra." As far as pumpkin ales go, there aren’t many better than this one. The beer is good all by itself, but if you're a beer and cheese lover, try it with Evangeline aged goat cheese from Chef John Folse's Bittersweet Plantation Dairy.
Elysian has three pubs in the Seattle area: Tangletown, Elysian Fields, and their original brewpub at Capital Hill, which is their main production brewery. The food is said to be very good and their sweet potato fries are a hit that go well with many of their beers. They host a number of events, including the popular The Great Pumpkin Beer Festival and the upcoming Christmas Beer Week (Dec. 6-12) at all three Elysian locations, featuring 8 specialty winter brews.
Serve in: Tumbler, Pint Glass
Thanks, CajunCavern. I’ve been hankering for a good pumpkin ale this season, and will have to try this one out.
Although I’ve never had The Great Pumpkin Ale (awesome name, by the way), I’m going to rate this beer a Mel Gray: it’s a specialist, but one of the all-time great specialists.
That was way too long...could you just give me a one-paragraph summary and prediction?
Sure. It’s time for the Saints to get their act in gear and start looking like a good team. The Seahawks may have a good record, but that’s mainly because they’re in the terrible NFC West. The Saints offense should eat up their defense, and the Seahawks offense shouldn’t be a threat to the Saints defense. The Saints need a win this week, and it would make me feel a lot better about this team if they win relatively big, especially since they’re coming off a bye week. This is a good week for Reginald to ease back in to the offense, and look for good days out of our secondary receivers, either Moore, Henderson, or Meachem.