‘Sloppy’ Saints need a little rest, a little work


A first sampling of the 2010 New Orleans Saints revealed that even a defending Super Bowl champion has plenty of work to do.

Before Thursday night’s game against the Patriots, the Saints spent the previous two days in the New England area in practice sessions with Bill Belichick‘s well-coached squad. Saints coach Sean Peyton said he wanted to get lots of work against a 3-4 defense because his team will play at least five opponents this season that employ a 3-4 scheme.

Against the Patriots’ 3-4 defensive front, the Drew Brees-led offense failed to gain one first down until its third possession of the game. Brees then needed a 20-play drive to score the Saints’ first offensive touchdown.

The Patriots defense harassed Brees enough to cause the Super Bowl MVP to throw four consecutive incompletions on the scoring drive (with a penalty and a couple of running plays mixed in). Clearly more work needs to be done.

Sloppy was the word used by Payton to describe the play of his team in its first preseason game. Several missed tackles led to miles of yards after the catch for several Patriots wide receivers. With Darren Sharper resting and rehabbing an injured knee, the Saints defense failed to force a single turnover. Receiver Julian Edelman repeatedly eluded tacklers for extra yards.

In all, the Saints appeared to be road weary after Monday’s visit to the White House and two more days of physical practices with the Patriots. Running back Lynell Hamilton suffered a season-ending knee injury during Wednesday’s practice. Look for Payton to continue to refine the timing between QBs and WRs in the passing game and have even more up-tempo drills to improve the defense’s ability to tackle in the open field.

Look for Eagles to stumble out of the block

Here are some of the Week 1 matchups to watch:

Steelers at Titans

The Titans have one of the best combinations of offensive and defensive lines in the NFL. The Steelers will struggle to run the ball on the Titans defense. The Steelers defense will keep it close, but they will find the Titans’ new speed on offense too much to handle.

Bears at Packers

Aaron Rodgers’ 6 TD passes were the most of any QB in the preseason. Armed with the deepest WR corps in the NFL, the Packers will exploit the Bears’ weakness in the secondary. Meanwhile, the Bears’ inexperience at receiver will be exposed against the likes of Charles Woodson and Al Harris.

Lions at Saints

This will be an early runaway for Drew Brees and the Saints offense, which needs to get off to a fast start. The real question is how much Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford. The Answer: early and often.

Vikings at Browns

No matter who Eric Mangini runs out as his starting quarterback, the Vikings defense will feast on the Browns’ struggling offense. Minnesota’s passing game should have a spectacular debut against a weak Cleveland secondary, which lacks the coverage skills to defend against Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin.

Eagles at Panthers

Don’t be surprised if the Eagles’ wings are clipped before take-off. Distractions could hinder the Eagles early on as they adjust to a new defensive coordinator in Sean McDermott. Look for both Panthers RBs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, to control the ball and play keep-away from Donovan McNabb, who will be forced to play from behind on the scoreboard.

Favre makes the right move

When mere mortals are in the presence of greatness, they will tell the Great One whatever is necessary to remain in his good graces. The Great One, Brett Favre, has finally listened to the most important voice of all, his own conscience.

Having quieted those in his circle who have urged him to continue playing despite physical fatigue and an aging arm, Favre came to the realization that a half-tired arm does not grow stronger by season’s end. Favre knows what his entourage does not. The grind of a full NFL season will age a warrior by dog years and leave even the proudest trophy-seekers humbled in defeat.

Favre’s decision to remain retired cements his legacy as one of the NFL’s greatest warrior-quarterbacks. He leaves unbroken and unashamed. His final decision has also spared Vikings coach Brad Childress of possibly suffering the same fate as Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman and Eric Mangini, coaches who could not win with Favre. He knows all too well that his failure to take the Vikings to the Super Bowl could lead to more coaches packing up at season’s end. He spared himself and many others the pain of disappointment and regret.

The cry for glory, revenge and adulation of friends and fans was not enough to lure Favre back to the stage. However great the temptation, hubris has given way to common sense. Instead of reaching for glory, Favre cooled his ambition and kept himself among the pinnacle of his profession, along with Bradshaw, Montana, Marino and Elway.

Well done, Brett.

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