Sunday at high noon the 2012 New Orleans Saints regular season kicks off. The opener will be a game of first for a few reasons. The Saints will play a game for the first time without head coach Sean Payton patrolling the sidelines and calling the shots. It will also be the debut of the highly anticipated Steve Spagnuolo defense. Washington will be debuting rookie quarterback and 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Finally, Saints fans will get their first opportunity to show the NFL what they think about the Saints turbulent offseason that saw their team be labeled as dirty cheaters essentially.
Payton will not be in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome come kick off but his fingerprints will be all over the field. Philosophies established the first day he was on the job having been followed closely. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt got the team through the offseason and through the preseason. Offensive line coach and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer has vowed to “follow the plan” himself now as acting head coach for the first six games of the season.
The “plan” indeed has been followed. You would be hard pressed to find major differences if at all in how the team has gone about their business. Practice routines, handling press conferences, evacuating ahead of hurricane Isaac, or filling the 53-man roster have seemed “Payton-like”. The team has kept to their normal schedules. Isaac didn’t disrupt the team’s work the week they traveled to Cincinnati for a practiced and then to Nashville for a preseason game. This year yet again saw two more undrafted rookie free agents in defensive Tyrunn Walker and running back Travaris Cadet make the roster, continuing the tradition of no matter how you got to Saints camp, if you can play you stay.
SPAGS TO THE RESCUE
Ask a Saints fan this offseason about the biggest area on the team that needed improvement heading into a new year and I’d bet my life’s savings everyone would say DEFENSE. The Saints inability to stop the 49ers back in January still keeps the super die-hard fans awake at night, but it wasn’t just that game. The team’s inability to keep teams from scoring in bunches and create turnovers gave ME grey hairs.
Steve Spagnuolo was hired shortly after the season to turn things around. “Spags” as he is known out at camp, brings a defense that has been very well received by the players on his side of the ball. Up font features four first round draft picks in defensive ends Cam Jordan and Will Smith to go along with defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Sedric Ellis. Linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne were brought in to add talent to the linebackers and the secondary should benefit from the new scheme.
That’s just it thought. It IS a new scheme. How long will it take for the players to learn it and excel in it. The preseason showed us glimpses. Spagnuolo’s defense is simple. Pressure up front with the defensive line and allow the rest of the players to make plays in various coverages. Safety Malcolm Jenkins had a few picks this preseason and we saw Jordan and Ellis pressure the quarterback with Lofton recovering a Tom Brady fumble after Smith hit him.
Time will tell if this defense will help out an offense that will be able to score points. Saints fans are certainly hoping so, and if they can the Saints chances of playing the Super Bowl at home will increase.
HI THERE MR. HEISMAN
The debuting of RG3 will be followed nationally as he steps onto an NFL field for the first time. Griffin already with a nice rotation of commercials has become the face of the Redskins. His playmaking abilities and not his celebrity status is what many Saints players are concerned about. “I could care less. I could care less. I mean clearly he’s blessed as well being a terrific athlete. We’re just focused on kind of getting him rattled and getting after him. That’s all we’re focused about,” says defensive end Junior Gallete. “We don’t care about commercials, what he’s doing. We’re just ready to welcome him into the NFL.”
No doubt it will be a daunting task to play your first game in the hostile environment of the Superdome with 70-thousand plus ticked off Who-Dats. “That’s the idea for any rookie quarterback to not allow him to be comfortable, not allow him to get in a groove and kind of make him think about the fact that he’s in the NFL and not in college,” says defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. “You want to go out there and try to disrupt his mental state as much as possible.”
Kromer this week said that while there isn’t much tape per say on Griffin as an NFL quarterback, there is still enough from the preseason to get an idea of how Washington will use him. Still he knows the defense will have to learn as they go mostly due to the abilities RG3 possesses. “They will have plenty of additional things that they will add to their gameplan, I’m sure, they haven’t shown. A lot of people do it. He (Griffin) is a talented guy,” adds Kromer. “He took Baylor and made them into a powerhouse which they hadn’t been in a long time. When one guy can really change your program, and he has shown to do it in college, there is a good chance he could it in the National Football League.”
It pretty much goes without saying that Saints fans are non to happy with a one Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL. Unprecedented suspensions to coaches and players based on questionable evidence at best will have the superdome rocking. Long known for their creativity, Saints fans will likely bring a little bit of mardi gras to the game on Sunday with what undoubtedly be “creative” signs and clothing to show the nation just how they feel about the NFL’s bounty punishments. “We’re looking for the motivation of the fans. We’re looking for the fans to be motivated by the things that have happened in the offseason,” said Kromer this week believing hurricane Isaac’s issues will add to the emotion. “We hope that motivates our fans to be even more raucous than they already are. We can’t wait to hear them.
I wouldn’t want to be Washington on Sunday. I remember quarterback Michael Vick, at the time with the Atlanta Falcons, meeting with reporters following the dome re-opener in 2006. Vick expressed that it was the loudest game he has ever been in. That he could feel the emotion on the field and that they were not just playing the Saints that night but taking a city.
I don’t know if the emotions will ever equal that night, but to say Saints fans are looking forward to airing out some pent up frustration would be an understatement. The loud environment can play a role in this game. A false start here and there, coupled with the failure to communicate protections when the Redskins are on offense can help the Saints defense. Offensively the extra emotions no doubt will have Saints offensive players running a little harder with the ball.
The Saints offense theoretically should be as potent as last season. Brees mentioned his favorite phrase several times this week when describing the many weapons the Saints arsenal posses, that being “pick your poison.” Washington may come into this game with RG3 being the headlining storyline but the Saints signal caller is quick to point out that defensively the Redskins are no joke. “They’re stout. They’re tough both against the run and getting after the passer. They have some good pressure packages. They’re a veteran group that plays hard and plays well. They’re used to playing in a physical division in the NFC East,” said Brees. “We’ve got a little bit of a track record with these guys. In fact, every time I’ve played them it’s come down to the wire. (I’ve had) Two overtime games with them in my career. I think we know the type of team it is and the type of game it can be.”
Let’s not forget that the Saints tend to occasionally struggle against 3-4 based defenses primarily because they don’t see them to often. This season however they will face several defenses that run that particular scheme. I still believe the Saints offense will be able to move the ball.
Defensively the Saints must play fundamentally sound. RG3 can throw it and has the ability to run with the ball. “This guy, as talented as he is, there will be some adjustments that need to be made,” hinted Kromer to the game plan his defense will use. “Adjustment in, are we keeping him in the pocket, are we trying to flush him, are we trying to hit him with blitzes. And, I think that with a flurry of different things will be what makes us successful in this game.”
I believe the Saints defense will have a little adjustment period trying to figure out what RG3 can and can’t do. This isn’t Spagnuolo’s first rodeo as they say and believe come halftime he will make the proper adjustments needed to shore up any holes that may arise.
Washington has talent and last season they started the year off okay, but finished the year losing 10 of their final 12 games. The Saints have Super Bowl aspirations and have had to go months of hearing how their season will be a lost one. The emotion will be too great on Sunday and more importantly the Saints are simply the more talented team. If Brees and the offense can put up some early points thanks to the early adrenaline and make Washington have to pass more then they would likely want with a rookie quarterback, this game could be a blowout it.
I see it 31 to 13 New Orleans as the open up the 2012 campaign 1-0.