The Lamentation of Their Women
4 Posted on September 12th, 2013 by Himself
What is best in the world? To crush your enemies, to seize control of the NFC South on the first day of the season, and to do it all with your defense.
Of all the unfortunate tendencies of sports bloggers, one of the worst has got to be their impulse to gloat. Let any one of a thousand mad notions flower and fruit, and they’re all I told you so. Well, tough: I did tell you. (And you believed me, too, which says a lot for your character.) Besides: if this be gloating, I intend to make the most of it.
There are few things in this world better than watching the Saints put a righteous beatdown on rebels and heretics, but it’s an order of magnitude better when the victims are the Falcons and their several dozen fans. That it was the defense that won the game—”the worst defense in the entire known history of Today’s NFL!”—makes it even more sweet. If it weren’t for the boohooing of the local Panthers fans, who also watched their inept squad get throttled, I might have been able to hear the anguish in Atlanta from here.
Over at The Falcoholic, that anguish took the form of Olympic-caliber denial. “We struck early, they struck late.” Like eh, it’s a wash. Here’s the truth: they struck in the first, we struck in the second, third, and fourth…just like in the Super Bowl. (Falcons fans can perhaps be forgiven for forgetting that little fact.) Over the final three quarters, we outplayed the Falcons and outscored them 23-7.
“Imagine this scenario:
You’re stuck in Panther land. [Ed.: Got you covered on that.] You’ve had a bad feeling all week about this game and have elected to ignore it to save a few days of active heartbeats.
Panthers game goes on, game is not spoiled at any point. Panthers game ends and oh my God, the Falcons are on the 3 yard line going in to win the game.
For that one, brief moment, I believed. This was Matty Ice time.”
Does delusory thinking wear black and red? Yeah, it was Matty Ice time, and that was the whole problem. Ryan routinely pulls comebacks out of his ass when he’s up against inferior teams (which suggests the question, “Why is a comeback necessary?”). Against a superior opponent, the Falcons always come up short. Always. They’re kind of a litmus test. “Is X really a good team? Have them play the Falcons.”
X 23, Falcons 17
Yep. They’re a good team. Falcons failed when it counted. Of course, it’s only a theory, because the results are non-reproducible. No point in ruining a perfectly good pair of Jaymar Sansabelts, so control yourself. But as far as I’m concerned the evidence is conclusive.
(But didn’t last year’s epically horrible defense still manage to hand Atlanta their first defeat? Shut up.)
So, yeah: it felt good. But what does it mean?
Well, first of all: no, we’re not the reincarnation of the ’85 Bears yet, but do y’all realize the Saints now have the 18th-ranked defense in the NFL, according to the all-important total yards metric? Usually that’s not cause for celebration, and hardly of the “We’re da new Bears!” variety. I mean, 18th? Well, let me tell you what that is: it’s fourteen slots higher than we finished last season. It’s also six slots higher than we ranked the year we captured a Lombardi. That’s what’s known as “immediate improvement.”
And yeah, it’s just one game, so don’t get too excited or you’ll have to change your pants again. Jeez. But keep this in mind: Kansas City in the #1 spot? That’s a garbage stat: they were playing the putrid Jaguars. But we were playing the offensive darlings of the sport punditry, the most talented bunch of skill players in this sector, maybe even in the whole quadrant. And truth be told, the Falcons are pretty good. Not great, but well above the average the Saints are likely to face this year. If what we saw against Atlanta is the real defense, the one that intends to stick around for the rest of the season, we’re talking top ten, here.
So: was that the real defense we saw out there? And that question brings up a larger question: just how much can one know about a team based solely on preseason and opening day? And the answer to that, I think, is that character is destiny.
Every team seems to have a certain character. Essentially, it’s the creation of the coach and a few of the veteran leaders. The Panthers, for instance, are a bunch of floundering punks. The Falcons are chokers. The Saints? I think it’s time we embrace the fact that to much of the NFL, we’re the bad guys. No, not dirty: I don’t think the players ever actually bought into that one. But cocky, swaggering, arrogant…and dangerous. Opposing fans hate us. We expect to win, and when we do it’s just on to the next one.
The Falcons, meanwhile, are still trying to get over that first big hump. But they won’t, because of their character. I’ve said this before on a number of occasions, but it bears repeating: there are some coaches who can take a bad team and turn it into a good team, or take a great team and turn it into a good team. Marty Schottenheimer was maybe the best example of that: he had championship-quality teams in Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Diego, and at every stop failed dismally in the postseason. [Edit: in San Diego he had Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson, and still failed.] John Fox is another: his team’s disastrous collapse at home last January was hardly a shock.
And Mike Smith appears to be another. He’ll compile a good regular season record, because his teams are talented, well-disciplined, and steady. Until it really counts: then some monster shows up on their field, at which point they soil their Sansabelts and the wailing from the stands ascends like a sweet offering to heaven.
At this point, can they really expect to win?
For the Saints, it’s different. They believe in themselves (and according to one report at Black and Gold, they really believe in themselves), and preseason and opening day simply confirmed their confidence. You don’t often see teams perform for an entire season exactly as they did on opening day. They either get better, or worse. In the Saints’ case, I’m thinking better. Why? Because of who they are.
And also because this defense is on the cusp of being really good. Last year, I’m convinced, was the perfect Jason David scenario: instead of introducing one player who was horribly miscast for the scheme, we introduced a coordinator and a scheme that made misfits of everyone at once. The talent level was just fine—witness how the defensive front ragdolled Matty Ice last Sunday. Why couldn’t they do this last year? I don’t know; maybe they just didn’t feel like it. Point is: they can do it, and this year it looks like they feel like doing it, too.
Plus, there’s a good, solid core of young players who are poised to have breakthrough seasons. Guys like Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks, David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber, maybe even Corey White. Rookies like Kenny Vaccaro (prediction: Defensive Rookie of the Year) and John Jenkins. And with Vaccaro taking on the Troy Polamalu role in the backfield, Malcolm Jenkins and Roman “Soft Hands” Harper just might experience a renaissance.
So here’s another prediction: by the time we’re four games into this season, the Saints will have a top-10 defense. It may not be all that meaningful, since the toughest part of the schedule is still to come; but momentum counts for a lot, and there aren’t too many teams in this league that would want to face the runaway juggernaut that is the New Orleans Saints in fifth gear.
And hell: we’re already above Atlanta in most of the Power Rankings. That’s proves it. If the Saints keep this up, the crow is going to become an endangered species.