The Ones Who Knock
5 Posted on September 25th, 2013 by Himself
There's a new boss in town. Formerly mild-mannered and ineffectual, now feared by all. You want a new nickname for the Saints' defense? I nominate "Heisenberg."
This is a story of redemption, but it’s also a story of revenge. At the conclusion of the third week of the NFL season, the worst defense in the entire galactic history of football now stands at #4 in the rankings. It has been a stunning transformation, from feckless to fearless.
Who saw this coming? Not the media, certainly, who had the Saints buried in their “power rankings” because their defense was bad…last year. That this was a new season, with new personnel, new scheme, and new attitude counted for nothing at all, apparently.
Not the blogging punditry, either. As Reid at Saints Win put it,
The Saints’ budding transformation from one-dimensional offensive juggernaut to defensive-minded menace is again a reminder that, when it comes to predictions and analysis and expectations, nobody knows shit. Who foresaw this? No one, of course.
And Grandmaster Wang backed him up almost immediately:
The results so far have exceeded even the most wildly optimistic of
projectionshopes. Everything’s been coming up Milhouse.
So what gives? How did the various self-appointed experts of the football world (in which I proudly hold membership, having appointed myself) completely whiff on the resurrection of defense in New Orleans? Didn’t anyone actually see any indication of what might be coming this season? Anyone?
[waves hand in air wildly. Ooh, ooh, I know the answer!]
Fact is, someone did see this coming. And wrote about it several weeks ago, back in the preseason, that time of year that never, ever tells us anything useful about a team. Except when it does.
How about if someone suggested: “These guys look like the ’85 Bears”?
Ah…now you remember.
When I wrote that, I was careful to hedge my pronouncements. So far, they resembled the Bears’ storied defense, which wasn’t really a surprise considering that they followed a direct line of descent from Buddy Ryan. And I’m going to continue to carefully hedge, too; because an NFL season is long, and hard, and a lot of unexpected things can happen along the way to the Lombardi Trophy. So all I’m going to say is: so far, the Saints are looking better than the ’85 Bears.
You doubt? In the first three games of the season, Rob Ryan’s defense has given up a total of 31 points. His father’s squad gave up 59. They would get better, of course: by the end of the year, the Bears’ opponents had averaged a mere 12.4 points per game against them.
The Saints, so far, are giving up 12.6; but actually, it’s less than that: subtract the pick-6 of the Tampa Bay game, and the Saints’ current defense is surrendering a paltry 10.3 points per game.
That compares pretty favorably to other storied defenses: like the 2000 Ravens, who gave up 55 points to open the season, or the 2002 Bucs, who surrendered 40. And it’s also by far the fewest points surrendered by any of Sean Payton’s defenses, being a touchdown better than in Payton’s first year.
And here’s the scary part: they’re getting better.
Junior Galette and Cam Jordan are now the defensive darlings of the league. But I seem to recall that the same folks who are falling all over themselves to tell us about the greatness of Galette and Jordan were busy at draft time excoriating the Saints for not picking a pass rusher in the first round. But I explained that, too: they believed they already had the right guys in the house. Apparently, they were right. Apparently, the front office knows more than *gasp* all the media put together! Whoda thunk?
So: were the Saints counting on this? Of course not. You can’t seriously go into the offseason saying, “Our plan is to have the #4 defense in the NFL.” You do your best, and it shakes out how it shakes out. But, as it turns out, their best was pretty damned good. And it shouldn’t have come as a shock, unless you haven’t been paying attention—not only to the Saints, but to trends within the NFL, and within sports in general.
Professional athletes are driven by testosterone and ego, and there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between the bottom and the top once you reach the NFL. Josh Freeman, for instance, is languishing at the bottom of NFL passer efficiency; if there were an NFL Jr. to which he could be demoted, he’d tear it a new asshole. The same holds true for the Saints’ defense, except that it holds even truer: these guys were never that bad to begin with. But they went through the cancer of Steve Spagnuolo together, and all it did was light a fire under them that is threatening to burn down the NFL this season. They were pushed beyond the limit of what they could take; and in reply they swore vengeance on all who had wronged them, and destruction on all who stood between them and what they wanted.
That…reminds me of someone…
There’s something else that drives professional athletes: confidence. You wouldn’t think it, but these guys can be pretty delicate at times. Get inside their heads and you can truly fuck with them. But the opposite holds true as well: if they once get it into their heads that there’s no situation in which they can’t prevail, they’re going to be doing a shitload of prevailing. Right now, the Saints are a pretty confident bunch…but it’s an angry confidence. They’ve got a lot to make up for, and the only way they can do it is by dismantling every team that steps on the same field.
Which means, there may be a lot of kids named Cam and Junior born in New Orleans in November 2014.
Now, Wang is also putting forward the idea that the offense might be on the verge of a similar awakening. Which would be great, and I’m on board with that. Khiry > Mark. And the blocking may improve, who knows? Hopefully, it will. But really, it should be refreshing, in an odd sort of way, to worry about the offense for a change. After all, under Payton and Brees the offense will never be less than pretty damn good. Even last year, they were #2 in yards, #3 in points. So maybe that’s the reason—the novelty, I mean—that so many people are currently stroking out over the offense…along with the fact that a lot of the worries are legitimate. The Saints’ offensive line is playing sub-par right now; their running game isn’t even close to achieving the dominance they announced as their goal. Drew is taking a pounding. And the offense that used to be capable of dominating games and winning with the barest amount of help from the defense, is now actually ranked behind the defense. These things are all true. Fans want to enjoy the present; but they also want hope for the future, so worry is natural.
But some people are just trying too hard. Rick Gaille at SportsNola is worried that Sean Payton is being too aggressive. Specifically, his end-of-half decisions against the Cardinals have his dander up:
In the end of half decision making was Sean Payton overly aggressive? Definitely. Out of all the things that could happen, many more were bad than good. The risk/reward ratio was not in his favor. Yet, everyone loves the “pedal to the metal” approach.
Really? Are there still people out there who don’t appreciate how he took the Super Bowl by the throat and beat it to death with his balls? “Aggressive”? As Heath Evans said (and as Gaille himself pointed out), “Aggressive? There needs to be a better adjective for Sean Payton.”
Besides, there’s also this saying about throwing the ball: when you pass there are only three possibilities, and two of them are bad. So I guess we should stop with the bombs away approach, too. Hell, maybe can Payton altogether and pry Marty Schottenheimer out of retirement. Solid, risk-free fundamentals.
Or, we could continue playing as though our goal was to be feared. As though we are the ones who knock.
Edit: Oh Shit Edition
I have just had it pointed out to me that not only did Wang have a previous post with virtually the same title, along with a similar illustration, but that he also had a post using the same Junior Galette photo that I adapted for use with this post. And I even commented…on both of them! Well, fuck. I guess there’s more than one way to not pay attention. I feel like Dale Russell trying to keep up with Bob Bakker.
Sorry, Wang. Mea maxima culpa. Maybe once I win the lottery, and have more free time to, you know, do important shit like blogging, I’ll be able to come up with stuff that’s less derivative.