Earlier this week I had a chance to speak with Andrew Juge, the managing editor of Saints Nation Blog. The conversation, quite honestly went back and forth with some trash talk, but these are the questions I posed to Andrew.
1. What frightens you about the Dolphins offense? The Dolphins have Mike Wallace, how do you plan to stop him?
Not all that much, honestly. I mean, I'm not saying the Saints' defense is all that, and I'm not saying the Dolphins won't score points on the Saints. But I don't view this as an elite passing attack or an elite rushing attack. Tannehill is on the rise, Wallace is a field stretcher, Hartline is good and they have some talent, but no one in this offense is terrifying to me. It's an offense you can slow down. As far as stopping Wallace, they will probably use over the top safety help to force the Dolphins to nickel and dime them like the other defenses have done against Miami so far. But the Saints aren't designed to "stop" people. They just need to slow other teams down and with this offense it should be enough most of the time. Especially at home.
2. Given that the Saints have Drew Brees, did you in a million years think he'd choose a dilapidated franchise like the Saints over the Dolphins who have a storied history with two Super Bowls and several hall of famers?
I'm not sure Brees did pick the Saints. At first he really preferred to play for the Dolphins. The Saints were coming off the devastation of Katrina, too, so luring free agents with the shape the city was in was no easy task either. I don't think the historical component matters all that much though. Do you really think young athletes these days care what a team did in the 80s? History doesn't mean anything to these guys. It means something to you, and me, the fans. But not the players. They care about the shape of the franchise NOW and the money they're going to make. Now the Saints offered a lot more money than Miami did, and Brees really didn't like the way he was treated on his visit to the Dolphins. They put him through the ringer physically with tests and they Saints just hosted him and said "we trust your rehab, you're our guy, we want you." So while Miami was the much better destination on paper, the Saints gave Brees a better visit and a lot more money. In the end I'm not that surprised based on how it played out. And look, if we didn't land Brees we would've offered the same money to Daunte Culpeper and gotten him. It turns out you guys preferred Culpeper after Brees' physical. Based on that, I think it had less to do with which team Brees picked and more to do with who Saban/Miami picked. That, and they didn't want to spend as much as they Saints did. The Saints landed the goose that laid the golden egg, but it was a massive risk/investment which they pretty much had to do given the situation and let's be honest, a risk like that works 1% of the time. They were lucky Brees was a special kind of player and person. I'm not sure they had any idea when they signed him.
3. What's wrong with your first round pick running back Mark Ingram? He really stinks at 1.8 yards per carry. After his Heisman season he's never been the same.
He's injured and has been suffering with turf toe. He missed last week and is likely to miss this game as well. But in general, before this year, he's never lived up to the investment or the draft status. Part of it is he's not a great fit in this platoon system offense. He also doesn't have the versatility to really pull off all the things this offense asks of its backs. So he's a one trick pony, a power back, and lately he's been struggling in those situations too. Pretty huge disappointment. No doubt about it. Fortunately the Saints have Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, so they still have very capable backs.
4. Can the Saints deal with Jimmy Graham getting roughed up by the Dolphins linebackers? How will the Saints get the passing game going when the Dolphins are forcing teams to pass outside of the red zone and playing their coverage aggressively on the receivers?
Jimmy Graham welcomes it and he's been in beast mode all season so far. He's put the entire offense on his back through three games. The Saints passing game is so good because of the weapons within it. Marques Colston will go down as the best player in NFL history that never made a Pro Bowl. In 7 seasons he's had over 1000 yards 6 times. Colston is a huge frame and an abnormally long wingspan, which means regardless of how good the coverage is he can hurt you. Ditto Graham. Darren Sproles is so quick and has unbelievable hands too. Anytime he's matched with a linebacker it's just unfair. Brees has so many weapons he can expose you regardless of what defense you throw at him. Lance Moore is banged up, though, so that's one guy you may not have to worry about.
5. How much of an affect has having Sean Payton back on the sidelines had on the Saints as a whole? Was Bountygate a distraction to the entire team last season?
Brees said this week that Payton was missed most for being able to help the roster ignore distractions. He is an A+ motivator and knows how to get his team focused regardless of the situation. There is no question that bountygate was a huge distraction. Both captains on defense spent the entire week being suspended, and then not suspended on appeals. Hard to stay focused on football with that going on. The media also asked the same question every interview session. Hard to ignore it.
6. Even though the Dolphins did beat Atlanta, are the Saints truly the team to beat in the NFC South?
Well, the Saints beat the Falcons in week 1, so I'd say so, yeah. At least right now. Atlanta going 13-3 last season has zero to do with this season. As you know things can change on a dime in the NFL. Lots of people talked up Tampa and they are now in shambles. You never know when that's going to happen. The Falcons are battling a lot of injuries right now. The Saints already have a 2 game lead with a tiebreaker in the NFC South standings. It's very early so we'll see how things play out, but right now the Saints are the best NFC South team for sure (already 2-0 in the division).
7. What was it like to have the Saints win the Super Bowl? Did you know it immediately after Payton went for all the marbles on the on-side kick after halftime? Please enlighten us Dolfans, since it's been awhile.
It was weird man. When the Saints won I was kind of numb and quiet. Not jumping up and down going crazy. I was psyched of course, but in a strange way I was a little bummed. I just didn't want it to end. There was something about the season being over and that season was just so awesome and so fun I just didn't want it to stop. You get used to your team dump trucking others each week real fast and it's fun! As far as the onside kick, I was pumped they got it but no, I didn't think that meant they won. No lead feels safe with Peyton Manning on the other side. The Tracy Porter pick six was the ultimate for sure. But I spent a large portion of that game drinking heavily and stressing out. I knew if they didn't win they may never make it back in my lifetime. Based on the history of the team and my lifetime following them, it meant the world to win. No matter what happens from here on out, we as fans will now forever have that experience and no one can take it away. Watching the Saints is less stressful now, if that makes any sense. Of course I want another Super Bowl but I don't have to spend the rest of my life wondering if I'll ever watch them win one. It's a pretty cool feeling.
8. What are your thoughts on Drew Brees? How did he all of a sudden get better after leaving San Diego for New Orleans? What is the reason he's among the best?
He's semi-god status in NOLA, seriously. Larger than life. That injury was a turning point in his career, actually. It doesn't happen to every player but it did for him. He changed everything about how he approached the game. He worked hard before, sure, like all guys do... but then he basically became obsessive. His diet was purely focused on his body/health, he adopted work out regimens he had never done, he committed to rigorous stretching that helps make him more durable. Brees is a step ahead of the curve because he really went outside the box to educate himself on his body and how to maintain it. You'd be surprised how few NFL players take those steps and do that. They all work out, listen to their trainers, take supplements, but 99% of NFL players eat like trash. They just load up on whatever. Brees made a full commitment to being a professional athlete to a level few do. He has a three hour stretching routine. And that was the only way he was going to recover from a catastrophic injury to his throwing shoulder.
As far as what makes him special, it's his footwork in the pocket. His technique moving in the pocket is flawless. No one in NFL history has better footwork inside the pocket that I've seen. He just takes all the quick little steps to always have perfect form. That makes all of his passes perfectly accurate. He's also very smart and usually ahead of the defense on audibles. And he prepares harder than anyone so he has already considered every nuance and situation that he could possibly face.
9. What are your thoughts on rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, he was high on many draft lists going to Miami, but how has he helped the Saints defense?
Vaccaro through three games has been pretty awesome. He brings an old school thumper aggressiveness the Saints defense sorely needed. He hits like Rodney Harrison used to at that position. He's made a couple huge plays too. He picked off Carson Palmer last week and broke up a pass from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez in the end zone on 4th down to end the game in week 1. The Saints problem last year is they had no attitude and no one they could count on to have a physical meanness to them. Vaccaro has already shown he's that guy.
10. Why is it so difficult to play and win in the Superdome? Why do the Saints have the advantage?
The way this offense is built, the turf plays fast and it just fits their style of play well. They like to toss the rock and it's indoors, quiet when the offense has the ball, perfect conditions. And Saints fans are with Seattle the loudest in the entire league. Ask any player, they always say NOLA and Seattle are the two loudest places to play. Fans are passionate and go nuts. Part of it is the commitment to tailgating culture in the deep south, I think. We're just more liquored up going into the stadium than your average NFL fan.
Predict the score of the game:
Saints win 38-17. I think the Dolphins are just coming into the Dome at the wrong time. I hope I'm right!
Special thanks to Andrew of Saints Nation Blog. You can read the interview I gave him right here.
Feel free to follow Andrew Juge and his writers at game time! They can be followed @SaintsNationBlg on Twitter.