The New Orleans Saints have been quietly going about their business, not making any real noises, yet here they are at 4-1 and looking good.
Last year was always going to be tough for them, as it always is for the reigning Super Bowl champions, but this year they look like they have made the improvements they needed to make - on offense at least.
For a start, they have a running game that Tampa Bay, and anyone else in the NFL, suddenly has to recongise. The rookie Mike Ingram is still trying to find his feet but can rush; Pierre Thomas is still coming up with his power stuff and Darren Sproles is a better Reggie Bush than Reggie Bush was.
The ground is never going to compete with the air as long as you have a premier quarterback like Drew Brees to call on but it is important they do not remain too one-dimensional, no matter how good that dimension is.
this game matters to Tampa. Whoever wins will be top of the NFC South and I do think this game was one of the reasons they were beaten 48-3 in San Francisco last week. The Niners are nothing to write home about, so maybe they had one eye on this. They are of course here in England at Wembley next weekend, but they cannot afford to even think about that yet.
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They have also unearthed an fantastic tight end in Jimmy Graham. He's in his second year but boy has he broken through! He's a former basketball player, so he is tall, athletic with good hands and when you consider he is leading the Saints in yards, receptions and TDs and Brees still likes to toss it to all quarters, it tells you how good he has been. He has profited from Marques Colston not being in the line-up and is now their short-stop guy.
That gives Brees a comfort zone he's never really had. Yes, Jeremey Shockey was there before, but he did more ear-bending than ball-catching and was never one of Drew's favourite people. Graham joins Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Sproles as a guy he knows he can hit whenever they're open.
And these guys are going to be open a lot on Sunday night. Tampa's defense is young and energetic, but ultimately young and dumb. I don't mean that disrespectfully, but the one thing you need is maturity and right now this bunch of guys don't have that.
The Bucs' best bet is to use that energy and hope they can keep their heads against that receiving corps because other than Mason Foster and Michael Bennett, they don't really have anyone up front who is going to put any real pressure on Brees and that line.
But, this game matters to Tampa. Whoever wins will be top of the NFC South and I do think this game was one of the reasons they were beaten 48-3 in San Francisco last week. The Niners are nothing to write home about, so maybe they had one eye on this. They are of course here in England at Wembley next weekend, but they cannot afford to even think about that yet.
The Bucs needs to take a look at their attitude, though. Yes, they have produced some great comebacks this season, but why do they have to do that all the time? There must be something going wrong if you find yourself losing every week. If they can do it in the last three minutes, why can't they do it in the first 57?
There seems to be no consistency with their attack. You look at a side and try and work out what their identity is and after five weeks, I don't know who Tampa are. They need to make sure LaGarrette Blount sees the football more, because they have won seven out of eight when he has 18 or more carries.
Josh Freeman is a young quarterback who needs time. Much like Matt Ryan in Atlanta, he did well last year but so far his rating is down. He needs time out on the practice field to strike up some sort of relationship with his receivers because he does have the ability to pick out a pass.
Like any quarterback though, he needs receivers. I'm not quite sure where Mike Williams is at this year. He had a solid rookie year last year and led them in receiving, but so far he's been disappointing.
Tight end Kellen Winslow is another guy they should be getting more out of. He is a regular option for Freeman, but in an offense not blessed with the best wide-outs, he needs to be more productive. He is yet to get into the end zone this season, which is not good enough.
The Saints defense is some way off their Super Bowl-winning standard, so there might be more chances for those two guys to do something. Their success came from creating turnovers but when that doesn't happen, they are by no means outstanding on that side of the football.
Whoever wins goes top of the NFC South, so it's all there for them. Because of that I think Tampa will be focussed on this game and not even thinking about Wembley. They will want to come to London on the back of a win, but this Saints team is just doing its thing with minimum fuss this year. I can see Tampa having some success on offense, but I can see New Orleans having more. I'll go with the road team.
The Cadle Guy
Jimmy Graham (New Orleans) - He's leading that talented receiving corps in terms of yards and TDs and has become that short-out that Brees hasn't really had to work with these last couple of years. Graham is big and athletic and a very safe pair of hands. At the very least his presence will stretch out that Tampa defense and create space, but at his best he is a game-winning tight end.
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Joe Green says...
Ive never watched an NFL game before and you three gentleman have made it very enjoyable, you may have even converted me from soccer!
Posted 23:57 16th October 2011
Dave Errington says...
Come on lord, today your Saints need a helping hand.
Posted 23:45 16th October 2011
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