Friday, November 14, 2008

Sleeping With the Enemy: Week 11, Saints @ Chiefs

Hey, look: We're back, after quite the hiatus, with another installment of "Sleeping with the Enemy." We were slated to have two fans with us this evening, but one of them's likely busy comping Mug Club member pints and sucking sewage out of the basement. Ah, who needs 'im.

(Update: Mr. David O'Brien is reporting as an eligible N'awlins contributor.)

The New Orleans native we have with us for this special occasion is a gentleman by the name of Jim Ligon. I've worked with Jim on more than one occasion, and been a drinking customer of his in between. He's a lady's man and a scholar, and by Jove, he's a Saints fan to the core. (Editor's Note: I've also worked with the DOB; he's a go-getter, and don't you ever give him cold fries or he'll have your kidneys for breakfast.). We all sat down for a few minutes and shot the breeze about some AFC West/NFC South football this week, and you can read all about it, a mere jump over the canal.

Bankmeister: For starters, give us a brief history of your ties to New Orleans, your fandom of the Saints.

Jim Ligon: I am a lifelong Saints fan as you know. The Saints and I have the same birth year. The inaugural game was September 1967; I was born in December of that year but my parents went to the game so even though I was still in the womb, I was there too. Growing up my grandfather had season tickets, so that's how we'd spend family time: at the game. Historically the Saints have been horrible. But you know what? There was always a good time to be had at the game. Fans in New Orleans are passionate about the Saints but they also have a great sense of humor. Guess its that whole "laugh or cry" thing. I mean, yes fans at one time wore bags on their heads to the dome. But you know what? They still showed up.

David O'Brien: I was born and raised in New Orleans. I grew up with one of the worst teams in NFL history; we invented the bag head! For years I thought they were called the Aint's, that's what my dad called them anyway. Either that or the Idiots. My wife was a New Orleans Saintsation (Saints Cheerleader) in 2000 and I got a pair of season tickets with VIP parking. I was initially indifferent about the windfall but it turned out to be one of the best seasons in their history. We actually made it to the playoffs for only the second time in 30 years and we won the first round game! I had always been a fan but that season was the beginning of the new regime...although they would finish the following season at 7-9.

JL: Things changed a lot in 1987: we had a decent team. Back then, though, the 49ers were the shit. The Saints always played them competitively but Montana always seemed to be the difference maker. We just could never get over that hump, which sucked because the Niners were in our division. Anyway, we played them that year in the dome early on and once again got beat...barely. That was the day the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" Jim Mora speech was born. The Saints won the next nine games in a row and it was sheer magic in NOLA! Fans had never tasted anything close to success like that. We went 12-4. Fucking Niners (went) 13-3. We were regulated to wildcard status but it WAS the first playoff game ever for the Saints and we had just won nine in a row! We got annihilated by the Vikings. That was the dawn of the modern-day, disappointing life of a Saints fan. Y'know, back when they sucked, at least you knew what you were gonna get.

Anyway, we had continued moderate success through the early 90s. Then Ditka came to town. Word on the street is that he spent more time gambling and playing golf than coaching and it certainly showed. That was a rough time for Saints fans 'cause we had tasted a little success before, then went back to laughing-stock status.

I was working at McCoy's when we won our first playoff game ever. Actually watched it at the bar with Dave Avitabile. We were a good team at that time but not great. Some of the NOLA community became a bit disheartened and maybe even started to lose interest. Then in August of '05 Katrina happened and the levees failed. We lost 60 percent of our people. Some died in the flood, others were transported to places all over the country. The dome had a hole in the roof and was pretty much destroyed from holding thousands of evacuees. The Saints did not play in NOLA that year; they were mostly in San Antonio and there was lots of talk about them staying there. The city of San Antonio lobbied hard to get them to stay. Fuck San Antonio. You don't kick a man when he's down and that's what they did by trying to use our tragedy for their gain. They didn't succeed.

I was at the reopening of the dome for the game against the Falcons. Let me first tell you that I cried. A lot. So did everyone around me and all over the dome that night. Our Saints were back in the dome and so were our people! There's no way in hell I would have not been there for that game.

When Steve Gleason blocked the punt on Atlanta's opening series, all hell broke loose. The ball just dribbled into the end zone off the block and just kinda stopped there. We recovered it for the TD and all hell really broke loose. Imagine all the pain and sadness from the previous year. People losing everything they've known, friends and loved ones dying in a flood that should have been prevented, more friends and loved ones dying because of slow federal response, all of the hard work it took to move past it and at least start to rebuild. It was just such an emotional time and when Gleason blocked that punt it ALL came out in one huge, long roar. During his post-game interview, Gleason said that he had received a text message from a friend telling him that because of that blocked punt he was single-handedly responsible for the most beer being spilled at one time in the dome.

You know the story of the '06 season from there. We beat the crap out of the Falcons that night and continued to ride that wave of emotion until we lost to da' Bears in the NFC championship game. Since then, expectations have been high and have not really been consistently met.

B: Wow. That really caught me off guard. Very special stuff. I'm glad you were able to attend such a monumental game. Not to minimize all of that, but let's fast forward to this season: I'm kind of surprised where this club is: 4-5, last place in the NFC South. I mean, I was surprised enough to learn that the two toughest divisions in football -- the East and the South -- would come out of the NFC. Of those eight teams, I certainly expected the Saints to be higher up. I mean, I suppose to some extent I didn't expect the Falcons and the Redskins to be playing this well, but for the Saints to have all of the firepower that they do, this club's got to be a headache for Saints fans and fantasy owners alike. Did you have greater mid-season expectations for them? I suppose if I had to put together a theory, it would revolve around balance. They're first in the league in passing and total yard average per game, and in the top 10 in points. Defensively though, they're in the bottom half in a lot of categories, and in some, they're in the high 20s.

DOB: Definitely dissappointed in their standings at this point. They have so much firepower on offense and a zero support on defense. I think balance is the key word with the Saints...even when the defense put up a good effort against the Vikings by shutting down the run, the offense failed to capitalize. If you recall, Bush ran back two punts for TDs in the game which gave it the illusion of being a close game. I don't know if they can make it all click in the same game.

JL: Looking at this year, I would have to look at a couple of areas for the 4-5 start, injuries being one. Sure, you can say that every team has to play through them but objectively speaking, the injury bug HAS found the Saints particularly delicious this year. Another one being poor coaching decisions at extremely critical times.

B: Hmm. I guess I hadn't put much stake into the bad coaching possibility. I must've assumed it was a mix of poor execution and stiff competition. There've been some interesting Saints tidbits floating around, though, and for those of us not in the know, I'll ask you to elaborate on them.

Deuce McAllister. What's going on with the allegations of performance-enhancing substance usage and subsequent suspension? Is this guy ever going to be the fierce factor that he was for a brief moment a few years ago?

JL: Deuce is awesome but not nearly the beast he used to be and one tweak from being done for good. As far as the impending suspensions, (they) would loom a lot larger if we were in the division hunt. Right now it seems like a non-factor. (The) story of this season has been great play in some areas but an overall consistency sorely lacking. That'll get you 7-9 every time.

DOB: It is very clear to me, and any game film will confirm, that Deuce is definitely not on performance-enhancing drugs. I think that this offense has become too complicated for Deuce and his running style. How do you incorporate what Brees is capable of doing with the passing game and the Bush dynamic with a between-the-tackles runner? The upside is that teams have to load the box because of what he is capable of doing up the gut; it allows the offense to spread the passing game. Duece was successful when he had to carry the load, but as we have seen with LJ, it will only bring a team so far. The Chiefs face a similar situation this Sunday when Larry returns. How will he fit into the NEW Chiefs offense?

B: Touche. One of my colleagues has said that Reggie Bush is more like a receiver than a tailback, that he never runs with his shoulders squared and his body lowered. Will he ever be a premiere back in this league, or will he continue to be used in the screen-passing game and as a special-teams weapon exclusively?

JL: Reggie Bush needs to be out in space, not between the tackles and it took awhile for the staff to figure that out. His instinct since he was five years old has been to rely on his speed; you just can't coach someone differently to change that mindset. That said, he is an awesome weapon that we are very happy to have. Gotta use him the right way, though.

DOB: He would be dead in two weeks if he tried to square up in this league. I cringe everytime he leaves the ground in one of his aerodynamic leaps. He is going to seriously get his head knocked off with the silly shit. I think he is a freak and he is having success, he is a serious threat to defenses around the league. Would you consider Priest Holems a premiere back in his hay day? Lots of screen passes...and lots of outside carries (with the best O-line in the league at that point). Bottom line: he is a playmaker and you have top make adjustments whenever he is on the field. Period.

B: Good point. I guess, from the perspective of a Saints fan, getting the most production out of him yields more than criticizing/comparing him. (Note: Yes, I would consider Holmes a premiere back. In fact, if I saw Reggie in the quarter, I'd buy him a beer and say this: "Here, my son. Enjoy. You are a talent, but I've seen Priest Holmes. I've been around Priest Holmes. You, my friend, are no Priest Holmes. But of course, I am a massive homer.)

Drew Brees. Obviously this guy has a terrific arm and a solid mindset for the passing game. Does he have all of the necessary ammunition in his arsenal to flourish? And speaking of the receiving game, what's with Marques Colston? He seems to have been lingering in the injury clouds for far too long. In his absence, are Devery Henderson and Lance Moore where they should be with pass catching? Their numbers are roughly equal. Is this a good thing that Brees is looking for them both, or should one have emerged as a number one in Colston's absence?

JL: Drew Brees is a god and we're lucky to have him. The numbers speak volumes and I'm sure fans in KC would love to have some semblance of his quality QB play.

DOB: Short answer, yes. He is already flourishing as the top-rated passer in the league. The problem is that his team is failing to keep up. I think it speaks to Brees' talent as a passer and their inexperience in the league. Although, it is the NFL and it is pretty simple: put up or shut up. One of these guys needs to get hungry and pull more weight to bring this team to a respectable level. If it happens, then Colston’s return will be like icing on the cake...for the offense at least.

B: I'm sure you're both right on the money with that. How about Jeremy Shockey? How has his production been received by Saints fans? Was it a good deal? Twenty-four catches for 223 yards and no TDs would suggest not. What was the tiff between Brees and Shockey about last week?

JL: (The) jury is still out on the Shockey thing. To his defense, he has been injury plagued but staying healthy is part of the equation, right? Guys in the locker room do seem to like him. As far as the sideline exchange between he and Brees...Shockey did admit that he fucked up on a play earlier that series. Perhaps taking responsibility means that he has matured, (but the) jury is still out.

DOB: Yeah, we got a Super Bowl-caliber tight end -- wait, did he actually play? BOO! I want my draft pick back. What? Safety is an actual position? On defense? No deal. The tiff: Brees is a baller and Shockey is an idiot. Drew was fired up about the game and Jeremy could give two shits.

B: Well, I guess that's fair. It's certainly weird how low his numbers are compared with what he used to average in New York. How 'bout the coach? Sean Payton was highly heralded upon having quick success as the head coach. Things haven't looked as good for him and his team since. What's your take on his tenure thus far?

JL: (It) seems like Sean Payton just can't seem to get a break at times, which makes it seem like he's calling the wrong plays at important times. Part of that is not having a reliable power-run game.

DOB: Good coach, cursed team. He has taken this team to heights never before seen by Saints fans; we actually sniffed a Super Bowl. You can’t get there every year and it is clear that if they want to get back, they need to focus on balance. That means building a D.

B: And this Chiefs team? Win-loss record aside, all of the buzz around KC is that they're finally building the ability to play some decent football. How does this matchup look to you? Many are speculating that Brees will throw for eleventy billion yards on this banged-up secondary.

JL: As far as this weekend's matchup... it will be very interesting to see how the Saints play after a truly devastating, sound whooping from Atlanta, (one) that pretty much ended our post-season hopes. With all of the high expectations this year, it would not surprise me if they came out real flat against the 1-8 Chiefs. Also, despite the record, it sure seems like the Chiefs are starting to play better, so this could be a circumstance where you have two teams moving in opposite directions. (I) would not be at all surprised to see the Chefs come out on top. Although in the end I do think NOLA has too much offensive fire power and will prevail.

DOB: They are definitely starting to put out a product that is exciting to watch, even though it will inevitably end in disappointment. (Note: Naysayer! Naysayer!) I think the match up is lopsided. The Saints have a high-octane offense and no defense and the Chiefs have a fun, new, but unproven offense and no defense. The stars are in NO's favor but we are talking about KC at home and only winning 1 of the last 8 games (really?). Eleventy billion is a big doubt the leading NFL passer will have a field day against this Chiefs offense, but how many passes will...Never mind. Chiefs have five starters out and their third corner is questionable. Oh yeah, Surtain will be limited, too. Eleventy Billion is about right.

B: Beyond this week, the schedule looks pretty brutal for New Orleans. Battles with both Bays, followed by games with Atlanta, Chicago, and Carolina. Sure, there's a gimme in there with Detroit, but how many games do you expect this team to win?

JL: (It) seems like the true Achilles has been the defense. I could give you a up the big play, not being able to get off the field on third and long, no forced turnovers to speak of, horrible play from the secondary (particularly safeties not being in proper position), minimal-to-no pressure from the front four (huge priority in the off-season). Sports writers in NOLA are speculating that Gary Gibbs, the D.C, is just not scheming properly and will be gone sooner (rather) than later, if nothing else, as a scapegoat. Another interesting situation is the fact that we are on our third punter and third kicker this year. Actually, I think your Chefs picked up our punter that we cut, Weathorford. He's the dude that wears his watch and wedding ring with his uniform. Funny shit.

DOB: One bay, two bay, red bay, Green way! Knick knack paddy whack give d’em birds a bone, Chi town down at home. Two-Thousand zero-zero party oops out of time, them Panthers smellin’ fine. Lions lose.

B: Allllrighty, then. Finally, hook the House of Georges up with a prediction for Sunday's game.

JL: I bet it will be a close one, but as Madden would say, "the team that scores the most points will win." That'll probably be my Saints.

Good luck Sunday. I will be at Arrowhead sporting my Saints gear. Hopefully it won't be a long walk back to the car!

DOB: NOLA 35-----Chefs 28

B: Well, Billy Joel said it best: You may be wrong, but you may be right. I've had little to no luck predicting Chiefs scores in this series so far this year, so I'm gonna keep silent and just let the teams play. I will say, however, that it's been a pleasure having you both aboard, Mr. Ligon, Mr. O'Brien. We'll have to do this again, though I have a hunch it won't be in the 2008 playoffs.


elover said...

What's a playoff win?

bankmeister said...

I'm not sure how to explain it, but for starters, see other teams besides those featured in this post.