NFL Nation: Norm VanBrocklin
October, 21, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Brian BlancoDrew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns to rally the Saints.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Somewhere, Joe Vitt was watching the New Orleans Saints defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 35-28, on Sunday.
Vitt has been an assistant coach in the NFL since 1979. He’s a sharp guy and has been Sean Payton’s right-hand man since 2006.
When Vitt meets the Saints at Louis Armstrong International Airport on Sunday night and becomes their interim head coach again (he held the position in the preseason before serving a six-game suspension), he should greet the team with a simple message.
The Saints need to get back to the same formula they followed the past three seasons when they won a ton of games and made the playoffs three straight times. They need to grab onto Drew Brees’ coattails (and the quarterback has to be better than ever) because there are no miracles coming out of a defense that entered the day ranked No. 32 in the NFL and will probably stay there when the next rankings come out.
That’s the formula the Saints (2-4) used Sunday after quickly falling behind the Buccaneers (2-4).
“We played Saints ball, like we should,’’ running back Pierre Thomas said.
With 5:55 left in the first quarter, the Buccaneers already had a 14-0 lead. That’s when Brees took over the game. The Saints got the ball four more times in the first half. They scored touchdowns on all four drives.
Brees finished the first half with 313 yards, which had him on pace to break Norm Van Brocklin’s 1951 record for passing yards in a game (554).
“We stayed very calm and together,’’ Brees said. “We were just methodical.’’
Methodical is what the New Orleans offense was the last three years. It hadn’t really been that way this season, with some exceptions coming in the victory against San Diego prior to the bye week.
Against the Bucs, Brees looked like the Brees of old. Even without injured tight end Jimmy Graham, Brees completed passes to seven different players and threw touchdowns to four different teammates.
“When you think about who it is, it doesn’t surprise me,’’ said receiver Lance Moore, who led the Saints with nine catches for 121 yards.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone. Brees has carried this team in the past, and if the Saints are going to climb out of the hole they dug with an 0-4 start, he’s going to have to keep doing even more than ever.
Forget all the talk about how the running game is important and how the defense is catching onto coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme. The truth is, if the Saints are going to have any shot at getting back to the playoffs, they need to let Brees throw the heck out of the ball, and they need to score a ton of points.
Spagnuolo’s defense isn’t going to make any dramatic improvements until the offseason -- when the Saints have a chance to add some personnel that’s better suited to his scheme. For now, they’re stuck with a few good individual players and a bunch of others who don’t fit what Spagnuolo’s defense is about.
That’s why Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman was able to throw for 420 yards and three touchdowns and why the Bucs finished with 513 yards of total offense. That’s why Vincent Jackson had 216 receiving yards.
Speaking of Jackson, he was involved in the one bright moment for the New Orleans defense. Jackson caught a ball that appeared to be tipped by cornerback Patrick Robinson, who fell down, with 4:59 remaining in the third quarter. That left Jackson without a New Orleans defender near him. He gained 95 yards on the play. It was the 96th yard that was crucial.
Free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was the deep man in Cover Two on the other side of the field, somehow ran down Jackson, who clearly ran out of steam as he got closer to the end zone.
The Saints then followed with what they repeatedly referred to as a “goal-line stand’’ in the locker room.
“Malcolm Jenkins running down Vincent Jackson to put us on the goal line and then the goal-line stand were about five huge plays right there and it decided the game,’’ said linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who made his debut after spending six weeks on the physically unable to perform list with a knee issue.
But let’s be totally honest here. Although Vilma’s return no doubt provided some emotional lift, whatever he has left physically isn’t going to make New Orleans’ defense much better. The goal-line stand wasn’t the kind of thing you saw from the Steel Curtain or the Purple People Eaters of the 1970s.
In large part, the goal-line stand came about because it looked like Tony Dungy and Mike Shula were back wearing the Bucs’ headsets. With a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, the Bucs ran LeGarrette Blount straight ahead -- on three consecutive plays.
If Blount is in the backfield and the rest of the offense is lined up tight on the goal line, everyone in the stadium knows what’s coming and any defense -- even the Saints' -- can stop it. The Saints stuffed Blount on all three plays and then forced a scrambling Freeman to run out of bounds for a 4-yard loss on fourth down.
Brees promptly followed that up with a 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive to put the Saints ahead 35-21. Still, the Bucs came back and scored another touchdown and almost tied it on the final play of the game, but officials ruled receiver Mike Williams stepped out of the end zone before coming back in to catch a Freeman pass.
It just shows the best the Saints can hope for out of their defense is the same thing they got the last couple of years. Maybe one big play or one big stop a game.
Everything else is up to Brees.
October, 21, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 35-28 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium:
What it means: The Saints are 2-4, but there still is a glimmer of hope for their season. They now have won two straight games. They also will get assistant head coach Joe Vitt back from his six-game suspension. Interim head coach Aaron Kromer did a decent job in a tough situation, but Vitt’s experience might provide a boost for the Saints. The Bucs fell to 2-4, despite jumping out to an early 14-0 lead. The Bucs could have improved to 3-3 and perhaps turned a corner in their development with a win, but this was proof that the Bucs haven’t arrived yet and that their pass defense, particularly their pass rush, has a long way to go.
Brees’ big day: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns. At halftime, Brees had 313 passing yards and was on pace to break Norm Van Brocklin’s 1951 regular-season record of 554 yards in a game.
Worst move of the day: With 14:54 left in the fourth quarter and New Orleans leading 28-21, the Saints lined up to attempt a 51-yard field goal. But the drive was given new life when Tampa Bay was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for trying to simulate the snap count. The Saints went on to score a touchdown. Simulating the snap count? Maybe that kind of thing works in college, but it doesn't fly in the NFL.
Opportunity lost: The Bucs caught a break with about six minutes left in the third quarter when New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson tipped a Josh Freeman pass, but Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson was able to catch it. Robinson fell down and there were no defenders near him. He gained 95 yards, but safety Malcolm Jenkins brought him down at the 1-yard line. The Bucs weren’t able to punch it in on four plays.
Second-worst move of the day: Speaking of what Tampa Bay did in the immediate aftermath of Jackson’s big catch, the Bucs handed the ball to LeGarrette Blount on three straight plays, and he couldn’t get into the end zone against the league’s worst defense. I realize Blount’s a big, power back and you should give him at least one crack at the end zone. But you know what the unofficial coaching handbook says about doing the same thing three times in a row? It’s against it. At some point in those three plays, you need to at least look like you might throw a pass and spread the defense out. The Bucs finally did that on fourth down, but Freeman ended up scrambling out of bounds for a 4-yard loss.
What’s next: The Bucs face a quick turnaround. They’ll play Thursday night at Minnesota. The Saints also will play their next game in prime time. They’ll be at Denver next Sunday night.