BY JIM W. MILLER
We all know the lament, and some of us have been writing about it for almost four years. Will Drew Brees, one of the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks, go down in history as another Archie Manning? Great player on an average team. Sure, Brees won a Super Bowl which puts him in kind of a purgatory of greatness. Certainly higher than Archie, who never enjoyed a winning season in New Orleans, but not quite the Beulah Land of Peyton or even Eli, if you’re counting championships.
The problem was never Brees’ offense that annually ranks in the top two or three in the league. It has been the defense, which has ranked at the bottom of the league the past few years in all the measurable criteria while ranking No. 1 in the league in frustration and futility. Things had not changed much during the first two games, in which the opponents’ passing lanes were no more guarded than the "anything goes" I-10 drag strip between New Orleans East and the Slidell bridge.
But in the past three games, a glimmer of hope suddenly has brightened into a beam of pure optimism. The Saints’ defense has stifled the offenses of three teams that could be in the playoffs come January. In defeating the Panthers, Dolphins and Lions, the Saints defense over those three games is tied with the Packers for tops in the NFL in takeaways, third in the NFL in pass yards per attempt at 5.0 and a respectable 12th in rushing yards allowed. This team has got game and a welcomed swagger that on Sunday was evident at every incompletion, sack or turnover! And against the Lions, the defense displayed a new feature – get those hands up! – that resulted in 16 tipped passes. A tipped pass has as much chance to become a completion as a 10-foot Miller putt! But I digress …
So, Who Dats, it appears that you now have the defense you’ve been clamoring for these past few years. So what happens how? Let’s run a few scenarios. They could continue to exhibit the confidence they displayed against the Lions and plow through the remainder of the schedule and into the playoffs. Or, they could return Who Dat Nation to its periodic depths of melancholy and lose games they shoulda or coulda won, but didn’t. Arguably, the most likely scenario would be one where some weeks, they play like Tarzan and other weeks like Jane, the perils of a young team. And the Saints defense has its share of players who aren’t old enough to rent a car.
Whatever happens, it will start next week in Green Bay where the dominating performance could be expected to continue. The Packers are suddenly scrambling to find a quarterback after a broken collarbone may have ended Aaron Rodgers’ season. There’s no joy in announcing that because injuries shouldn’t be celebrated, even if it might help your team. Best wishes to Rodgers for a speedy recovery, but the fact remains that Rodgers’ replacement is not Rodgers.
New Orleans Defense on the rise? Should Packers pick up Kaepernick? Talk about this below
For the record, Seneca Wallace is the backup and will likely start against the Saints, but Packer backers are burning up the online boards today with suggestions for a quick-fix. Several suggest that Wisconsin native Tony Romo might enjoy a break from his TV duties and return to the field, but the most intriguing is Colin Kaepernick. Signing the new appellant days after he filed a collusion suit against the NFL might resolve several issues, if the organization can handle the distraction. But where else in the league would a distraction be better absorbed than the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field?
My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.