For Week 3 of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we talked to Larry Holder, the Saints columnist for The Times-Picayune. Here are five questions we asked Holder leading up to the Vikings-Saints matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
1. What has been the biggest issue on defense?
LH: Where do you start? The two strengths on the Saints defense last season was the pass rush and the secondary play. Both have been a letdown so far this season. The Saints haven’t consistently been able to pressure either Matt Ryan or Brian Hoyer. The secondary hasn’t done the defense any favors, though, by having far too many miscommunications.
2. How has Drew Brees looked through two games?
LH: Brees hasn’t been as sharp as the Saints have been accustomed to in recent years. But Brees started slow last season and he compiled one of his best seasons in the NFL. Brees has thrown a costly interception in each game. One was his fault against Atlanta in the end zone. The other came as he took a shot in Cleveland, but the result also cost the Saints as it went back for a touchdown.
3. In what ways does the defensive game plan change without running back Adrian Peterson?
LH: I would assume the Saints would focus less on stopping the run and zero in on shoring up the pass defense. The Saints have expressed their respect for Cordarrelle Patterson and will take their chances in not stacking the box.
4. What is the sense of urgency with this team starting 0-2 and coming back to the Superdome?
LH: There’s no major panic with this team. There’s definitely a sense of urgency, though. The Saints know they had their chances of winning both games and it didn’t happen. They know the season isn’t in trouble at 0-2. As for 0-3, that’s a different story.
5. What needs to happen for the Saints to win the game?
LH: The Saints need to play like they typically play at home. Both side of the football come with extra juice in the Superdome as the Saints went undefeated there in 2013. The Saints need to cut down on the mistakes on defense and increase the pressure on the quarterback. The Saints have also run the football with plenty of success and should continue to use their ground game even with Mark Ingram likely out Sunday with a broken hand.
We are not in Baltimore right now. If we were, we’d probably be visiting every square inch of territory covered in The Wire like some sort of sick TV tourist (or, you know, visiting with our friend Holly).
Third choice, though, would be standing in line with a throng of Ravens fans who have congregated en masse for the team’s jersey exchange program. The Ravens told fans that they could trade in officially licensed Ray Rice jerseys for new Baltimore jerseys.
Based on the tweeted pictures we’re seeing (one below), a lot of fans are taking them up on it.
Whether fans are motivated by a distaste for Rice, the opportunity to trade in an old jersey for a new one at no cost or just the chance to stand in line (probably not that one), these jersey exchanges are an interesting dynamic.
They seem like an act of good will on the part of the team, which in a sense they are. But they are also shameless attempts by the NFL teams to keep their hooks in fans. The amount of time that has passed since the Ravens vehemently defended Rice and supported him can be measured, reasonably, in days. And now the line is cut just like that — but please, come support everyone else on the team!
Will it ever get to that point with the Vikings and Adrian Peterson? It’s hard to say, though the Vikings have no plans to do one as of now. But we do know that those who have been close to the Ravens over the years are just as stunned by Rice’s negative turn in the spotlight as we are here with Peterson’s.
This doesn’t begin to show just how long the line is to trade Ray Rice jerseys. Trade rules: http://t.co/jj53VSkax0 pic.twitter.com/IH2BBRNvQC
— Larry Collins (@CollinsNews) September 19, 2014
Bill Barnwell has an excellent piece at Grantland.com about what professional football might look like in the future without the NFL.
Before you think the NFL is too big to fail, consider that it could also tumble like a house of cards for reasons Barnwell outlines. A brief portion of what he wrote:
Suppose for a moment the NFL collapsed as part of a lockout when the vast majority of its players agreed to go play in a newly formed league with new franchises,3 all of which are suspiciously similar to NFL franchises that would then be left without players. NFL fans have failed to support secondary leagues like the XFL and UFL in the past 15 years because the quality of play was inferior and the leagues lacked star-caliber talent, but what if that weren’t the case? To use modern-day players as an example, would fans in Wisconsin support the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, or would they root for Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Clay Matthews suiting up in green-and-yellow jerseys for the Green Bay Football Club at Camp Randall Stadium on Sundays?4Perhaps more important, which team would they want to watch in the comfort of their homes? My suspicion is that the stars would win out over the laundry in most cases.
It’s also worth noting that Barnwell scoffs at the notion of getting upset at the NFL’s non-profit status, saying it barely does the league any good. Read the whole piece. It’s worth your time, and you’ll learn things.
We just chatted with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer after practice, as we usually do every Thursday. As he walked over to meet us, a PR staffer flagged him down and informed him about wide receiver Jerome Simpson’s latest legal issue. Even though the incident happened in July and took place just down the road in Bloomington, Zimmer said it was the first time he had heard about it.
Zimmer said he wouldn’t comment on Simpson until he spoke with General Manager Rick Spielman, but he did say that the Vikings, who are still reeling from the child abuse charge against running back Adrian Peterson, are “going to keep guys who care about football.”
“We’re going to look for high-quality guys,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to keep guys who care about football, guys who are passionate about playing the game. We’re going to continue to get those guys and keep working. There’s really nothing I can do about what everybody else says. All I can do is what I think is best at the time.”
In football-related news, a rarity this week, Zimmer stood by quarterback Matt Cassel, who threw a career-high four interceptions in the loss to the Patriots. Zimmer again pointed out that Cassel played well in the preseason and Week 1 and said “I’m not going to let one bad afternoon ruin it.”
Zimmer also said that outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who missed practice yesterday and today with a broken left hand and a rib injury, “feels a lot better today.” The Vikings will evaluate Greenway tomorrow and go from there. Zimmer added that offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, who participated in practice in some fashion today, is going to be OK. “He’s tough,” Zimmer said.
Finally, Zimmer expressed displeasure that players on both sides of the ball freelanced in the loss to the Patriots. He said it had more to do with the score than it did with Peterson not being active.
“The whole team last week, especially in the second half, we tried to do more than we were supposed to do and it showed up on tape,” Zimmer said. “Guys were trying to do their own thing. So we worked real hard this week on trying to get back to basics and understanding that there’s times where you make plays in the game but the game has to come to you.”