Sheletha Jones, editor at Saints Gab, approached me to swap Q & A’s for tonight’s game against the Saints. Sheletha is very knowledgeable of the Saints and the NFL. Below is what came out of our session.
|Me: In an interview on Thursday with a local Bay Area station, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary predicted that his defense would flat-out shut down Drew Brees? What do you believe it would take for the 49ers defense to completely throw off Drew Brees and the passing game?
Sheletha: It all has to start with getting a pass rush on Brees. We all know that he is a very mobile QB who is excellent at masking the deficiencies on the offensive line by being able to step up in the pocket and escape defenders. However, in games where the defenders have gotten to him consistently, the offense has struggled mightily. If the 49ers are going to be successful at slowing him down or stopping him, they are going to have to put some real pressure on him otherwise he’ll just use that potent quick release of his to pick the defense apart and make them pay.
Me: Last week, against the Vikings, the running game was a non-factor until the second half. How much of an impact do you think the Saints running game will have in this game?
Sheletha: I think it all depends on whether or not they’re nursing a lead or playing from behind. If they’re in the lead, look for them to try to use the running game to chew up the clock. If they’re playing from behind, they’ll rely more on Brees’ arm to pick up the pace and try to score quickly to get back in it. It is very important for them to be able to maintain balance though because being able to run the ball effectively really helps in the passing game and vice versa. The Saints are not nearly as deadly when they become one-dimensional. Hopefully, they’ll be able to run the ball with some success to keep things flowing smoothly.
Me: After the first game, where are you looking for the Saints to improve the most?
Sheletha: I would love to see the receivers come down with the ball more consistently. Last week, a lot of credit was given to the Vikings defense for the meager 14 points put up by the Saints usually-high-octane offense. Not to take anything away from the Vikings who are very good defensively, but if you were one who watched that game, you saw Saints receivers drop passes in the end zone and past the first-down markers. Mistakes like that cost downs and ultimately points. I’ve heard people say that the Vikings defense played well enough for them to have won that game, but it honestly was not exclusively their play that stalled Saints drives and kept points off the board. The Saints score would have been a lot more impressive if those guys would have made those critical receptions. They actually hurt themselves more than the Vikings defense hurt them.
Me: If Alex Smith has another terrible game, many fans will want him benched. I
Sheletha:Well, obviously it would be greatly diminished. While young Daniel performed quite well in the preseason, he is untested in real action. Neither the pressure, the physicality, nor the intensity will be the same as what he is familiar with having only played in preseason games. With that said, I’m rather reserved to say that the Saints would have no chance without Brees. I’d like to think that the team could rally around Daniel enough to overcome–like the way the Steelers have stepped up their game in the absence of Big Ben. And we still have a pretty good running game that can bail us out in some critical games. But I’m not naive enough to think that anything or anyone can replace the athleticism and leadership that Drew brings with him on the field every week. It’s just one of those things where you hope and pray that you never have to find out.
Me: Do you believe the Saints will be playing in Dallas on February 6th, 2011 (Super
Sheletha: Now what kind of Saints fan would I be if I said no? Of course I believe that the Saints will be playing for their second Superbowl in the team’s history. I’ve heard all of the reasons why they won’t just as they’ve heard. But no one gave them a snowball’s chance on the sun of doing it last year. They battled against all odds in 2009, playing a long stretch with a depleted secondary and a couple of critical injuries on offense but still finding a way to win. We had to listen at all the talk about how other teams lost games more than the Saints won them. Mess like that can demoralize a team, but it gave the Saints the will to fight on–to prove their critics wrong. I think they’re playing with that same chip on their shoulder because the “what ifs” and the “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” have never stopped for them. There’s always somebody somewhere downplaying their legitimacy as the defending Superbowl champions.
Sheletha: DJ, I would like to thank you and 49ers Gab for being gracious enough to collaborate with me on this piece. I wish the 49ers and their passionate fans good luck with the rest of their season, past September 20th of course! Take care.
Me: Thank you Sheletha for your insight on the Saints. I will definitely check back with you before the end of the season. If you are in need of information on the Saints, Saints Gab should always be your first stop.