Saturday, September 06, 2014

How green is your brier? Is football really something you have to practice? And other Saints kickoff questions

A few weeks ago the (not quite yet officially) New Orleans Saints met the (group of people hoping to become) the Tennessee Titans at the (what used to be known simply as the Louisiana) Superdome for some good old fashioned fake football.  As we welcomed the team home, the city went out of its way to ensure that no fans approaching from Uptown should have to step over any homeless people to get there.  Well, they tried anyway.

The Saints, themselves,  had barely had enough time to set up their own tents having just arrived  in town from what they told us was "training camp." But those of us who watched them that night have questions about that. The Saints-Titans fake game was an excruciating 17 hours long war of attrition fought with penalty flags on the field and much much booze in the stands. I actually have very little idea of what happened after halftime. But I know it wasn't pretty.   It says here that Sean Payton was angry about it.

Strange, though, that he should have been surprised. The team had chosen to spend their late summer at the exclusive Greenbrier golf resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Virginia.  They say they were there to practice football, but mostly they seem to have sat that part of the program out. Which was confusing because it seemed out of character.

Remember back during the 2011 lockout, this was a team so eager to practice that they took it upon themselves to meet on the Tulane campus, without any coaches, wearing workout clothes they brought from home, and.. do some jumping jacks and play catch and stuff just to prove they were working.  It was kind of weird but they seemed to think it was important.  And, hey, no one can argue with the record-setting results.

This year, for whatever reason, they've taken a different approach.

Instead of practicing, they've been enjoying the mild Appalachian climate, engaging in typical frat-boy hi-jinx, and inventing ridiculous ways to waste their time, right up to and including attempting to throw punt a football over them mountains.

So as they prepare for the greatly anticipated 2014 football season, we have to wonder if they're going at it with the appropriate sense of urgency.   On the one hand it looks like they've spent a lot of time just horsing around and not taking the job too seriously.  On the other hand, even when they are very serious, they're still just a football team.  So really, how bad could it be?  We'll find out soon enough. 

Are you also doing your best to prepare?  If you are, you probably already have some questions on your mind regarding this year's team. Here's what I imagine those questions might be.

What dumb slogan will Sean Payton apply to this year's motivational T-shirt?

This is from Drew Magary's "Why Your Team Sucks" post about the Indianapolis Colts.
Your coach: Chuck Pagano, who knows the key to long-term success is wearing a new shirt:
Issued to all Colts players, it has the picture of a Lombardi Trophy on the back. To [D'Qwell] Jackson, who spent the first eight years of his career with the Cleveland Browns, it was just one of the many indications that things are different with the Colts.
Whoa hey, you mean a football team out there wants to win a Super Bowl? GTFO. That's such a remarkable new perspective—I feel like I'm seeing football in a whole new way.

Seriously, Pagano's shirt has the Lombardi on the back with the word DECIDE. That's it. It's not even clear. Like, does he think a player would decide to not win it?
So it's not exclusive to our team but Saints fans might remember their own head coach from such motivational T-shrits as "Smell Greatness," "Our Time," "Finish Strong," "Be Special," and "Earn it," not to mention, "Do Your Job" which was actually a gigantic Mao-ist poster and not a shirt.

But, in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere of a training camp where hardly anyone actually trains, no one has rolled out a dumb slogan as of yet.  So as long as it's an open question, allow us to suggest, "Ready To Get Weird"
Now league insiders tell Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal that coordinator Rob Ryan is "quietly crafting an unorthodox" scheme with the potential to change the way defenses play in the future.

"I'm always ready to get weird," Ryan said, per Clark.
More on that Wall Street Journal article in a bit.  But first...

With no stupid T-Shirt ready, what other delusional behaviors are the Saints exhibiting in order to make up?

Well, for one thing, Drew Brees believes he is immortal
White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he was being serious when he said last week that he wanted to play until he was 45.

Brees, 35, said he knows that playing in the NFL for another decade wouldn't be easy.

"I'm serious. I'm not delusional," Brees said after practice on Tuesday at the Greenbrier resort. "I know that that's something that would be extremely difficult to do. Not many have done it....It could be done, but a lot of things have to fall into place."
We're actually pretty used to Brees's brand of goofy Tony Robbinseque jibber jabber. We follow his heavily branded Twitter feed. We've read his new age Christian self-help inspired memoir.  We've come to see him as our go-to Saint whenever we're in the mood for a canned motivational aphorism tinged with just the right amount of banal commercialism.  Oh and touchdowns.  He's good for lots of those too.

But to this point the story has been that Brees produces well on the field because he's also such a obsessive compulsive nut job dedicated leader at practice time. It was Brees, after all, who organized and led the famous independent calisthenics sessions during the lockout. But this pre-season things have been different.

Brees hardly participated except for only a couple of series during the third fake game. He also missed a significant amount of practice time with a strained oblique muscle.  Unsurprisingly, he came up with a typically Breesian Power Of Positive Thinking inspired rationalization for this.  Brees told reporters that he was OK with having missed so much time because, inside his mind, he actually hasn't.
Brees admitted that it was a little hard for him to miss out on his usual amount of preseason reps because he's a "creature of habit" and "very routine-oriented." But he's also admittedly a master of optimism. Brees even referenced the "optimism bias" on Wednesday while talking about how he tried to make the most of his practice reps and mental reps over the past month.

"I think I've tricked my mind into thinking I took the reps," Brees said. "I think if you approach practice as if it's game-like, so your mind is there, and the speed and the intensity with which you're playing is there, it's as if you did take the reps."
Intellectually, we know that this is stupid.  But it's also such an adorably earnest brand of stupid that we kind of want it to be true.  We want to believe, along with Drew, that he can imagineer his own practice reps just like we want to believe he'll still be our quarterback ten years from now.  These are ridiculously exaggerated expectations, of course, but they are pleasant ridiculously exaggerated expectations for Saints fans to contemplate.

We hear them so often that they've become their own genre of Drew Brees specific literary device. Call it HyperboBrees.  It lives in the tension between the dimly inspiring and the slightly unsettling.  A kind of Chicken Soup For The Unhinged Soccer Mom. We like Drew Brees. We're grateful to have been Saints fans during his time with us here.  We also have little doubt he is a mentally ill person.

Is Pierre Thomas the best all-purpose back in the league?

Yes he is... according to Drew Brees, who, remember, is clearly an insane person. So take that for what it's worth.  Pierre is pretty good, though.  It might be more accurate to say he's the best all-purpose back on the Saints roster.  Of the three players expected to contribute as ball carriers this year, Thomas is the one the Saints are most comfortable assigning to run, block, or.. most notably.. catch screen passes.

This year the Saints may be looking to change that up a bit.  Andrew Juge has written and talked a good deal this preseason about the Saints' desire to get more of an all-purpose performance out of their other backs as well.
There’s clearly still a lot of talent at running back with Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas. The Saints offense had become a little predictable in the last year with the clearly defined roles each back had. Whenever Sproles was in the game, it was almost always a pass. Whenever Thomas was, the Saints’ offense probably had the most variety, but passing, play action and screens were common. Whenever Mark Ingram or Khiry Robinson were in it was almost exclusively run plays. Each back had their specific role on the team but their mere presence in a formation gave a big tell to the opposition pre snap about what was coming. On some level that was by design to expose a defense into believing something was coming, but unfortunately the Saints didn’t really have enough field stretching ability last year to expose that. Having Brandin Cooks will help. But I think the Saints should lean on Thomas/Ingram/Robinson in a much more versatile way this year. They should be all three able to do everything in the playbook, and who is in the game should not affect the play call.
Also, Pierre Thomas spent a good portion of this preseason on the sideline.  Probably because practice is for jerks. 

I'm sorry.  I hate to keep at this topic, but don't the Saints subscribe to some other absurd cult behaviors?

As a matter of fact, they do.  For reasons having mostly to do with Sean Payton's Goodell-imposed 2012 Rumspringa and concurrent midlife crisis, the whole team has gotten into Crossfit.

For those of you who are not familiar with this, it's a lifestyle fad somewhere near three quarters of the way to the end of its pop culture life cycle.  It's basically a workout regimen but one specifically designed to appeal to high achieving personalities with disposable income and sufficient leisure time to join specialized clubs who participate in a competitive circuit of strength and endurance exhibitions.

It's also weird.
Browse the digital pages of our nation’s finest periodicals, and you can read about the cult (or is it more like a church?) of Crossfit, that attracts “Painiacs” who have either joined an ordinary conditioning program or a bona-fide cult that feeds you Kool-Aid.

These critics do have a point: CrossFit gyms—called boxes—tend to nurture the kind of close-knit communities more commonly associated with desert-bound Mormon sects. CrossFitters work out in groups, moving to the demands of a benevolent taskmaster. They pepper their conversations with a strange, clubby lingo—the Yiddish of fitness—and they undertake special workouts to honor comrades who have fallen in combat (CrossFit is especially popular among military personnel.)

CrossFitters can buy apparel that plays on this reputation: “Like a Cult, Without the Creepy Leader” reads one T-shirt. There’s even a gym in Connecticut that’s called CrossFit Religion. The name, they assured me, is tongue-in-cheek; their motto, a play on the acronym for CrossFit’s Workout of the Day, is “In WOD We Trust.”
I guess it shouldn't be very surprising that professional athletes would buy into a fitness program.  But if anything ever screamed out for Drew Brees to #spon the ever-living shit out of it, this is that thing.

It turned out, though, that Brees was already shilling for a just as goofy product called TRX. 
First, a bit about TRX’s odd origin. Hetrick, who is now 44, was a Navy SEAL–one of those elite special-ops military agents who conducts clandestine warfare. A lifetime super-jock, he got really frustrated inside ships and submarines and other tight quarters where he was unable to exercise. So he concocted a harness system—initially out of parachute webbing stitched together by boat repair tools–so he could use his own body weight as resistance against gravity.

Hetrick’s fellow SEALs took to using the harness system, and they invented  a dozen exercises for it. But it wasn’t until Hetrick quit the SEALs, after 14 years, and went on to Stanford Business School that it dawned on him that his training gizmo could lead to his next career. Working out at the gym at Stanford, he realized that the exercise system was a hit with the strength trainers and other fitness fanatics too. “That’s when I thought, ‘I wonder if there’s a business in this,” he says.
So many great stories begin with a highly motivated narcissist type wondering aloud how many idiots he can separate from their money. Sports-Illustrated thought so, anyway.  They ran a feature on Brees's TRX workouts in their NFLcamp preview edition. The cover featured Brees pretending he's working out on a submarine.

Brees TRX

What the SI story didn't mention, though, was that Brees is also an investor in the company and was technically using their magazine as an infomercial.  I haven't decided if it would have been better or worse had he paid SI for the advertising opportunity.

Probably doesn't matter anyway because... look how stupid that thing is. I'm no fitness guru but, just speaking as a human being who has limbs, I'm pretty sure lifting any heavy thing accrues consistent physical benefits regardless of what the thing is for the most part.  Chances are the heavy thing you should lift has already been invented and produced and made available for a much more convenient price than.. whatever this thing goes for. 

But, OK fine, Drew likes it. He sunk some money into it. What does he think?
“A full workout on the TRX can absolutely destroy you,” Brees tells the magazine. SI’s Austin Murphy writes that the TRX Rip Trainer “looks like fun! But it’s serious fun.”
TRX does kind of look like it might "absolutely destroy" a person's oblique muscle and keep that person from getting too much football practice in.  But not practicing football does free one up for some serious fun so I guess it all makes sense.

Does Tom Benson also do Crossfit?

Sort of.  The octogenarian Benson may not be able to perform vigorous exercises such as running up a flight of stairs.  But as Louisiana's Wealthiest Person, he is allowed the privilege of erecting a statue of himself at the top of those stairs which is kind of the same thing.

The added benefit here is that this could usher in a new tradition for Saints fans who may wish to spit on the Benson statue on the way into the dome.. you know for luck.  There's bound to be a significant store of karma in such an act. 

Please do click that link and look through the list. I'm thinking of printing it out and pinning it to Bronze Tom before the home opener.

What should I wear to Mark Ingram's Hall of Fame induction?

Well we know tan suits are all the rage right now but Hall Of Fame Running Back Mark Ingram will already be wearing a tan blazer that day and you will probably want to wear something of a contrasting color.

Do you doubt that he will be there?  Well you had better adjust your attitude because he does not doubt it.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Mark Ingram's expectations have not diminished one bit heading into his fourth season with the New Orleans Saints.

“The sky’s the limit, man. I want to be the best back to ever play the freakin’ game of football,” Ingram said.
Wow what a delightful display of HyperboBreesTM.  Hall of Fame Running Back Mark Ingram has learned well from the best.  And, as is the case with Brees's ridiculous statements, we also would very much like this to be true.

Much has been written about Ingram's chances to turn his sorta meh career around this season, but the truth may be that this has already happened.  Here are two articles you should look at regarding the Saints' experimentation over course of the past year with a new zone blocking scheme.

This is from the Advocate's Nick Underhill from just a few weeks ago. The Saints linemen talk about how much better they feel running the scheme now.
“Guys understand landmarks, footwork, how we’re trying to hit these guys,” offensive line coach Bret Ingalls said. “The runners are doing a great job, tight ends are doing a better job. I just think over time it’s improved because you work at it and things get better.”

“I think we are much better than we were last year,” guard Ben Grubbs said. “We understand what the coaches want. As far as an offensive unit, I think we’re all on the same page.”

The question now is if a full season of zone will better help running backs such as Ingram. He ran behind a zone scheme while at Alabama, where he rushed for 3,261 yards over three seasons and claimed the Heisman as a sophomore.

He hasn’t had the same success in New Orleans. Over three seasons, Ingram has rushed for 1,462 yards on 356 carries, though he did average 4.9 yards per carry last season.

“Yeah,” Ingalls said when asked if Ingram looks more comfortable running behind a zone scheme. “If it’s blocked better, it’s even better.”
Here is another article that ran in Canal Street Chronicles back during the spring. It uses game photos to illustrate how zone blocking works and provides examples of the Saints offense getting better at executing it toward the end of the season.  It's really great for football nerds.

For more casual Saints fans, let me harken back to what I think is the actual moment that Hall of Fame Running Back Mark Ingram's career path shifted last season. It happened during the Dallas game.  I remember because it was one of the few games I actually finished writing about last year.  Here's what happened.

Mark Ingram's night, in fact, captures this spirit well. After seeing him booed for dropping a pass early on, and then watching him go through something of a public breakdown; slamming the ball to the ground, beating himself in the head like a frustrated 5 year old; we couldn't help but wish for something good to happen for him.

And then, true to our intentions, we went out and got that touchdown for him.  And a whole bunch of yards and stuff too.  We delivered it all to his doorstep and sang Christmas carols. It was a touching moment. We did that for him, not because we've suddenly reversed our opinion that he's a mediocre player and a disappointing first round pick, but because he's our mediocre and disappointing first round pick and we don't want him to be sad.

I wanted to find a concise summary of Ingram's night from the paper to quote for you here. But instead I found this badly off-the-mark description James O'Byrne wrote for the TP.

Here's a game ball nobody expected this season. After an incredibly frustrating two years, Ingram broke out with the first 100-yard game by a Saints running back since the second game of last season, gaining 145 yards on 14 carries for a 10.4 yards-per-carry average. It was not a fluke, as Ingram, perhaps for the first time as a Saint, ran with passion and anger, hit his holes hard, made good decisions, protected the ball and didn't go down easily. In a game in which it was clear the Saints wanted to establish a running game, Ingram was dominant in racking up the lion's share of the team's 242 yards rushing.
Apart from the statistics, I don't see how that's in any way accurate. Saints fans have complained about Ingram's lack of productivity, sure. But I don't think anyone has had a problem with his attitude. He appears to try very hard when he has the ball.  Our concern is that he's just not very good.

This was the night that Saints fans finally accepted Ingram, for better or for worse, as one of their own.  He has not been booed since. Also, O'Byrne's somewhat inaccurate version of these events led to the creation of the #AngryIngram hashtag which is still in use today.

There's an overused phrase that sometimes describes athletes with potential who disappoint early in their careers.   "We're just waiting for the light to go on with that guy," goes the cliche.  In most of these cases, the light never really comes on.  This time it very well might.

On the other hand, we sure have seen a lot of Mark Ingram practicing and playing football during this preseason.  That doesn't seem like the thing most of the good players are doing.  So maybe he's still got a few things to learn.

Will Patrick Robinson's Hall of Fame induction come in the same year as Mark Ingram's?

It should.  P-Rob is the Ingram of the defense. We're just waiting for the light to go on. The signs there are less encouraging. But there's hope.  There pretty much has to be. B&G Review explains.
In two preseason games so far, the Saints’ defense has allowed opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes for 562 yards (more than eight yards per attempt) and six touchdowns, with only one interception. That is terrible.

Part of the problem has been the fact Jairus Byrd has spent most of the off-season in Marques Colston’s hyperbaric chamber, probably, but then safety isn’t the issue. The problem is cornerback, where the Saints have only one good football player. Beyond Keenan Lewis the Saints’ depth chart is a mess of has-beens, wannabes, and Patrick Robinson — and Robinson is the one who matters.

Even before he settled into a daily routine of not being present, Champ Bailey was inspiring he-won’t-make-the-roster rumors. Robinson, however, has had a good camp, and seems to have played his way into the role of — my next phrase can vary depending on my mood — either cornerback who is always getting burned, or Comeback Player of the Year.

The point is, in two first halves of preseason football combined, the Saints’ defense has given up 412 yards and 34 points. Those numbers are not good, and most of the damage has been due to what is, right now, a terrible situation at cornerback.
One post-script to this concerns actual future Hall of Famer Bailey who did not, in fact, make the team.  Which is really weird seeing as how he barely practiced or played at all which seemed to be the proper mode of conduct and all.  Someone should investigate this aberration.

Please share with us a really strange fact about Andy Tanner

OK. This is from B&G Review. (A lot of links from them in this post, it turns out.  With good reason too. It's a very pleasing site that posts a lot about football. You should get a subscription.) Anyway, Andy Tanner.
Andy Tanner is on his fifth training camp with the Saints, but he’s accrued so little official time that he’s still classified as a first-year player. Andy Tanner has been a Saint longer than every player on the defense, other than Junior Galette, who was also an undrafted free agent in 2010, and Patrick Robinson, the Saints’ first round pick that same year.
Did Andy Tanner make the team?

Ha ha, no of course not!  Look at all that practice time he's logged. Does he even know how this works?

Uh oh does the kicker suck?

Maybe! This fucking team barely even has a kicker. Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke spent the whole summer pretty much underwhelming everyone until finally, both of them were cut so that the Saints could hide a third string quarterback for a few days. This left the team in the unusual position of beginning preparations for the season opener with zero kickers on the roster.

They brought Graham back eventually.  He was still available which doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. Dimke is available now.  As is Garrett Hartley but let's not get into that.

This could end one of two ways. It could either end very very badly or it could.. just end up being something no one really notices. We'd hope for the latter but the Saints play Atlanta in Week One and, usually, you kind of would like to have a kicker for that.
There have been a few blowouts in the series. The Falcons won 62-7 in New Orleans in '73 and broke 35 team records. The Saints won 38-0 in '87, the first year New Orleans made the playoffs. The Saints won six in a row in the mid-'80s, and the Falcons won 10 straight in the late '90s. But add it all up and it's basically even. The Falcons lead the all-time series 47 games to 43. The average score: 22-21.

Are there any extruded pork products we should be aware of this football season?

In recent years a tradition has sprung up in New Orleans where, just prior to the football portion of the year, a local icon introduces a new sausage for people to enjoy.  Former Saint and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson has sponsored a sausage.

Rickey Jackson smoked sausage

Former Saint wide receiver Joe Horn has done likewise.

Both men have also been good enough to present us with barbecue sauces in case we want those too.  For the most part, this has all worked out for the general benefit of the public.

This year, though, things may not end so happily.
Beginning next Friday, August 8, Lucky Dogs will be available in all Rouses across the city, marking the first time the hot dogs have been sold as a retail product.

The Lucky Dogs will come in a five-pack, and be the same version served from the iconic, hot dog-shaped cart.

"We are very excited about the launch of Lucky Dogs into Rouses Supermarkets," said Lucky Dog co-owner Mark Talbot in a statement. "Rouses has been very helpful in this endeavor, one local family business helping another local family business. When my brother and I approached our dad about going retail with Lucky Dogs, we all agreed that Rouses was where we wanted to be. They are local, like us. Now you don't have to go to the Quarter to enjoy Lucky Dogs."
Yeah.. okay.. someone else should enjoy this first and then report back, maybe.  If they're feeling up to it, that is. 

And if that's not bad enough, this happened.

The Superdome caterer introduced its most... um.. tasteless food item to date.
The Superdome debuted its new lineup of concession food last week. Among the new dishes: a "Category 5 Hurricane Dog." After a photo appeared on The Times-Picayune website and was circulated on social media (to reactions ranging from guffaws to horror), Centerplate, which caters the Dome, told the paper the name was never "approved" — despite a printed nameplate displayed next to the hot dog. Shortly thereafter, the paper's original photo vanished from its own website, replaced with a Centerplate-supplied shot of the same frankfurter, now downgraded to a more generic "Jumbo Louisiana Chili Dog."
The "unapproved" theming actually went beyond just the nameplate. According to this story, there was also a "Hurricane Sauce" involved as well as a smaller hot dog named simply a "Hurricane Dog" presumably of a lesser category.

The tone-deafness of whimsically naming something a "Category 5 Hurricane Hot Dog" and selling it in the building the building where so many people suffered after gathering there for shelter during Katrina is obvious.  (Even Sean Payton will tell you, "It used to be wet there")  But then later when we discovered that Centerplate's CEO was a man who actually sometimes kicks puppies, we at least understood how such a thing could have happened.

That's kind of a downer.  Would it lighten things up if we let the Lucky Dog people ask a question now?

Okay sure.  In the process of researching the previous item, I discovered that the Lucky Dog website features a trivia question.  Here it is.
What is the most Lucky Dogs a person has ever eaten at one time?

Unidentified French Quarter policeman ate 32, Mardi Gras 1998.

Why can't this team decide on an Official Chicken? 

Let's take a moment now to appreciate the enduring emblem of the New Orleans Saints' 2013 campaign. There are three moments that define that season in memory.

The first came during Week 5 on a Monday night while the Saints weren't even playing. They had just convincingly dispatched the Bears in Chicago the day before and were sitting 5-0.  Fans were giddy. Sean Payton's return was exceeding even the high expectations it had encouraged.  The Legend Of Rob Ryan was coming into full bloom. And, on this evening, we were watching the Atlanta Falcons' season already circle the drain as the Jets embarrassed them at home on national TV. The Chronic Podcast from that week was recorded while this was happening and the reactions to the score update reflect what everyone was thinking.  On Twitter we wondered out loud if the Saints had already clinched the division. These were good times.

Later in the season, certain uncomfortable truths about the team began to emerge.  Fans, perhaps a bit spoiled by the 2011 juggernaut, were coming to terms with an offense that.. while still very good.. didn't always dominate people.  The Saints were an exciting team. But as the year went on, the creeping feeling  that they were losing momentum became more palpable.

This was especially the case when the running game wasn't working (a lot of the time) and even more especially the case on the road. It was even extra-more especially the case when matched up against a talented secondary content to sit back and guard against big plays, take Jimmy Graham out of the game, and make Brees check down all day.  Which is why the Monday Night loss at Seattle was such a downer.  Hell by the end of that one, people were already tweeting about "next season."  The Saints had only fallen to 9-3 but that loss was when we all admitted we were lowering our expectations.

The loss at Carolina three weeks later was really just an aftershock.

And yet there was a third act to this drama. Saints fans had more or less resigned themselves to the unlikelihood of a deep playoff run.  But, if they could manage at least one post-season win on the road in harsh conditions, well that might be something to take a little pride in after all. Here in a frozen Philadelphia, was an opportunity.  What was really needed now, though, was  a gimmick.
The Saints also know the challenge that lies ahead on the road, where they've struggled to a 3-5 record this season. But they cheerfully suggested solutions to the road problems.

"Popeyes!" yelled wide receiver Robert Meachem.

"New sweatsuits. I think that'll be motivation enough for us to play well on the road," added receiver Lance Moore. "I think the sweatsuits will be the difference."

"We need to change our Gatorade flavor, travel sweats and the beefy mac recipe night before the game," summed up Brees.
And, of course, we know the rest of that story.  All of the stupidity mentioned in the above passage: new Gatorade, new track suits, etc. was put into play.  But the thing that resonated most with fans was the Popeyes.

The Popeyes brand was born and nurtured in New Orleans.  It had long comforted many a local family too tired to cook after work. It was there for us at many greasy hungover Mardi Gras morning parade route breakfasts.  It watched cartoons with an entire generation of New Orleanians after school.  And now, in perhaps its finest hour, it was there to rescue an important but flagging season of Saints football.

And it worked.  The road win in Philly validated the 2013 season in the minds of (reasonable) Saints fans. The loss the next week in Seattle was easier to take after having participated in the goofy giddiness of Popeyesmania. (Oh and BTW, that loss wasn't as bad as you probably remember it.)

So, once again, thank you, Popeyes. Thank you for making life fun for us once again.

But also, screw you.

According to the oldest news item I care to google up right now, Raising Cane's has been "The Official Chicken Of the New Orleans Saints" since at least 2011 and that status has not changed as of this writing.  The Popeyes insurrection of 2013.. however glorious... appears to have been put down.  The oppressive thumb of Saints Marketing Officialdom has stricken it from the record.  Perhaps there's a karmic price to be paid for that.  On the other hand, maybe Cane's has already covered that.

In any case, we'll always remember you, Popeyes. Even if we've already forgotten you.

Any other food related marketing issues we should be aware of?

Well there was this Slap Ya Mama thing... look, nevermind. Next question.

How bad is HBO's Hard Knocks Featuring the Atlanta Falcons?

Terrible. Hard Knocks is a terrible show already and the Falcons are the absolute worst.  Next question.

Rob Ryan is pretty great, isn't he?

Rob Ryan is pretty much the best there is. Here are two reasons.  First, he's not an asshole to his players.
What he never wanted to be was a "my way or the highway" kind of coach.

"It's just being honest with people and I think that makes it easier to get to players nowadays than ever before. They don't want to see somebody that's up there who says 'This is the way it is,'" Ryan said. "If that's who you are, that's who you are. But if you're me, I think the best way is just being myself, coming in there, knowing my football and being able to present that in a way that people can understand."
Second, last weekend, I attended part of a Rob Ryan March and Pub Crawl.  The march began with an invocation at the Gleason Statue and then bar-hopped its way uptown to Ms. Mae's.  The purpose of the event was to celebrate all things Rob Ryan and to "buy a stranger a drink."  I encountered the group at Igor's.  Here are some of them in a photo.

Rob Ryan March 2014

Anyway, I was told that the group had somehow managed to inform Coach Ryan of their event and  invite him along.  Ryan was busy cutting people that day so he couldn't actually be there. It was claimed, however, that, in politely declining the invitation, Ryan also offered to leave the group a generous bar tab at Ms. Mae's.  Unfortunately I didn't follow the march to the end and have been unable to confirm this part of the story as of this writing.  Either way.. Rob Ryan is pretty cool.

Is Brandin Cooks already the rookie of the year?

Depends.  Did he practice much during training camp?  If so, then he's probably screwed.  I kind of remember him skipping some time to finish college back during OTAs.  Also he did miss one preseason game. So he's got that going for him.  Sure, Brandin Cooks, Offensive Rookie Of The Year for 2014.  He's probably pretty good from the looks of things. There, now you pretty much don't have to watch the games.

What will football be like in The Future?

Well, as Rob Ryan has already hinted, in The Future, football will not be afraid to get weird. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ryan's defense may be "The future of defense in the NFL." Here is what they mean by that.
The idea was hatched by accident last year, when injuries to linebackers gave Ryan a dilemma: play bad linebackers or get creative with positions. Ryan went the latter route and stressed the safety position, playing as many as four safeties at once and playing three at a time in his default defensive package. In the NFL, some teams play as few as one safety and almost no team ever employs more than two.

Safeties are bigger than cornerbacks, who typically cover wide receivers, but faster than linebackers, who are built to stop a running back and take on offensive linemen. They can be 60 pounds lighter than some linebackers but 20 pounds heavier than some corners. They can cover the insanely athletic crop of tight ends now in the NFL and take on the league's rising group of tall receivers all while giving up only a little bit of speed from a cornerback.

A bonus in Ryan's mad-scientist scheme is that he can position the safety anywhere from 20 yards away from the quarterback to right on the line of scrimmage, rushing the quarterback off the edge.

The idea is clear: Find as many players who can do everything and let them do it.
I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this insight. In a way it feels like a concession.  If you are playing a bunch of guys who are only kind of good at multiple things, doesn't this mean you don't feel confident that you're very good at any one thing in particular?   There's almost a dystopian ring to it, really. In The Future, no one is special. In The Future, no one is an individual. In The Future, everyone is a safety.

On the other hand, it is kind of egalitarian. Almost idealistically so.  Like the LEGO Movie
As a result, something rather politically loaded, almost transgressive, emerges. It’s a downright proletarian LEGO revolution — right at the climax of that most capitalist of film genres, the toy-based children’s movie. (Remember, the movie’s villain is named Business.) It is, of course, a fantasy of equality and revolution, but it’s in keeping with the disruptive, anarchic spirit of the film itself. In other words, after exploring the simmering debate between stories of self-esteem and stories of exceptionalism, the movie settles on the self-esteem side, but with a self-aware wink. Narratives of exceptionalism argue that if everybody's special, then nobody is. To that, The LEGO Movie offers a sly retort: Everybody IS special, BECAUSE nobody is.
So I guess what we're saying here is The Future of Football is either soul-crushing conformity or a workers' paradise depending on the way you want to look at it. 

Also there will be Dippin' Dots.  The Future always has Dippin' Dots.

Ok but what will football be like in the immediate future?

Well, this season there will be tablet computing on the sidelines. That's kind of futuristic. The tablets will be pretty useless, though.
But just as the NFL preseason is football in name only, the devices that the players will be using aren’t tablets in any normal sense of the word. The league reached a $400 million deal with Microsoft last spring to make its Surface tablets the exclusive computer of the NFL sideline, albeit with several conspicuous alterations made to the company’s standard tablets. The NFL’s Surface tablets have had their cameras disabled and can connect only to a private in-stadium wireless network. The devices can only run a single program, which allows people to browse through digital game photographs.
It's probably better this way. If anything useful were on the computers, Mickey Loomis would inevitably be accused of hacking them. 

As for the Saints' immediate future, it could be very bright. Many many media experts are picking them to win the Superbowl.  Of course that kind of sucks since those guys are always wrong about stuff. Earlier this week, I even got out the whole NFL schedule and tried to predict every game.  I had Green Bay winning in Seattle on Thursday so I'm already wrong.  Plus, somehow the Saints came out of that exercise winning a ridiculous 14 games! That's obviously not going to happen so I had to throw all that garbage out. Instead, I'll do what I always do and make a random guess.

There are plenty reasons to be high on the Saints.  Their running game should be better.  Their quarterback is already good. This might also turn out to be the best group of receivers Sean Payton has had together on one roster... although we might not know it yet since some of them don't go to practice.

On defense, they benefit from a young and dynamic group of linemen and a potential superstar pass rusher in Junior Gallette. They have many talented safeties, of course, including marquee free agent Jairus Byrd who.. yeah, he missed a lot of practice time this year too. The defense also benefits from being The Future Of The NFL which is nice.

Where they run into problems are at corner where they aren't very deep and at tackle where one bad injury can more or less fuck up the entire season. But overall, it's hard not to imagine a healthy version of this roster outmatching most teams. But, you know, winning football games is actually pretty hard. And the difference in talent team to team is much more of an illusion than we admit when we do this handicapping stuff.  Still I think 11-5 is a reasonable expectation.  Unless it turns out that pro football players really do need to practice after all.  In which case, this team might be in trouble.


Nolaresident said...

My goodness, someone is not in their happy place today. :-(

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