September 13, 2009

Saints win ugly against punchy Lions and their rookie quarterback

(Editor's note: You can get a recap and game story anywhere. We're going to a bulleted recap. Same original content, new format.)
  • The Saints whipped the Lions 45-27 in a long game that was far from pretty.
  • Drew Brees and Sean Payton clearly are doing something special. This is their fourth season together, and Brees has another six or seven healthy seasons left in him. How long will Payton be around?
  • Brees had six touchdowns, tying Billy Kilmer's club record, and an opening day record for the NFL. Usually it takes an entire season for NFL offenses to get up to midseason form. Brees was in midseason form by week two of the preseason.
  • All four Saints active receivers (Rod Harper was deactivated) shined. Colston, Henderson and Meachem all caught touchdowns. Lance Moore's late second quarter catch was spectacular, climbing an invisible ladder to catch a Brees pass in the seam that no other QB-WR-HC pair could make work. TE Jeremy Shockey caught two two touchdowns and FB Heath Evans took a screen play in for a sixth.
  • Shockey's two touchdowns were his first two as a Saint, and the second was a difficult, falling-back catch in traffic. It was a trusting throw by Brees that was rewarded with a great effort from Shockey. Newcomer TE David Thomas, acquired from the Patriots on cutdown day, had a very big third down reception to keep the Saints' eight minute fourth quarter drive alive.
  • How many holding penalties does Reggie Bush create by constantly bouncing away from the intended running lane?
  • Heath Evans looked good against a Lions defense that, except for Louis Delmas, didn't do a lot of hitting.
  • Delmas outplayed fellow all rookies, including Malcolm Jenkins and Matthew Stafford in a big way. Thomas Morstead was the only rookie to give him competition.
  • Morstead looked great on kickoffs, including sending one through the uprights when given the aid of a 15-yard penalty. Morstead's punts were 54 and 42 yards in the first quarter, though Dennis Northcutt evaded bad coverage and returned it back to the line of scrimmage.
  • Aside from Morstead, special teams were pathetic. RB Reggie Bush fumbled on one punt return and muffed another. Robert Meachem brought two kickoffs back past the 40, yes, but looked like a deer in headlights on the others, including when he slipped down untouched. The Saints didn't bench him outright during the game, but probably will give the job Rod Harper or a healthy Pierre Thomas next week.
  • Oh, and coverage teams? Long returns were given up by both kickoff and punt coverage teams. Kudos to Malcolm Jenkins running down fellow rookie Aaron Brown after Brown's 87-yard kick return, effort that prevented a touchdown as the Lions were only able to cash first down at the Saint 12 in as a field goal.
  • Don't look at 27 points as a bad mark for the defense. The last of three touchdowns by the Lions was by their defensive star rookie Louis Delmas, after Mike Bell fumbled a handoff. The first was the result of a big punt return by Lion WR Dennis Northcutt to the Saint 13. The defense did shut down the Lions to 33 yards on the ground despite 20 attempts and 205 yards in the air, combined with three interceptions and a sack.
  • The second Lion touchdown was initially earned minutes before it was awarded. Dangerous Lions WR Calvin Johnson, perhaps the best receiver in the game, beat Jenkins and outran Pierson Prioleau for a 64-yard touchdown.
  • The problem was that the field judge awarded, despite video evidence, that Johnson stepped out at the three yard line as Prioleau dove for his feet. The NFL's silly, strangely constricted video replay system prohibits video reviews that don't affect the goal line or the first down marker. So the Lions has first and goal. The Saints stuffed two straight runs and then Stafford's fade route pass to Johnson was incomplete.
  • Mike Carey's officiating crew threw a very late personal foul flag on Darren Sharper for throwing a forearm to Johnson's helmet. Video evidence showed that Sharper's hand met Johnson's hand inches from Johnson's facemask - it did not appear that Sharper touched Johnson's helmet. First and goal, again.
  • On the next play, the Saints stuffed Kevin Smith up the middle, again, and DT Sedrick Ellis stripped the ball away. The refs ruled that Smith, despite still standing, was down because his forward motion had been stopped. It was an early ruling at best, a premature whistle at worst. While the refs took minutes to debate the play, Saints DE Will Smith bumped Lions QB Matthew Stafford on his way to the sideline, which provoked another personal foul flag and a first down. On the next play, to finally end that strange series of blown calls and make-up calls, Stafford scored on a quarterback sneak.
  • Newly-signed S Darren Sharper preyed on rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, picking him twice at big moments, once near the goal line and again in the fourth quarter when the Lions had momentum. LB Scott Shanle looked fantastic, helping brutalize RB Kevin Smith, and also picked off Stafford.
  • RB Reggie Bush had a very rough day. He was never the focus of the offense. After fumbling on a punt return and recovering, and muffing another punt, he fumbled again after a reception only to have instant replay rule him down. Bush showed a lot of old, bad habits - bouncing outside, stutter-stepping instead of going forward. His late game touchdown was in what apparently was mop up duty for Mike Bell, who rushed for 143 yards on 28 carries, and was nullified by a holding penalty after Bush bounced away from traffic instead of fighting into it. Early on Bush, looked good in lowering the shoulder and blasting through a tackle from Lions DB William James. He caught Brees' second pass of the day, being LB Larry Foote easily on a stop and go down the left sideline for 26 yards. Why he reverted to trying to hit a home run on every touch probably had something to do with the smattering of boos that rained down after his fumbles.
  • Big kudos to Mike Bell, filling in for Pierre Thomas as the Saints' feature back, gashing a bad Lions defense and fighting for extra yards. Bell's average hovered around five yards per carry all day.
  • The Saints had some serious injury scares. CB Tracy Porter and LT Jermon Bushrod, both starting, went down with apparent knee injuries, but both were able to walk off. Both walked off and both returned to the field. Bushrod's injury, considering Jammal Brown's absence, would have been especially devastating.
  • Bushrod played very well against the pathetic Lions defense, and while Brees was hit (and once roughed, drawing a 15-yard flag) he wasn't sacked and he usually stepped away from pressure with ease and grace. Brees' pocket presence is so good, it makes his offense line look far better than they are, and they are already pretty good.

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