The trick to Detroit stopping New Orleans last week was sacks on Drew Brees. They decked him only twice, and nobody was surprised when the Lions got murdered.
The trick to San Francisco stopping New Orleans this week is sacks on Drew Brees. Yes, the Johnny One Note analysis fits here, too. Ball-control offense is fine, and that's what the run-first Niners throw at you … but their 23.8 points per game versus Brees, a guy who's whipping the hot lead at an all-time pace? What a laugh.
"Any quarterback comes unglued when you hit him on a regular basis during a game," says former Niners DE Cedrick Hardman, one of the real hell raisers of his era. "The offensive line's theme in practice all week long is, 'We gotta stop this guy, we gotta keep him off the quarterback.'
"Well, the way to handle that was either to get a sack or hit their quarterback on the very first pass play. If you stomp on him right away, his focus comes back to reality. And the offensive line says, 'This is what we thought was going to happen. If this continues, our passing game is in deep doo-doo.' "
But what about that ominous Saints statistic, the one that says their won-lost mark on grass fields has been 16-14 during the Brees era? A puzzling form of dark cloud, because Brees was a grass quarterback at Purdue, and he came up with 12,127 yards as a four-year starter with the Chargers.
Something tells me when the Saints move outdoors, the problem ain't always Brees — it's the defensive side of the operation that ends up breaking down. Wasn't that the problem last year — the playoff collapse in Seattle — when the Seahawks hit them with haymaker after haymaker? Brees, stripped down to his third-stringer at running back, still put 36 points on the board … but the Seahawks got 41. And here was the postgame quote from Pete Carroll, on his playmakers getting the best of the New Orleans' defense:
"The guys protected up front great, we ran the football today, we had balance, we threw for 270-something , we rushed for 150 … fantastic balance, like we liked to see, like we needed in a game like this."
Can you hear Jim Harbaugh at his postgame podium on Saturday, grinning, saying the same kind of thing? I can. 49ers 23, Saints 21
Unsigned note to ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, color man on 'Bama-LSU II. We luv ya, Herbie, but enough with the "plus territory" references. Too much coachspeak, that's a minus.
Now, one of the true coachspeak despots out there is Mike Mayock, who handled Bengals-Texans for NBC last weekend. Mayock calls a game like he's detailing a scouting combine — "ball skills … reach block … setting the edge" — when the QB "expands," that's what we plebeians used to call "rolling out." He's observant and sharp, but you get numb hearing Mayock and his nonstop technicals.
Years ago, Pitt got a big score on West Virginia using a fancy flea-flicker, and later I asked one of the Pitt receivers why they hadn't used more trick plays during the season. He corrected me instantly, a hard whap across the knuckles.
"Hey, those aren't trick plays," he said. "They're deceptors."
Shhhhhhh … don't let Mayock get ahold of that one.
Tim Tebow, that natural-born winner. Watching him put a sudden-death bullet through Pittsburgh triggered a story Curt Gowdy once told me, about the time he was down south filming an episode of his American Sportsman TV series. Alabama bird hunting, with the ol' Bear himself, Paul Bryant.
They were sitting on a motel porch one evening, and Bear takes a sip of his whiskey and asks Gowdy, who was NBC's top football man, "Why isn't Kenny Stabler playing with the Raiders? What's the story out there?" This was the early 1970s, when Stabler was still in shackles on the Oakland bench behind Daryle "Mad Bomber" Lamonica.
"I don't know," Gowdy said, "Let's call Al Davis up and find out.
"I picked up the phone and called Al out in Oakland. He answered, and I said, 'Al, there's somebody that wants to talk to you.' I handed the phone to Bryant and told him to ask Davis himself. The Bear had sort of a gruff, rumbling voice, and he said, 'Hi, Mr. Davis. How are you? And why in the hell isn't Stabler your quarterback?
"I didn't hear Al's response, but then Bear said, 'Well, goddamn, if you play him, you'll win!"
Stabler soon played, and Al Davis won. Sometimes it's that simple. Ain't it so, John Fox?
Prophesies on the rest of the playoffs:
Patriots 28, Broncos 25 — Pats finally emerge from their postseason dust bowl. Brady to Gronkowski … looks smoother than it sounds.
Ravens 23, Texans 9 — Near-Medieval warfare. Flails and traps and cutbacks. T.J. Yates has been splendid as an emergency fill-in, the young crossbow, a fair-enough aim. Now he meets the battle-tough vets of Hastings, of Stamford Bridge.
Packers 33, Giants 26 — all the Triborough chatter of an ’07 title repeat. I know, all the eerie, stars-in-alignment similarities. Don't think there's enough defensive mettle on these Jints to pull it off again.