Tag:New Orleans Saints
Posted on: January 19, 2012 6:21 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2012 7:21 pm
 

Steve Spagnuolo joins Saints staff

Spags will join Payton in New Orleans for 2012. (US Presswire)

By Ryan Wilson

Earlier this week, Gregg Williams, the Saints' defensive coordinator for the previous three seasons, took the same job in St. Louis to work for his old boss in Tennesse, newly named Rams head coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. There had been speculation before New Orleans' season ended in San Francisco last Saturday that Williams might choose to follow Fisher so it wasn't surprising when it eventually happened.

Williams was reportedly torn about leaving the Saints but the defense, which struggled against the run in 2011, could be better in 2012: CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Larry Holder confirms through a league source that New Orleans has hired Steve Spagnuolo who, up until two and a half weeks ago, was the Rams head coach. He landed that gig after serving capably as the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2007-2008, which includes shutting down the 2007 Patriots, one of the most high-powered offenses in NFL history, in Super Bowl XLII.  He was fired from St. Louis after sandwiching a 7-9 season around one- and two-win seasons. 

Now he'll join Sean Payton's staff. And unlike St. Louis, where injuries and lack of talent meant that the Rams had to hold opponents to fewer than 10 points to have a chance to win, Spags will lead a defense whose best weapon isn't named Vilma or Smith or Ellis, but some guy named Drew Brees. And he's good for at least 35 points every time he steps on the field.

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Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:05 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 12:08 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 19: Drops, picks and sacks

Coach Killers is your postseason look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that ends Super Bowl aspirations and begins "So, where should we vacation?" discussions.

By Ryan Wilson

Jacoby Jones, T.J. Yates - Houston

Jacoby Jones is the easy choice here because in the time it took him to try to field a punt with his face, he swung the momentum in the Ravens' favor. The Texans' opening drive led to three points, and the defense had forced Baltimore to punt on their first possession. Then Jones happened. (To his credit, he fell on an Arian Foster fumble later in the game. It doesn't make up for his first-quarter punt but it's something.) But he's not the only reason the Texans lost.

Jones had a long day in Baltimore. (US PRESSWIRE)
It's probably unfair to call out Yates here; he's a rookie who played collegiately at a basketball school that had never produced a starting NFL quarterback. His 2011 destiny was to spend the season running the scout team during the week and sitting comfortably on the bench on Sundays.

Then Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were lost for the season, the Texans' playoff hopes didn't seem far behind, and the offense was suddenly Yates'. And he played beyond everyone's expectations. Which is why we don't feel quite so bad for name-checking him now.

Against Baltimore, he was 17 of 35 for 184 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. And if Yates had found a way to complete just one of those picks to someone not wearing purple and black, the outcome of this game could've been different. In fact, midway through the final quarter we actually had this thought: What if Yates leads Houston to a win (easily the biggest in franchise history)? No matter what happens in the conference championship, he's now entered Matt Flynn airspace.

Which is to say: assuming that Schaub and Leinart are both healthy by training camp, the Texans could try to trade Yates to a QB-needy team and make a nice little profit on the transaction. (We figured they might be able to get a third-rounder out of it; not bad given that Yates was a fifth-round afterthought last April.)

But that daydream was short-lived. Ed Reed's ball-hawking abilities quickly brought us back to reality and guaranteed that come August, Yates will return to a backup role. For the time being, anyway.

Green Bay 'pass catchers'

Easily the worst-performing bunch of the weekend and it's not close. It's easy to blame rust as the culprit but it could be something much simpler than that: the Packers were off (Hey, Occam's razor). They also have terrible timing.

Bad hands and worse timing for Packers. (Getty Images)
Whatever the explanation, unless Mike McCarthy has a time machine, the fact remains that Green Bay's season is over and it's primarily because their usually sure-handed receivers dropped eight Aaron Rodgers' passes.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lori Nickel pithily recaps what happened at Lambeau Sunday.

"James Starks, Tom Crabtree, Greg Jennings, (Jordy) Nelson and (Jermichael) Finley all had drops. Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn all lost fumbles."

Nelson was dumbfounded after the game.

"For everyone to do it in the same game," he said. "I don't know . . . I don't want to say it's contagious. But it sure looked like it today."

Finely was more practical. "Trying to do too much," he offered. "We were trying to look upfield, trying to get the YAC, but first you've got to catch the ball."

However you choose to explain it, it was a horrible showing for a team that won 15 games in 2011. Silver lining: Somebody's getting something really nice with the Best Buy gift cards coming their way.

Denver offensive line

Any conversation about the Broncos invariably begins with Tim Tebow. But that's no different than at any other point in his career going back to high school. Tebow is many things to many people, and for Denver, for now, he's theirs starting quarterback. Even following a forgettable performance against the Patriots, seven days after his most impressive showing in two years in the NFL.

But Tebow's final line -- 9 of 26 for 136 yards, 5 rushes for 13 yards, a lost fumble and 10 measly points -- isn't just the latest example that he's a fullback who is occasionally asked to throw the ball.

We've documented in great detail his progress this season. Has Tebow evolved into a franchise quarterback in 13 weeks? No, of course not. But the Broncos learned quickly that the best way to make this relationship work is by accentuating what Tebow does well (the college offense Tebow ran at Florida) and throwing the rest of the playbook in the incinerator (the pro-style offense the team ran with Kyle Orton).

But it's not just Tebow who has to grow into this system, it's his teammates. Specifically, the offensive line, at least based on their performance Saturday. In general, the unit performed well this season, particularly when Denver ran the ball. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, the Broncos' o-line ranked 11th in run-blocking in 2011 but 29th in pass protection.

Clearly, some of that falls on Tebow, who struggles to make correct presnap reads, or work through his progressions after the snap. But against New England, the Broncos had 15 plays that lost yards -- both running and passing (including sacks).

This doesn't mean that Denver needs to overhaul the entire unit. But if the plan is to build an offense around Tebow and the option game, they need to find players that best fit that scheme.

New Orleans secondary

Jenkins' day was much longer than Jacoby Jones'. (AP)
There's plenty of blame to go around, on both sides of the ball, but underwhelming performances by Roman Harper and especially Malcolm Jenkins gives the secondary the edge. Harper was the closest player to Vernon Davis on his game-winning touchdown grab, and afterwards, the 49ers said that they noticed on film that Harper's tendency was to drop several yards into the end zone but never step up to the goal line. Davis ran to the goal line, Alex Smith hit him with a laser, game over.

But a lot had to happen before Harper even got the opportunity to let Davis make the play. Linebacker Scott Shanle never redirected Davis as he came off the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Martez Wilson just missed tipping Smith's pass.

Jenkins, meanwhile, served as Davis' metaphorical punching bag. The poor guys at Canal Street Chronicles relive the horror to provide the play-by-play breakdowns in those fateful final three minutes. The final breakdown was Harper's; the other two are courtesy of Jenkins' inability to stop Davis.

As Brinson wrote in Sorting the Sunday Pile, "You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone?"

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 3:10 pm
 

2 shot at GA Applebee's after cheering for 49ers

These fans interacted much more peacefully than the ones at a Georgia Applebee's. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

It might sound like an Onion headline, but it's very much real: two men were shot at a Duluth, Georgia Applebee's after cheering for the 49ers during Saturday afternoon's victory over New Orleans.

Donald Ray Ayro was arrested Saturday after allegedly firing a gun at Christopher Middleton and Corey Adams in the parking lot of an Applebee's. Ayro allegedly took offense because Middleton and Adams were rooting for the 49ers, bought his meal from the restaurant and left in a hurry, saying he would return.

"The only thing me and my buddy said was, we were excited that the 49ers scored," Adams said per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It was only one touchdown."

Ayro did return and allegedly confronted the two in the parking lot, where he shot Middleton in the abdomen (he was taken to a hospital in critical condition) and grazed Adams with a bullet.

It's a bizarre -- and hopefully not sad-ending -- story, one that is incredibly terrifying for anyone swinging into a southern restaurant off of I-85 to check out a football game. Unless you've already been to an Applebee's in the South. Then it's not quite as surprising.

Via Spencer Hall

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 1:52 am
Edited on: January 15, 2012 12:37 pm
 

49ers, Patriots pulling hard for upsets on Sunday

The 49ers and Patriots know who they'll be rooting for Sunday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Patriots and the 49ers advanced to their respective conference championship games on Saturday. San Francisco did it with defense and a heroic effort by Alex Smith, while Tom Brady simply eviscerated the Broncos. And on Sunday, both teams will be rooting for upsets in a big way.

For the Patriots, it's hard to imagine that anyone can beat them if they play like they did on Saturday; Brady threw five touchdowns in the first half and that game was never really close.

Divisional Round Recap

And they're already locked for home-field advantage. Regardless of whether it's the Ravens or Texans they play in eight days, the game will take place at Gillette Stadium.

But given a choice between the Ravens and the Texans, it's hard to imagine the Pats wouldn't prefer facing rookie passer T.J. Yates.

Yes, the Texans defense is stout and, yes, the Texans running game is explosive and dangerous and two-headed.

But the Ravens are a brutally physical team that provides a tougher matchup and potentially nightmarish memories of the 33-14 loss to Baltimore in New England during Wild Card Weekend in 2009. Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith would at least, presumably, keep the Pats defense honest enough to let Ray Rice run wild.

The Patriots would have a much easier time bottling up Arian Foster and Ben Tate with Yates providing minimal damage.

As for the 49ers, neither option for the NFC Championship Game is great. Both the Packers and Giants present problems. But if the Giants were to upset the Pack in Lambeau on Sunday, that would put the path to the Super Bowl squarely through Candlestick Park.

For the 49ers, getting a second home game would be absolute gravy. They've been nearly unstoppable in Candlestick this year, with their only loss a 27-24 overtime nailbiter to the Cowboys in Week 2. Once this season, San Francisco's beaten the Giants there. It's a clear-cut advantage.

And, of course, there's the quality of opponent. The Giants are terrifying if you're the 49ers because of their fierce pass rush and the problems that could pose for Alex Smith.

But the Giants actually allow more rushing yards per game than Green Bay (121.2 to 111.8) though the Packers are the preferred defense if you're the 49ers. They're not the preferred offense though: while Eli Manning's elite, the Giants simply can't cause the kind of matchup problems that the Packers present.

And the 49ers already stopped Drew Brees and the Saints. They can stop anyone, clearly, but if they're picking between a the pair of opponents they could end up against, they would absolutely rather see the Giants in San Francisco than the Packers in Green Bay.

Which is why they, like the Patriots, are pulling for an upset on Sunday.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:47 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 10:01 pm
 

49ers win over Saints an all-time great

An emotional Alex Smith celebrates after the 49ers win Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

With the ability to instantly weigh-in on sporting events in real time a big factor in entertainment consumption, it's easy to get ahead of ourselves and declare something an "instant classic." But make no mistake: that's exactly what Saturday night's 36-32 victory for San Francisco was.

"This is big for us," tight end Vernon Davis said afterward. "It's history. It's legendary."

Vernon's more right than he'll probably know for a few hours. They say history repeats itself, right? Well, watch Davis game-winning touchdown catch and then tell us whether or not it reminds you of this:



It should, because although the down, distance and time remaining were different, the situation was very much similar. No one's going to mistake Alex Smith for Joe Montana or Steve Young.

They shouldn't. But Smith deserves an immense amount of credit for leading the Niners on two career-defining drives in the final three minutes of Saturday's game.

Of course, the first one came after the drama really started. After David Akers kicked a field goal with 7:36 remaining, everyone wondered whether the Niners could come up with one more stop of Brees. They couldn't -- Brees hit the previously quiet Darren Sproles for a 44-yard touchdown and suddenly it was like the impressive 49ers defensive effort was wasted.

Smith saw that it wasn't, arching a beautiful 37-yard pass to Davis on second down and getting within Akers range. After an absurd 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty, Greg Roman called for a Smith run off the left hand that caught Gregg Williams with his pants down and resulted in the longest playoff touchdown run by a quarterback in 49ers history.

We won't get into whether or not Smith should've gone down at the five-yard line (he should've) but suffice to say, the drama only got cranked up from there. Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard pass where Donte Whitner egged on tackling and coverage and with 1:37 left in the game, it would've been a tough task for Montana to come back, much less Smith.

But he did just that, firing a laser to Davis that the tight end took 47 yards and inside of Akers range. Jim Harbaugh apparently wasn't satisfied with overtime and after getting to the New Orleans 14, Smith spiked the ball and then slung the dart to Davis for the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds remaining.

It was a glorious, unlikely ending to one of the all-time great playoff games; a showcase of defense throughout the first 55 minutes, followed by an out-of-nowhere offensive explosion that ranks up there with just about any game we've seen in terms of having multiple drives that looked like game-winners.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:11 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 10:08 pm
 

Don't forget to give Niners defense credit

49ers defensive end Justin Smith was all over Brees Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The 49ers victory over New Orleans on Saturday might very well go down as one of the all-time great playoffs games. And Alex Smith is going to get a lot of credit for morphing into Joe Montana and leading the 49ers to a pair of lead-grabbing drives with less than 150 seconds on the clock. He deserves that credit, but let's not forget the effort that the Niners defense put forth against Drew Brees and the Saints for the majority of the game.

As we noted at halftime, San Francisco's physical play disrupted Brees, shut down any sort of rushing attack for the Saints and led to 13 points for a Niners offense that lost its identity for most of the game.

In fact, the Niners could've blown out the Saints if the offense had shown up for the first three quarters; even the Niners long scoring drive in the first quarter came off a Pierre Thomas fumble forced by Donte Whitner.

The secondary was resplendent with the exception of giving up two big plays to Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, and Carlos Rogers so many big plays you could practically hear the general area of Washington D.C. groaning in collective misery.


Justin Smith showed precisely why many people believe he was the best defensive player in the NFL this year and through most of three quarters, the Niners played what might've been the best defensive football this season. And rookie Aldon Smith continued to flash big-time potential, forcing his way through blocks to pressure Brees.

The offense simply didn't come to play for the second and third quarters, and for much of the game, the playcalling was curious. That's not to knock Greg Roman because the plays he busted out in the final three minutes more than made up for it, but the Niners still only ran the ball 22 times. That makes zero sense, especially with a 17-0 lead early on.

Whatever, the offense came through when it needed to, but in the wake of handing Smith all the due credit he deserves, let's not forget to give props to the defense for not just keeping the Niners in the game early, but actually offering San Francisco a chance to run away with an upset victory that eventually came anyway.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 6:23 pm
 

Physical 49ers jump out to lead, up 17-14 at half

San Francisco's offense was aggressive and impressive in the first half. (AP)
By Will Brinson

The 49ers had to get physical with the Saints to compete against New Orleans high-octane offense and they did just that early in the game Saturday, forcing three early turnovers to jump out to a 17-0 lead. But Drew Brees is kind of good and led two masterful second-quarter scoring drives to cut the lead to 17-14 at halftime in San Francisco.

It's a testament to just how explosive the Saints offense is that they're in the game; a pair of fumbles (one in the 49ers red zone, the other in the Saints red zone) and a pair of Brees picks in the first half should be nearly impossible to overcome.

Speaking of testaments, it's a testament to Alex Smith's career that his first career game with two touchdowns in the first quarter came on Saturday against the Saints. But we shouldn't knock Smith, considering how good he looked in the first half, 12 of 20 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.

It was the 49ers defense that deserves the most props for the first 30 minutes though. They were absolutely physical, hawked the mess out of the ball, flustered the Saints skill position guys and swarmed to the ballcarrier on plays that typically work well for the Saints, like screens to Darren Sproles.

Donte Whitner, in particular, was absolutely terrifying, forcing a fumble by Pierre Thomas (and knocking him out of the game) and generally wrecking shop/laying wood all over the field with big hits.

Whitner also provided a pretty good summary of the first half, in GIF form:

Whitner's absolutely laying wood against the Saints. (Mocksession.com)

With the 49ers holding just a three-point lead, it's anyone's game, obviously. And we'd be remiss to forget the second-half performance by the Saints last week at home against Detroit when assuming this will remain close.

But with the way the 49ers defense is playing, it would be shocking if the first Divisional Round game of the weekend didn't come down to the wire.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 5:19 pm
 

Saints Graham hurt, returns; Pierre Thomas out?

How will the Saints offense operate without Thomas? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Jimmy Graham's one of the most important pieces for the Saints explosive offense but there's a was some concern New Orleans will could lose him but he returned to the game after suffering what appeared to be a neck/head/back injury. The same can't be said for running back Pierre Thomas, who is likely out for the rest of the day in San Francisco.

Graham landed on his neck area during the Saints opening drive after drawing a pass-interference penalty against 49ers safety Donte Whitner in the first quarter in San Francisco.  The tight end was slow to get up and helped off the field by trainers and then eventually went into the locker room.

Thomas, who was critical to the 49ers win over the Lions last week, also ran into Whitner, getting absolutely punished by the safety on 3rd and 6 inside the 49ers red zone. Thomas fumbled the ball and the 49ers recovered, which was the Saints first red-zone turnover of the season.

In worse news, Thomas, who certainly appeared to be a candidate for a concussion watch, had his helmet taken away by trainers after returning to the sideline. He was then taken to the locker room.

Thomas was on the sideline of the field, congratulating his teammates and it appears his day will be over.

There was some question about whether or not the hit on Thomas was a helmet-to-helmet hit. However, Thomas lowered his head before Whitner hit him, and he was not considered "defenseless" because he had established himself as a runner before getting tagged.

If Thomas is indeed out, the Saints will be down to just Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory as running backs. Although if the game continues to go the way the first quarter did, it's unlikely they'll need to worry about running the ball much the rest of the way.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com