Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas banged up for Saints

Sep 20, 2010; San Francisco, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass during the Saints' 25-22 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Photo via Newscom

Good thing the Saints take on the hapless Panthers this Sunday, because they’ve become the walking wounded.

Reggie Bush (broken fibula) doesn’t need crutches anymore and is walking without pain. He believes he’ll be back sooner than expected, but that’s about the only injury news that favors the Saints right now.

Drew Brees will play Sunday against Carolina, but he’s expected to wear a brace on his sore left knee. He suffered the injury late last week in an overtime loss to the Falcons and while he doesn’t think the knee will affect his performance, you never know how a player will respond to an injury until he gets on the field. The good thing is that Brees is a tremendous pocket passer and even if he had two good knees we wouldn’t be seeing his best Michael Vick impression.

The other significant piece of injury news surrounding the Saints has to do with Pierre Thomas’ ankle. He’s going to be a game-time decision after missing practice the past two days, although the team has yet to active DeShawn Wynn from the practice squad so that’s a good sign. Head coach Sean Payton also said on Thursday that Thomas is a rare player in that he can miss practice and still be mentally ready to play on Sunday.

The Saints struggled to run the ball last week against the Falcons and it hurt them late in the game. Their passing attack was still unstoppable, but come overtime their defense was worn down from being on the field all day and Atlanta took advantage. I don’t expect the Panthers to pull off an upset this week, but with Brees and Thomas hobbled the game could be tighter than anticipated.

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Fantasy Fallout, Week 2: Where you lose the game you think you’ll win and win the game you think you’ll lose

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20: Frank Gore  of the San Francisco 49ers scores a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on September 20, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Funny story (at least to me): I had two games up for grabs last night. In one PPR league, I was up 13 points facing Marques Colston and wasn’t particularly optimistic about my chances given the way the Seahawks shredded the 49er pass defense in Week 1. But Colston was held to 5-67, so my team held on. In my other league, I was trailing by 12 with Drew Brees (254 yards, 2 TDs), Pierre Thomas (103 total yards, 8 catches) and Michael Crabtree (1-32) going, while my opponent only had Frank Gore. Seven catches, 168 yards and two TDs later, I lost by two. Ugh. To make matters worse, I had Jahvid Best sitting on my bench, which serves as the ol’ double kick in the nuts. UGH.

What’s the lesson? Anything can happen in fantasy football. Just when you think you’ve locked a game up, you’ll find a way to lose, and when you’re holding on for dear life, the lead will be just enough.

Oh, and don’t bench Jahvid Best.

But back to the SF/NO game…Alex Smith (275 yards, TD, 2 INTs) looked pretty good at times, but both interceptions were his fault. He threw a few very nice passes to Vernon Davis (4-78, seven targets) and Josh Morgan (6-70, eight targets), but Crabtree only saw three passes come his way. I’d keep him on the bench until he’s starts producing.

For the Saints, Reggie Bush looked great (34 total yards, TD, four catches) before leaving the game with a leg injury, and now ESPN is saying that he’s going to miss at least 6 weeks. Bump up Thomas and put DeShawn Wynn on your radar. Heath Evans might get some extra work as well, but it’s more likely that Sean Payton will elect to feature Devery Henderson (3-28) or Robert Meachem (0-0) more in the passing game to account for Bush’s production there.

Five fantasy takeaways from Saints/Vikings

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 21: Pierre Thomas  of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown against the Houston Texans at the Louisiana Superdome on August 21, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Well, it wasn’t a particularly well-played first game of the NFL season, but it was a tight game nonetheless. Here are five things that fantasy owners can take away from last night’s opener:

1. Pierre Thomas is a stud, and Sean Payton forgets that sometimes. (Adrian Peterson is a stud, and Brad Childress forgets that sometimes.)
In the first half, Payton gave Thomas three touches for -1 yards. He did have a 10-yard catch that was called back due to penalty. In the second half, the Saints tried to establish the running game in earnest and Thomas 72 yards on his next 16 carries — an impressive 4.5 ypc average during that span against the league’s #1-rated rush defense of 2009. He also found the endzone and caught three passes for 15 yards.

Meanwhile, “Chilly” abandoned the run when the Vikings were behind by just five points in the second half. Anthony Stalter has the details:

Down 14-9 with just over nine minutes remaining, Childress called seven straight pass plays. There was plenty of time for him to remain balanced with his playcalling, but he went pass-heavy and the result was a stalled drive at the New Orleans’ 44. He essentially made Gregg Williams’ job a hell of a lot easier once the Saints’ DC new he didn’t have to respect the running game.

The bottom line is that Childress appears to trust Favre more than AP, and that should be worrisome to Peterson owners. AP did finish with 101 yards on 22 touches, but failed to find the endzone.

2. Brett Favre loves him some Visanthe Shiancoe. Not so much the Percy Harvin.
Almost as important as actual production (catches, yards, TDs) is the number of targets each receiver gets throughout the course of the game. I’ve been high on Shiancoe all preseason — mostly due to Favre’s long-established affection for his tight ends — and he didn’t disappoint against the Saints, turning eight targets into 4-76-1. Conversely, Harvin only got five targets and looked out of sync with Favre all night. This is probably due to the time that both players missed in training camp due to migraines (Harvin) and being a total drama queen (Favre). I wouldn’t panic on Harvin just yet — it will probably just take a week or two for the chemistry to return, but I would consider sitting Harvin down next week if there’s a better option on the bench.

3. Don’t expect another 2009 from #4.
In all of his years in Green Bay, Favre never played with a receiver as physically gifted as Sidney Rice, and that was a big reason for his outstanding numbers last season. With Rice on the shelf for at least the first half of the season, Favre can’t just chuck the football downfield and expect Rice to go up and win virtually every jump ball. Without that deep threat, the Vikings are going to have to manufacture more first downs and longer drives, and as we saw last night, it’s not always going to be pretty.

4. Garrett Hartley is on the hot seat.
Good grief, Garrett. Make a field goal, will you? Hartley was often one of the first two or three kickers off the board and he was miserable last night, shanking two make-able field goal attempts. He’s lucky that it didn’t cost the Saints the game because there are a few capable kickers out there in free agency.

5. Robert Meachem/Devery Henderson are both startable in deep formats, though they’re not dependable.
On the heels of his breakout campaign last season, Meachem was going in the middle rounds (8th-10th) of fantasy drafts this summer, even though he’s coming off of a toe injury. Meanwhile, Henderson was available in the later rounds due to his inconsistency and history of burning fantasy owners. Both players saw four targets from Drew Brees. Henderson posted 2-38-1 while Meachem generated 3-33 and just missed a 14-yard TD early in the fourth quarter. I think Meachem is the better wideout and if he can stay healthy, he should finish the season as the Saints WR2, but Henderson looked pretty good in his own right. There’s enough offense for both of these players to finish in the Top 40, but don’t expect consistency week-to-week until one guy grabs the WR2 job (and WR2-type targets).

2010 NFL Preview: NFC South Predictions

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints addresses his teammates prior to playing against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

2010 NFL Division Previews & Predictions: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | 2010 Question Marks Series

One of the best battles in the NFL this year will reside in the NFC South, where the defending Super Bowl champion Saints will be tested by an improved Falcons team coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.

As for the rest of the South, the Panthers are in transition now that Matt Moore is under center, but they’re still going to be competitive on weekly basis and the Bucs should be improved as well. (Although I don’t see them getting out of the division cellar anytime soon.)

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the NFC South in 2010. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes this season. (If the links aren’t available now for some teams, check back because they will be before the season starts.)

1. Saints

What to Like: It’s hard to start a sentence about what’s to like about the Saints without first mentioning their offense. The dynamics between Sean Payton and Drew Brees are exceptional. Payton knows exactly how to attack an opponents’ weakness and Brees knows how to execute what Payton is trying to do. While the defense was certainly a surprise last year, the relationship between Payton and Brees was the main reason the Saints lifted the Lombardi Trophy last year. Of course, it never hurts to have playmakers like Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey and Robert Meachem in the offense, either. Nor does having outstanding guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, and tackle Jon Stinchcomb along the O-line either. Defensively, Gregg Williams was a miracle worker in his first season as defensive coordinator and was fortunate to have guys like Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Tracy Porter play opportunistic football. The addition of Alex Brown will also fix a major hole at the end spot opposite Smith in terms of pass rushing.
What Not to Like: This team is weak up the middle on defense. After coming off a promising rookie campaign, Sedrick Ellis struggled last year due to injuries and Remi Ayodele (who was brought in to be a run-stuffer) was highly ineffective and doesn’t offer anything in the pass-rush department. Vilma, who is an outstanding cover middle linebacker, struggled at times against the run last year and the same could be said for Scott Shanle. Former first round pick Malcolm Jenkins (who is a converted corner) takes over for Sharper at free safety and while he has the tools to be good, he’s never played the position before. Offensively, there are very few weaknesses but if I had to pick one it would be left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who struggled badly last season. Cowboys’ OLB DeMarcus Ware (who makes most tackles look bad) exposed him on national television last season and there are some concerns that he can protect Brees’ blindside.
Keep Your Eye On: Pierre Thomas
I didn’t even mention the running game in the “What to Like” section, so here it goes. One of the main reasons Payton’s offense and the Saints’ passing game is so efficient is because of the team’s ability to run the football. Now that Mike Bell is gone, Thomas should have even more opportunities than he received last season to be the rock in New Orleans’ backfield. Reggie Bush will still get his touches, but I don’t think a 1,000-plus yard season out of Thomas is out of the question – especially now that he’s fully healthy heading into Week 1 (he wasn’t at the start of 2009).
The Final Word: The Saints certainly don’t come without their weaknesses, but this is still the team to beat in the NFC South. Their offense will once again rank near the top of the league by year’s end (barring injuries, of course) and Williams proved to be an outstanding game-planner last season. The run defense is a concern, as is Bushrod at left tackle. But Brees and company are going to light up the scoreboard again this year and even if the defense takes a step back, I don’t see the Saints relinquishing the division crown quite yet.

New Orleans Saints 2009 Question Mark: Interior Defense

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Super Bowl XLIV Prediction

I wrote a longer version of this article in my rough draft, but I’m going to do everyone a favor and just skip the foreplay. By now, your well aware of all the storylines centered around Super Bowl XLIV because it’s been shoved down your throat the past two weeks.

So let’s just get naked and do this thing already.

With everyone focused on Peyton Manning’s brilliance, Dwight Freeney’s injury and the Saints’ “destiny,” fans and analysts alike aren’t paying much attention to something that could be the difference in the end.

Whether it’s pounding it up the middle with Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell or testing the edge with Reggie Bush, the Saints can run the ball. In fact, they can run the ball better than people give them credit for.

What’s one of the best ways to beat Manning? If you said “with pressure” then you’d be right, but that’s easier said than done. The Saints battered Kurt Warner and Brett Favre into mistakes in their last two games, but Manning excels at reading a defense at the line of scrimmage, recognizing the coverage and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Chances are that New Orleans won’t get to Manning consistently enough for it to play a huge factor in the outcome.

No, the best way to beat Manning is to keep him on the sidelines. The Saints can accomplish that by controlling the line of scrimmage and pounding the rock. Once they’ve done that, then the passing game will open up and due to Freeney’s injury, the Colts won’t be able to generate enough pressure with their front four to slow Brees down. If they blitz, Brees can burn them by throwing away from their coverage, which is something he specializes in.

While Brees, Bush, Jeremy Shockey, Darren Sharper and a host of other Saints will certainly play a key role tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pierre Thomas takes on the MVP award tonight. He could wind up being the backbone of the Saints’ offense and the key to keeping Manning on the sidelines.

The Saints win this game with their ground game, and I’m willing to bet that it’ll be a lower scoring game than people think.

Saints 24, Colts 23.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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