Saints’ issues go beyond Garrett Hartley

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints looks on against the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

When a kicker misses what would have been a game-winning field goal and sets up his opponent for victory instead, it’s not hard to figure out where to point blame.

Garrett Hartley should have made the 29-yard field goal that cost the Saints a victory over the Falcons yesterday in overtime. But the defending champs have more than just kicking issues to worry about.

Hartley’s kicking woes are obvious, which is why the Saints are set to work out veteran John Carney today. If they decide to make a change, then hopefully Carney will help bring some stability to the position.

But John Carney isn’t going to solve the Saints’ inability to stop power running games or help generate a pass rush. He’s not going to fix Reggie Bush’s leg injury or help a suddenly struggling interior offensive line either.

The Falcons have consistently proven that they can run the football. They rushed for 221 yards against the Cardinals, so for them to produce another 200-yard effort (201 to be exact) against the Saints wasn’t necessarily surprising. But it’s obviously still a concern.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Saints’ defense couldn’t stop Michael Turner and Jason Snelling on the Falcons’ game-winning drive in overtime. On that drive, Turner and Snelling combined for 46 yards on 10 carries and picked up three first downs by keeping the ball on the ground. (Although one of those runs by Turner was negated because of a penalty.)

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Saints manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 26: Garrett Hartley  of the New Orleans Saints reacts to missing a field goal in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome on September 26, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Falcons defeated the Saints 27-24. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

You can’t miss that kick, Garrett Hartley. You just can’t.

Ten out of 10 times you have to make that kick. You’re in a dome from 29 yards out – you can’t miss.

But he missed. Clanked. Saints lose.

If you didn’t see the Falcons-Saints game on Sunday, you missed the best finish of the young season. The game was well played on both sides, the action was outstanding throughout and the outcome came down to the last second – like most football games should.

But you can’t miss that kick, Hartley.

The Saints had moved into position to kick the game-winning field goal with about eight minutes remaining in overtime. Hartley then pushed a 29-yard chip shot to the left and it clanked off the left upright to give the Falcons new life.

Thanks to a motivated Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, Atlanta took the gift and marched 57 yards on 12 plays to set up a 46-yard game-winning Matt Bryant field goal to beat the Saints, 27-24. The drive was also helped by a pass interference call on Jabari Greer to give the Falcons a new set of downs when it looked like New Orleans was going to get the ball back on fourth down.

In the end, the Falcons did what they had to do to win and by no means was this a cheap victory. They went into New Orleans and traded haymaker after haymaker with the Saints for four and a half quarters. Matt Ryan (19-of-30 for 228 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) was outstanding, Michael Turner (30 carries, 114 yards, 1 TD) was bruising and Tony Gonzalez (8 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD) silenced critics who said he has lost a step. The defense also forced three turnovers and was aided by the offense controlling the clock for 45:50 to the Saints’ 27:15.

It was a tremendous win for the Falcons, especially since it was on the road. The overtime loss to the Steelers in Week 1 now feels like a distant memory.

As for the Saints, Hartley has to make that kick but as always, there were other factors that decided the game. Drew Brees threw two interceptions, including one inside Atlanta territory that he underthrew in a desperate attempt to make a play. Chris Ivory also fumbled inside Falcons’ territory and the defense allowed Atlanta to chew up 11 minutes of the clock on a touchdown drive to tie the game at 14-14 heading into halftime. (That was the same drive where the Saints allowed the Falcons to convert two fourth down plays.)

Of course, all of the Saints’ miscues today could have been erased if Hartley makes that field goal. He was a hero six nights ago in San Francisco and now plays the role of the goat today.

This one’s for you, Garrett.

“LONESOME KICKER” from Greg Kohs on Vimeo.

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).

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