Bus Stops: Saints playing like a team that mailed in training camp
Little things that should have been shored up in preseason haunting Saints
Credit Pete Carroll for helping Mike Williams turn around his career
Another rule the NFL needs to re-emphasize and more nuggets
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.
Could the Saints have mailed it in after winning the Super Bowl? What happened Sunday tells me it's a possibility. New Orleans put together a spark-less effort in a 30-17 home loss to the Colt McCoy-led Browns and have gone loss-win-loss-win-loss since starting 2-0. The Saints failed to take care of the little things against Cleveland, like protecting the football or developing a consistent running game. These simple parts of the game are honed in training camp and the preseason. The Saints have yet to shore up the basics through seven games, which tells me they didn't head to camp with the needed intensity, and it's spilled into the season for all to see.
Drew Brees is at the heart of the team's struggles, throwing seven combined interceptions to the Cardinals and Browns, but there's plenty of blame to go around. Some might say the rest of the league has finally figured out how to beat that potent offense, but I think it's just bad play. They must hope that getting Reggie Bush back this week can diversify the offense with a running game and a play-action passing attack.
The defense could also be boosted by an offensive resurgence. The Saints "D" is a bend-but-don't-break unit and has been for years. It's not built to hold people to 10 points. Rather, it's built to not let opponents score more than the Saints offense. So if the offense isn't scoring, the defense is on its heels.
One of the great stories of the season is unfolding in Seattle. I'm talking about Mike Williams, who has gone from college star to first-round pick to first-round bust, and, finally, to productive NFL receiver. He caught 22 passes for 210 yards in the past two games, both Seahawks wins.
Credit Williams, but don't forget to applaud Pete Carroll for giving him a second chance. I understand Carroll also coached Williams in college, but taking chances on skill players in the NFL can be very dangerous. It usually doesn't pay off.
The situation is very similar to what Tommy Maddox went through, being drafted as John Elway's heir apparent, falling out of the league and then capitalizing on a second chance with Pittsburgh. Both Williams and Maddox were put in situations with no immediate expectations, and the next thing you know they became key parts of a team.
Teammates rally around that (we went 10-5-1 despite the QB change in 2002), and the Seahawks have a great opportunity to take hold of the NFC West if they can play well on the road. At the same time, you have to look at the team that drafted Williams, the Detroit Lions, and wonder why he didn't develop out of the gate.
We should have seen the NFL parity building up the past few years. Look at the teams surprising everybody in recent weeks. The Browns, the Rams, the Raiders, the Chiefs. It's a situation where they've been so bad for so long, they get so many high first-round picks and it's only a matter of time before they start bearing fruit.
I've been hyping No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford all season, and he's been as advertised. It took fourth-quarter magic from another first-round quarterback, Josh Freeman, for the Bucs to edge the Rams. The Raiders looked very, very impressive running all over the Broncos, led by Darren McFadden (fourth overall pick in 2008) and his three rushing touchdowns. The Chiefs are loaded with playmakers, built through the last few drafts.
Helmet-to-helmet hits were emphasized last week, but another rule should be addressed by every team this week. Chargers receiver Richard Goodman celebrating his first NFL catch before being touched down was reminiscent of Plaxico Burress' infamous rookie-year, live-ball spike when I was with the Steelers. In Burress' case, he simply didn't understand the rule. The fact this happens often tells me the rule isn't talked about enough in training camp. Think about it, every player grows up being taught that when they hit the ground, the play is over. Suddenly that changes in the NFL, where you have to be touched down. You better believe every wide receivers coach in the league is making sure their players understand the difference this week.
A few more quick thoughts ...
--I'm pleased the NFL did not make a knee-jerk rules change regarding helmet-to-helmet hits. The rules are already in place; all you have to do is police them. That's what they've done in terms of fines. It still would have been nice for a point-of-emphasis memo to come out before the fines were handed down. Nevertheless, the point has gone over loud and clear with the players.
--The game I'm looking forward to the most in Week 8 is Houston at Indianapolis on Monday night. If the Texans are really ready to take control of that division, they need to beat the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Both teams are coming off bye weeks, but the Colts have a slew of injuries to overcome, espcially the loss of tight end Dallas Clark.
--The Browns giving defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a Gatorade shower in Week 7? That's a bit premature, especially when you don't have a winning record.