NFL Preview - Tennessee (1-1) at New Orleans (0-2)
(Sports Network) - It was on a Monday night roughly one year ago that the New Orleans Saints, sparked by the emotion of their first game in the Louisiana Superdome since Hurricane Katrina, trounced the Atlanta Falcons en route to an NFC South title and an appearance in the conference title game.
For this year's struggling edition of the Saints, who play host to the Tennessee Titans in their 2007 home opener Monday, a similar lift from the home faithful will be in order.
New Orleans has limped out of the gate at 0-2, following up an opening night trouncing at defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis (41-10) with a more surprising decisive defeat in Tampa Bay (31-14) last Sunday.
The Saints, who led the NFL in total offense last season, have scored just 24 points, including two offensive touchdowns, through two games.
A loss on Monday night would drop the franchise to 0-3 for the first time since 1997, when the Saints went on to finish 6-10 under head coach Mike Ditka.
The Titans, meanwhile, will be looking to get to 2-1 with a win in the Crescent City. Tennessee began it's '07 campaign with a road upset of Jacksonville (13-10) in Week 1, then fought gamely before falling to Indianapolis (22-20) in Nashville last Sunday.
Tennessee quarterback Vince Young will be seeking some of the same magic found in the 2005 Rose Bowl, when the then-University of Texas quarterback upset USC, then led by current Saints running back Reggie Bush. Monday's game will mark the first meaningful matchup between those players since that already legendary contest.
The Titans' LenDale White, another ex-USC running back, also appeared in that game.
The Titans own a 6-4-1 lead in their all-time series with the Saints, including a 27-12 home victory when the teams last met, in the 2003 season. Tennessee also won in its last visit to New Orleans, a 24-21 triumph in 1999. New Orleans is 0-3 in the series since scoring its last win, a 33-21 home victory over the then-Houston Oilers in 1993.
Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher is 3-0 in his career against New Orleans, including 2-0 in the Crescent City. The Saints' Sean Payton will be meeting both Fisher and the Titans for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Tennessee entered Week 3 with the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense (211 yards per game), as Norm Chow's attack has received plenty of early mileage from running backs White (130 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Chris Brown (209 rushing yards), not to mention the quarterback Young (75 rushing yards, 1 TD). Brown followed up a career-best 175-yard outing against the Jaguars in Week 1 with last week's less stellar 12-carry, 34-yard performance against Indianapolis, but the second-year man White helped pick up the slack. The former Trojan carried 15 times for 64 yards in the loss, also scoring his first NFL touchdown on a three-yard run in the third quarter. Young (262 passing yard, 1 TD, 1 INT) emerged from the pocket for 53 rushing yards a week ago, also completing a healthy 17-of-27 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown without an interception. Young's first touchdown pass of the season went to wideout Roydell Williams (4 receptions, 1 TD) on a one-yard play. Williams leads the Titans in receiving yards (72) as Week 3 begins, and fellow receiver Brandon Jones has the most catches (6) on the team. Young has been sacked four times through two games.
If Young wants to showcase his down-the-field passing ability, Monday night represents a perfect time to put on such a display. The Saints secondary has been laughably bad through two contests, last Sunday showing little clue how to cover Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway (135 yards, 2 TD) just 10 days after Indy's Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison ran circles around them. Cornerback Jason David (8 tackles) has been singled out as a main offender, but David has also gotten very little help from safeties Roman Harper (14 tackles) and Josh Bullocks (11 tackles), or a pass rush that has yet to notch its first sack. Ends Will Smith (5 tackles) and Charles Grant (9 tackles), who combined for 16.5 sacks last year, will be among those seeking to locate the nimble Young on Monday. The run-stop unit hasn't been a heck of a lot better, allowing Joseph Addai to rush for 118 yards in Week 1 and surrendering two touchdowns to Tampa's Cadillac Williams (one touchdown all of last year) in Week 2. The Saints need a presence from tackles Hollis Thomas (4 tackles) and Brian Young (2 tackles) at the point of attack, and linebackers Mark Simoneau (11 tackles) and Scott Fujita (15 tackles) must make more plays behind them.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Perhaps more vexing than New Orleans' 0-2 record has been the weak play of a passing game that was unstoppable for most of 2006. Quarterback Drew Brees (452 passing yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) has a meager 66.4 passer rating through his first two games of the campaign, after posting a 96.2 clip a year ago, and his lone touchdown pass of the season came in garbage time to the similarly quiet Marques Colston (14 receptions, 1 TD) last week. Payton may seek to get players like veteran David Patten (4 receptions), who had a 58-yard catch last week, more involved against Tennessee. The running game has been slow to get going as well, with both Bush (65 rushing yards) and Deuce McAllister (87 rushing yards) yet to make much of an impact. Bush has touched the ball a total of 33 times thus far in 2007 (22 rushes, 10 catches, 1 punt return), and has amassed a total of 117 yards, or a scant 3.6 yards per play. Brees' protection has not been particularly good in the first two games, though he has only been sacked twice.
The Titans will have to face Brees and the potentially potent New Orleans attack one week after going up against the formidable Peyton Manning. Tennessee had the same trouble holding down Manning as do most NFL teams, as the future Hall of Famer threw for 312 yards on 28-of-42 passing with a touchdown and a pick. The Titans did manage two sacks against the generally untouchable Manning, with end Kyle Vanden Bosch (4 tackles, 1 sack) and tackle Albert Haynesworth (6 tackles, 1 sack) breaking through. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (12 tackles, 1 INT) picked off the Pro Bowler in the loss, and holds Tennessee's lone interception of the season to date. The Titans have done a decent job stopping the run, with linebackers Keith Bulluck (11 tackles) and David Thornton (12 tackles) setting the tone for a team that has surrendered just 156 ground yards through two contests. Cornerback Nick Harper (14 tackles) leads the Titans in tackles.
Fantasy owners who loaded up on Saints are probably 0-2 as Week 3 begins, as Brees, Bush, Colston, and McAllister have all been disappointing. Look for the quartet to bounce back with a strong effort against a Tennessee defense that is the weakest they have faced. Tight end Eric Johnson and kicker Olindo Mare are also worth starting if you have them. The Titans' Chris Brown was a popular commodity in leagues last week, but the rusher had just 34 yards against Indy and now has fewer carries (31) on the year than White (33). So beware. Young is a risky fantasy play, but will get you a solid number of combined yards and is worth starting in a pinch.
The Saints come into this game desperate for a win to help turn their season around, and should also be focused on finding ways to get the offense moving again. There is too much talent on that side of the ball to hold New Orleans down for long, and thus, you can expect a renaissance for Brees and company on Monday night. Defense is another story, as Young and the running backs might have a field day working against a slow New Orleans group. But we bet that a still-green Titans offense will make a couple of costly mistakes, errors that will help the Saints pull away late and emerge with win number one before an appreciative home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 31, Titans 20
Re: MNF Titans/Saints
What bettors need to know: Titans at Saints
Down but not out
Though the New Orleans Saints were a popular pick to go all the way to the Super Bowl this season, they opened their campaign with two embarrassing losses. They now face the Tennessee Titans on tonight in an attempt to avoid their first 0-3 start since 1997.
"I'm very surprised. We really need to take a deep look at ourselves, identify the problems and figure out how to fix it," quarterback Drew Brees told the Associated Press.
The Saints owned the best offense in the NFL last season, but that form is nowhere to be found at the moment. They have turned the ball over five times and scored just two touchdowns this season. Additionally, the once-formidable pairing of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister combined for just 76 yards on 20 carries last weekend.
Despite the disappointing start, Brees is hopeful his team can do what the Patriots did in 2001 and win the Super Bowl after an 0-2 start.
"By no means are we out of it," said Brees, who has thrown just one touchdown and three interceptions. "It sets you back, but it's nothing we can't overcome."
New Orleans and the New York Jets are the only NFL teams that have not recorded a sack this season. The Saints had seven sacks after two games last season en route to a hefty 38.
It’s not going to get any easier for the Saints tonight when they face Vince Young, Tennessee’s elusive quarterback.
"Well, there are a lot of things we don’t have," Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters this week. "We don’t have any wins yet. We’d like to be doing a better job in the kicking game, and we’d like to be doing a better job throwing the football. You can point to a number of things."
"I’ve been pleased with the defensive front, they’ve done a good job and the ends are playing well. We’re looking to again pick up this week and get a few, but this guy’s a hard sack. He’s elusive, he’s strong and he can come off sacks."
White, Bush set for reunion
Tennessee’s visit to New Orleans is receiving a lot of attention because it’s the first NFL meeting between Young and Reggie Bush since Young led Texas to a national championship over Bush’s Southern California squad.
But lost in all of the hype is the Titans’ LenDale White, who played alongside Bush at USC and is enjoying the best season of his professional career.
"At Southern Cal, (Bush) always had the higher profile," White told the Associated Press. "It is what it is. I'm happy with the position I'm in. I play for the Tennessee Titans. I'm looking forward to a good year. I'm not really worried about who has the bigger profile."
White arguably has the better numbers of the two this season. He has rushed 33 times for 130 yards with two catches for seven yards, compared to Bush's 22 carries for 65 yards and 10 receptions for 50 yards.
"I've been talking to him back and forth, just having fun with it," White said when asked about any rivalry between the pair. "But you know, I'm excited to get out there and play against him. The last time he came around, I had to sit out. It's going to be fun to get out there and play against him."
Titans dominate against NFC South
Tonight’s game against New Orleans offers the Titans the chance to build on an impressive 11-1 record against NFC South teams under coach Jeff Fisher. They swept the NFC South during the 2003 campaign, outscoring their opponents, 135-73.
That was also Tennessee’s last winning season and the last time it made it to the postseason. Fisher credits his side’s good record against the division to the strength of his 2003 team.
"We were a good football team the last time we played this division, and you know, we've had some success in the NFC. We were 3-1 last year against the NFC East," Fisher told the Associated Press on Thursday.
"We've really stressed and emphasized getting to know an unfamiliar opponent. Fortunately, we had a couple wins on the road outside of the conference last year. That helps."
The Titans play their next three games against NFC South competition. Atlanta is set to visit on October 7, followed by a trip to Tampa Bay.