For some reason or another the Lions are back down in N’awlins (a legitimate spelling of the city) for a second year in a row. The only reason I make this sound like a complaint is that I don’t get to visit and ship on down to K Paul’s Kitchen on someone else’s credit card. Nevertheless, we talked with Christopher Dunnells of Canal Street Chronicles about the Saints, find out who they are and talk about chicken tenders in the process.
1. Like a bad love song, we never talk about the New Orleans defense. What's been the story this season for a unit that was giving up an insane number of yards and points last year?
The "story" in a nutshell is a Tale of Two Halves. In the first half of the season, the Saints defense was plagued with injuries. Sheldon Rankins, P.J. Williams, Sterling Moore, Delvin Breaux, Hau'oli Kikaha, Dannell Ellerbe... That's six starters on defense who have all missed various amounts of time, with some (Kikaha and Williams) not expected back this year. Still, though, we now have as healthy a defensive unit as we've had all season, and along with DE Cam Jordan's strong play and DT Nick Fairley's resurgence, the Saints defense has made great strides. The Saints are now getting after opposing QBs, playing well against the run, and have used a pass-rush to help create turnovers in the passing game.
2. Who's the player on offense besides Brees that makes this Saints attack work?
Rookie WR Michael Thomas is without a doubt the top play-maker on the Saints offense right now. He leads the receiving corps in targets, receptions, and yards, and would be in the conversation for NFL Rookie of the Year if it weren't for two guys in Dallas leading the Cowboys to a potential first-round Bye. He is the perfect WR, who has all of the tools you look for: size, height, strength, speed, and hands. He fits in the mold of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. He will most likely have nothing close to the career of Megatron, but Drew Brees will be able to make him into a bonafide star.
3. Oh hey it's our good friend Joe Lombardi. Just for those Lions fans who bitterly keep up with all the former coaches and coordinators, what's been his role since returning to the Saints?
Officially, Joe Lombardi is back as the New Orleans Saints' Quarterbacks Coach. How much of a difference he has made this season is unknown. As you can point to are the Saints offensive/passing statistics. The Saints come in this year currently with the top overall offense (in points and yards), and the top passing offense. Drew Brees is 37 years old, but is set to surpass last year's passing yards and passing TDs, all while maintaining the same interception rate. I stand by a statement I have made previously that this offensive group around Drew might very well be the best he's ever had (and that includes the Colston, Lance Moore, Shockey, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas days), so it's possible his improved stats are completely a result of better players around him. Or it could be Joe Lombardi. Most likely: it's some combination of both.
4. What's been your favorite game so far in this season? What stood out to you as a game fans could go and see an exemplar of this Saints team in both its best and worst natures?
Personally, my favorite game was the Week 6 home win against the divisional Carolina Panthers. My wife and I were at the game, it was against the reigning NFC and NFC South Champions, at home in the dome, and was a win that came down to the last second of the game. It was a roller coaster of a game that was an absolutely incredible ride.
To watch the best and most complete Saints game, look no further than last week against the lowly Los Angeles Rams. Granted, the Rams are far-removed from The Greatest Show on Turf, but the Saints had historically had a problem making poor offenses and mediocre QBs (shout out to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' game against the Saints in Week 9) look good. Last week, the Saints defense was able to make plays, force turnovers, hit the QB, and get off the field on 3rd down. The offense was as good as it's ever been, putting up 49 points against what was thought to be one of the NFL's better defenses.
Then if you want to see the Saints at their worst, look at the 10 Year Anniversary of the Saints' return to the Super Dome - Monday Night Football against the Falcons in Week 3 (another game I was at). The Saints defense was getting torn to shreds, the offense sputtered, and the Saints special teams (which have been an absolute DISASTER all year) played terribly, leading to a 45-32 loss.
5. Drew Brees will be 38 in January, yet he's still playing as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. What's been his secret to longevity? How much longer can Saints fans expect him to keep playing at such a high level? What compels him to act in all these incredibly lame commercials?
What's been his secret to longevity? His accuracy. He doesn't necessarily have the strongest arm in the league. And we all know he doesn't have the best wheels, though he can move around in the pocket to extend plays. He's not the tallest (understatement) QB in NFL history. It's really Drew's insane accuracy and ball-placement. In 2016, he is leading the league in both passing attempts AND completion percentage. Crazy.
In Peyton Manning's age 37 season, he broke Drew Brees's record for most passing yards in a single season, so there is precedent for success at Drew's age. Once we get to Drew's age 38 season, that's where we really start to hope against the odds. Peyton's age 38 season saw a steep decline in production, and then his age 39 season saw him as one of the worst statistical QBs in the NFL that season. I think Saints fans can home for one, maybe two, more years of Drew being Drew, but after that... I don't want to think about it.
Oh, and to answer your last question: dollar dollar bills, y'all.
BONUS: Let's say you owned franchises of Zaxby's and a Raising Cane's. Which one of these are you bringing up north to Detroit and why? Is there perhaps another chicken joint you'd want to recommend or throw in there?
Picking between the two is like picking between Coke and Pepsi - some people can't taste the difference and the people who prefer one over the other, are incredibly passionate in their stance. If I had to pick, I'd say Raisin' Canes, as they make their sauce (which tastes similar to Canes's sauce) fresh on site, while Zaxby's sauce is pre-packaged like at McDonald's. I can't necessarily suggest another Southern "chicken" place, but I will say the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit at Whataburger is the bee's knees.