Premature Celebration? Saints-49ers preseason

Watching a Saints’ game with an opposing team’s announcers was a pretty interesting scenario, highlighting the tremendous leaps-and-bounds the nation’s opinion of Black and Gold has leapt to. Overall, it was an encouraging game, but as I cautioned my mom back home – don’t look too deeply into it.

For starters, the Saints were a well-prepared team with continuity and consistency in too many ways – coaching and schemes, players, familiarity with teammates, and winning attitude – that the 49ers couldn’t compete with. The Niners are playing under a rookie coach who has had very little time to coach up his guys, given the long lockout shortening training camps NFL-wide, and their intrateam practices have been all post-lockout (12 practices, as their announcers repeatedly stressed).

The ironic note was, of course, watching the complete role-reversal that I had become accustomed to as a child watching 49er-Saints matchups. The Saints had always been the underrated, expected-to-lose, forever up and coming team for whom the local announcers always had to go out of their way to find bright spots. The 49er sportscasters had the Saints pegged as the feared, dominating monsters that I had always imagined the Niners to be in the Montana, Young, and even the Garcia days. Watching Saints games from my perspective, they have been great these past few years, but history tells me that there are always mountains to climb. The enemy perspective is quite eye-opening in the over-dramatic presentation of the Saints’ strengths.

The two biggest bright spots I took from this game were defensive. First of all, we stopped the run! Mild annoyance and a convenient ability to forget the recent playoff past arise everytime the “greatest rushing play of 2010” is shown – a Marshawn Lynch run up the middle where he broke tackle attempts from all 11 defenders and several sideline players as well en route to a victory-sealing (and Super Bowl repeat destroying) rushing touchdown. However, against one of the better rushing packages in the league, the Saints managed to consistently shut down the run. Comparisons between last year’s squad and the Super Bowl champs of the year before showed consistent inability to stop rushers. So, this is a hopeful, albeit not-to-be-trusted, predictor of 2011 performance. Whether or not Gregg Williams being Gregg Williams was fair in an opening pre-season game, the ability of the defense to disrupt the offense (by whatever means) was impressive. The constant take a chance, strip the ball, harrass the QB tactics that were so lacking from Gregg Williams 2010 model showed up in this year’s model and were a welcome memory of years (2009) gone past.

However, should either of these should be trusted against one of the worst-prepared preseason teams? No, they shouldn’t. Prove yourself, Black and Gold defenders, and I’ll allow you to be put in the same sentence as your predecessors two years removed.

The running game seemed decent, and it was great to see the rushers pounding away into one of the better defenses in the league. Special teams really shone with Joe Morgan securing a spot on at the least some NFL roster this season. There were no 49er returns of any note, and there were only moderate opposing drives that eventually stalled, excepting David Akers succeeding in breaking his career-long field goal distance.

So, what prognostication should we take from this? None. This game will provide adequate fuel to the Niners in future games with the “we were disrespected by Gregg Williams” card. The game will be a temporary ego-boost for the Saints for the next day or two until Sean Payton points out how hollow the win is. Joe Morgan and other potential cuts will eventually make the roster due to their performances Friday. But let’s relax the hype about the game – hyped as it was by being the first game for both teams after the torturous lockout of the past 5 months.

What to look for? The Saints’ preparation in the off-season providing an edge over opponents in the first 3 weeks of the season. The 49ers signing new offensive linemen and really using this game as a motivational springboard. Plenty of wide receivers making the Saints active roster. The continuing defensive swagger that has defined the Saints’ last 2 seasons. Colin Kaepernick’s first start between week 6-12. Early hype about the Saints’ chances in the first half of the season. John Harbaugh revealing his game plan in Week 1.

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