Oct 30, 2012, 12:33 PM EDT
Broncos defeat Saints, 34-14
PLAYING LIKE CHAMPS
If you expected a shoot-out between the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Broncos’ Peyton Manning on Sunday Night, you were not alone.
But when I interviewed Denver CB Champ Bailey prior to kick-off, he said he had been hearing all week that the Saints were going to try to run the ball.
Bailey’s defense had that covered. They held the Saints to 51 yards on the ground.
The 11-time Pro Bowl player also told me before the game that he and his defense just had to “Do our job.”
And they did. Champ and company covered the Saints’ dangerous receivers like the season depended on it. Brees was limited to 201 net yards passing — his lowest output of the season.
There was no shoot out in Denver Sunday night. Instead it was a victory won by the Broncos’ defense and running offense, not to mention a guy named Manning.
GREER AND COMPANY STILL STRUGGLING
The Saints entered Sunday night’s game with the league’s worst defense in terms of yards allowed. Through six games New Orleans had surrendered 2,793 yards to the opposition (465.5 yards per game), the highest total in NFL history through six games.
Still, having spoken with a number of Saints players and coaches, there was a optimism that change was coming.
Jabari Greer told me the Denver game was going to be an opportunity for the Saints defense to achieve “something special.”
“Obviously we’ve had some things to work through as a defense,” the cornerback told me. “A lot of people aren’t expecting big things from us. But we know the character of the guys we have on this team, and we’re expecting to go out and play hard, play physical and play with passion. And when we do that, perceptions change throughout the league in one game.”
I won’t question the Saints passion. But in the end this was not a game that would change perceptions of their defense.
Steve Spagnuolo’s crew allowed 530 yards of total offense. Five Hundred and Thirty Yards. Of that total, 225 came on the ground.
What the Saints did change Sunday night was the way the defense lined up. In particular there were two healthy scratches: DT Broderick Bunkley and LB Scott Shanle were inactive. Neither was injured.
Interim head coach Joe Vitt had indicated to us in our Saturday production meeting that sitting these players was a difficult decision. Coaches come to such conclusions based on what they see in practice all week.
What may have also contributed to that decision was the idea that the Saints wanted to keep all nine defensive backs up in anticipation of a Peyton Manning aerial attack.
But one can’t help but wonder: had Bunkley and/or Shanle played, could the Saints have gotten more pressure on Manning, who wasn’t sacked all night?
NOT “STICKY” ENOUGH
Greer also talked with me about defending the Broncos wide receivers. He said “We have to make sure we that we’re being ‘sticky’ out there no matter what is happening,” meaning staying on the receivers like glue.
“My main goal,” he said “is to make sure that I’m being as sticky as possible, staying in that back pocket and challenging every throw. And every time we have an opportunity to make a play, we have to make it.”
As it turned out, the Saints secondary couldn’t make the necessary defensive plays. Manning set a Broncos team record with his fifth consecutive 300-yard passing game (22-30 for 305 yards and a passer rating of 138.9).
Manning found Eric Decker twice in the end zone, Demaryius Thomas once.
The future hall-of-famer also connected with Thomas for a 41-yard completion in the first quarter — the 12th reception of 40-or-more yards in his the young receiver’s career.
PROTECTING THE YOUNG ONES
Thomas, in his third NFL season, had fumbled three times this season. It goes without saying that such mistakes don’t sit well with the Broncos’ QB.
So Denver receivers coach, Tyke Tolbert, devised a way to help Thomas resolve the fumbling issues.
Tolbert gave Thomas a football covered with slippery scout-team beanies; and on the beanies were written the letters “M” and “M,” referring to Tolbert’s young daughter’s, Madison and Morgan. Tolbert told him, “I want you to treat this football like my kids.”
The 24-year-old Thomas, who doesn’t have kids of his own, told me, “Tolbert’s got two great daughters, and I wouldn’t treat them bad. So I tote that football everywhere like it’s my own kids.”
No fumbles for “DT” on Sunday night.
RUSHING TO CONCLUSIONS
Who would have thought that the Broncos win Sunday night would be fueled by 225-yards of rushing offense?
Thirty-one year old Willis McGahee ran for 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. His young counterpart, Ronnie Hillman — who’s just 21 — toted the ball 14 times for 86 yards, including a 31-yard carry in the second half. Broncos head coach John Fox told us before the game he was waiting for Hillman to have a break-out game.
Meanwhile, the Saints continued to struggle in the run game. Their meager 51 yards on the ground came on 17 run plays. their 3.0 yards-per-carry couldn’t keep up with Denver’s 5.5 yards-per-carry.
Pierre Thomas led the way with 43 yards on 8 runs.
Meanwhile, Mark Ingram had just seven yards on three carries, bringing his season average to 2.9 yards per carry (134 yards on 47 carries).
At Alabama, Ingram was the primary back who played just about every offensive down for the Tide. And he admitted to me this week that he’s had trouble adjusting to his new, much more limited role with the Saints.
After being drafted in the first round two years ago, the Heisman Trophy winner thought he would be more involved in the New Orleans offense. He still believes he can be an every down back in the NFL.
But Ingram is in no way bitter about his situation. He understands that Thomas and Darren Sproles are ahead of him and that Brees is the team’s most potent weapon.
the 22-year-old back told me he is working as hard as he can every day to “improve his craft” as he waits for his opportunity. And, he said, “I’m 110-percent ready for that moment,” whenever it comes.
PORTER’S “EXTREMELY SCARY” SITUATION
Broncos’ CB Tracy Porter was inactive for the second game in a row because of symptoms related to a seizure he suffered back in August.
I caught up with Porter by phone before the Sunday Night game to talk with him about what happened that day during the pre-season.
It was in a meeting room at the Broncos practice facility. Porter told me he just wasn’t feeling like himself. He was lightheaded, and his pulse had quickened.
The former Saint excused himself from the meeting room for a moment, went to a bathroom where he splashed water on his face, and returned to the meeting thinking the symptoms would pass.
Then the seizure began — the first of Porter’s life.
The 26-year-old was taken to the hospital, tested and prescribed medication.
But the source of the symptoms, the cause of the seizure had not yet been pinpointed.
Still, Porter felt well enough to go back to work and played the first five games of the season.
Then came mid-October. Just before boarding the team plane for a Monday Night game in San Diego two weeks ago, Porter began to feel the same symptoms — a racing heartbeat and light-headedness.
He did not have another seizure, but as a precaution Porter did not make the trip west.
This week Porter met with doctors for more tests. And while his condition is not considered life-threatening, its cause has yet to be determined.
Porter, who was part of the Saints team that won Super Bowl XLIV, told me this medical situation for him is, “Extremely scary.” Not knowing what is behind these unfamiliar symptoms has him nervous.
While not cleared to play Sunday night, it is possible the fifth year vet out of Indiana could return to action next week at Cincinnati.
BREES’ HIGH SCHOOL CENTER
Brian de la Puente, the third-year player out of California, Berkeley, is the starting center for Brees this season.
Brees’ high school center was also on the field in Denver Sunday Night.
Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers was the guy who snapped the ball to Brees for two seasons at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.
“Any time you play offensive line,” Rodgers told me during a phone interview, “your objective is to keep the quarterback safe. And Drew was pretty good about letting us know when the protection wasn’t great.”
There were three Rodgers brothers at Westlake: Jay, the oldest, played quarterback ahead of Brees and is now the Broncos’ defensive line coach.
Jeff was one year older than Brees.
Johnny, who is Brees’ age, was the youngest of the Rodgers and was actually the starting QB ahead of Brees until their sophomore season, when Johnny tore his ACL.
Johnny’s injury meant Brees would become the starter. “The rest, as they say, is history,” Jeff told me.
Jeff described Brees as a confident, very talented multi-sport athlete at Westlake. But did the high school center — as an 18-year-old — envision Brees would become the quarerback he is today? Jeff Rodgers told me, “Uh, no.”
The end of October marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness month in the NFL.
That doesn’t change things for Broncos safety Mike Adams, whose mom died of ovarian cancer.
Adams doesn’t talk much about the death of his mother, Sharon Adams, who died before he got to the NFL. She never got to see him play professionally, and Mike admits that every Sunday when he puts on his helmet he sheds a tear over that fact.
When he comes out of the tunnel before each game, the 9-year safety out of Delaware points to the sky to connect with his mom. He says he knows she’s looking down on him.
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- Bengals sign second-rounder Giovani Bernard
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