Archive for October, 2007

A more extensive update

Well, I’m ready to order the wood. I probably won’t though, not until mid to late November. Frankly, I need a break from everything that’s been going on lately. Here are some of the things that have been going on which serve to be major distractions in my life.

Start with work. I’m the system manager for variable compensation at a large (> 100K employees) company. We use Callidus TrueComp to calculate the pay, and it’s about the buggiest software package I’ve ever seen. In addition, we’re horribly understaffed in my department. Well, over the summer we’ve been attempting a platform upgrade which hasn’t gone well. Did I mention that TrueComp was buggy? Anyway, I got lucky and was able to hire someone in August who started in September, and just got another req approved so I’ll get another person this December. That should provide the relief needed for me to relax a little more when I’m away from the office.

On to home, I finally finished the flooring downstairs and got some painting done. Well, finished if you don’t include the shoe molding, that is. Our house is in a neighborhood where nothing stays on the market for more than a couple of weeks. Ours was on the market for a few months, and I believe it was because it never got real maintenance. It’s just a great place and we love it, but LORD does it need some TLC. Before we even moved in my wife wanted the kitchen done, and that required new tile replacing the linoleum (which was on top of linoleum). Then I did the den in hardwoods (3/4″ red oak), and now I’ve finished the dining room, hall, office, bathroom, and closets. I still need to put shoe molding down, but I think I’ve done enough home improvement to buy me some serious hobby time. We also painted two rooms upstairs and the den, and are working on the bathroom now. The house is looking great!

Finally, I’m the proud father of a four week old baby girl! That’s been a pretty big distraction, so I can’t feel too bad about not getting started yet.

So, we’re starting to get a little sleep here, and the 2007 renovations are done, my finger is almost healed (stupid tablesaw!) and the only distraction I have going on is football. I’m looking to start getting in shape, I’m going to order wood, and I’m going to publish my football articles here as well as on the site for which I write them. In short, there should be some content starting to flow around here again.

Originally I planned on starting sometime in November, but early on things seemed to go so quick that I thought I would have a frame now at least. Well, I don’t but it’s all good, I still think we’ll be sailing this summer. :)


Homers and Haters, Indianapolis edition

Note: This article was written for the Carolina Huddle fan site, and originally appeared in their forums here.

Carolina welcomes the defending Super Bowl champs to Bank of America Stadium this week. The Panthers are fresh off a bye while the Colts are playing their second straight road game on a short week.

The Colts have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. They’re led by one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and sport a balanced offense that’s ranked third in the league in scoring and total yards.

On defense the Colts field a disciplined group that generally doesn’t make mistakes. They have tremendous speed and are outstanding in coverage. Indianapolis plays a cover two type of defense, and are first in the league in pass defense, third in yards surrendered, and sixth in points allowed.

Here are the units the Colts will bring to BofA Stadium on Sunday:

Peyton Manning is arguably the best quarterback playing the game right now, and is the current leader for career passer rating among active QBs. Manning is currently putting up over 250 yards per game and has thrown 11 TD passes versus only three interceptions. He is known for his audibles and ability to keep a defense on it’s heels. Manning is not so much a playmaker as he is an expert tactician; he knows every trick in the book for wearing down a defense and makes all of them look easy. He also rarely makes mistakes, which just makes defending him that much harder.

Homer says: “Manning is a great player, but he needs a team effort to show it. Under pressure he can be just as ordinary as anyone. The key here will be Peppers and Jenkins, if they can bring pressure from the line then Manning won’t be able to pick the Panthers apart. The Panthers also need to control the clock and try and keep Manning from finding his rhythm. Not easy, but can be done.”

Hater says: “This is the original laser-rocket-arm QB… Manning gets rid of the ball too fast for the Panthers to get pressure on him. He also manages the game well enough to keep the defense guessing and ineffective. The big question on Sunday will be what happens more often, a Manning touchdown pass or a flag on Jenkins for jumping offsides.”

Running Backs
Joseph Addai (100 carries, 492 yards, 5 TDs) shoulders the primary running duties for the Colts. Standing at six feet and 215 pounds, Addai is a straight-ahead runner who also excels at catching passes out of the backfield. He has excellent speed and does well after contact. Kenton Keith (66 carries, 311 yards) backs up Addai and is more of a cutback runner who is good at picking up the blitz.

Homer says: “Addai is good, not great. He gets a big benefit from the distraction Manning provides. We have a line that does real well against straight-ahead runners, and our linebackers have the speed to plug holes as they open. This one is on Morgan, and if he returns Sunday we should be able to contain their running game.”

Hater says: “It’s not fair that the best quarterback in the league lines up next to a running back who’s good for five yards per carry. The Panthers aren’t exactly lighting it up this year in rushing defense (they’re 18th in the league), and Addai will probably go over 100 easy. What’s worse is his ability to catch out of the backfield. And when he gets tired they can go to Keith with no drop-off at all. Not a pretty thought…”

Wide Receivers/Tight End
The Colts receiving corps ranks as one of the best in the NFL. Eight-time pro-bowler Marvin Harrison (20 rec, 247 yards, 1 TD) and 2006 pro-bowl teammate Reggie Wayne (37 rec, 500 yards, 4 TDs) are the only wide receiver tandem in NFL history to catch 75 receptions and 1,000 yards in 3 straight seasons. Tight End Dallas Clark (30 rec, 366 yards, 6TDs) leads the Colts in touchdowns.

Homer says: “The Panthers have already faced some pretty good receivers in games against St. Louis, Houston, and Arizona. The key will be quick pressure at the line to keep Manning from delivering the ball well. The Indy receivers are good, but they aren’t big playmakers and depend on Manning getting the ball to them in the right place. If that gets disrupted, coverage gets a lot easier.”

Hater says: “This group keeps the defense honest and allows Addai to be so effective. The Colts’ receivers demand way too much attention to stack the line. Gamble and Lucas can’t match up here, and we’re basically pinning our hopes on Deke Cooper and Chris Harris to keep this game from becoming a rout. Dallas Clark has the potential to be a monster if Davis is covering him, and if Indy uses Clark a lot then don’t expect to see their punter much.”

Offensive Line
Indianapolis starts a quick and athletic offensive line that not only excels in protection, but is also helping to produce a rushing attack that averages 141.8 yards per game. They excel in the stretch handoff play, and their first step is the same whether it’s a run or a pass. That prevents the opposing linebackers from getting a bead on the play and helps the running game and play-action. Left Tackle Tony Ugoh is a rookie, but has quickly picked up the scheme and does a good job protecting Manning’s blind side. On the right side is seven year man Ryan Diem. Guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott flank pro-bowl center Jeff Saturday. So far in 2007, they have allowed only five sacks.

Homer says: “This is the same line that Manning’s thrown under the bus time and again, right? Oh, wait, it’s the same line with a ROOKIE starting on his blind side. I mean a ROOKIE who’s not 100%! This should be the game where McClover finally shines. Don’t expect the Colts to be able to push our defense around here at all, they’re just not big enough and our defensive line has too much experience to bite on their fakes. Advantage, Panthers by a lot here.”

Hater says: “141.8 rushing yards per game and five sacks on the season. If that’s not good, how would you define it?”Defensive Line
Superstar Dwight Freeney (15 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) and Robert Mathis (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) apply pressure from the defensive end positions, while tackles Raheem Brock (15 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and Ed Johnson (20 tackles, 1 sack) clog the middle. The Colts have been good against the run, allowing only 107.3 yards per game, and bring a decent if not overpowering pass rush. Freeny is a regular pro bowl selection who is considered as one of the best at his position in the NFL.

Homer says: “The Colts are right in the middle of the pack in rushing defense. They give up 4.2 yards per carry, which is more than their opponents have averaged against other teams. They’re 19th in sacks too. This group seems more about reputation than production. The key to the Panthers’ success will be their ability to run, and based on the defensive line that’s not only possible, it’s all but certain.”

Hater says: “The only reason no one runs on the Colts is because they’re too busy throwing the ball in an effort to get back into the game. The Panthers might be able to run, but when you’re down by three touchdowns who does that? Oh, and the idea of Foster running through the line? Well, he might make it a couple times but the way they strip don’t expect him to be carrying the ball when he pops out the other side.”

The Colts start Gary Bracket (41 tackles, .5 sacks, 1 INT) at the middle linebacker position, with Freddie Keiaho (29 tackles, 1 INT) and Tyjuan Hagler (24 tackles) on the outside. This is a fast and solid group, although it’s arguably the weakest group in the Colt’s defense.

Homer says: “When the Panthers aren’t running the ball, they’ll get a lot of help from Jeff King, who should excel against Hagler. Hagler’s strength isn’t coverage and he’s a little undersized at only six feet tall. The rest of the linebackers are quick, so the Panthers need to run north/south and not try to stretch the defense. The good news is that none of them are particularly big, and can be worn down by a steady running game.”

Hater says: “The Colts’ LBs may be small but they get to the ball in a hurry and deliver a nice pop when they do. This is where the running game is stopped on Sunday.”

Defensive Backs
The Colts’ secondary is characterized by their speed across the board. Pro-Bowl Strong Safety Bob Sanders (33 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) is the star of the defensive backs. Undersized by NFL standards, he still flies across the field to punish opposing ball carriers. Free Safety Antoine Bethea (35 tackles, 1 INT) has excellent speed and agility and complements Sanders’ style well. Kelvin Hayden (41 tackles, 1 INT) lines up at the left cornerback position, while Marlin Jackson
(47 tackles, 1 INT) lines up on the right side.

Homer says: “This unit is talented, but like all cover two defenses they give up the middle. Carrstaverde should be able to dink and dunk his way down the field with short routes, and once they’re lulled to sleep by that expect a long one to Smith late in the game.”

Hater says: “Bob Sanders is Steve Smith on defense. He’s the real playmaker for them, and hits so hard and so fast that sometimes it looks like there’s two of him out there. He also lines up close to the line and keys on the run in a flash–so don’t look for much action from Carolina there. And the way this group as a whole hits? Steve Smith aside, look for a whole bunch of alligator arms out there on Sunday.”


Homer says: This is the textbook definition of a trap game. Next week the Colts play the Patriots, and last Monday they had a tough game against a tough division rival. In between they have the Panthers, a NFC team that looks like it’s injured and struggling. The Colts are one of the best teams in the league, but they do it more with great role players and solid execution than by overwhelming you with sheer talent. That’s going to work in the Panthers’ favor on Sunday.

When the Panthers have the ball they HAVE to run it, and run it between the tackles. The Indy linebackers will wear down as the game goes on, and the need to control the clock and limit Manning’s touches is critical. The Panthers should work several short passes into the mix, and be content to make their yardage in 3-5 yard chunks. Late in the game the runs that started as two and three yard gains will suddenly be five and six yarders, and that’s when all those short passes will set Smitty up for a long one. The Panthers need to bring a great gameplan with them, because they can’t afford to punt more than two or three times.

When the Colts have the ball the Panthers will need to trust their safeties and blitz hard. Manning needs to feel the pressure enough to keep him from perfect placement on his passes. If that happens, then Gamble and Lucas can keep Harrison and Wayne in check. If the center of the defensive line holds and Addai is forced to run to the outside then that should do it for their running game. It’s all going to be about pressuring Manning and keeping him off balance.

The Colts are going to expect an easy one, and won’t like feeling like they’re in a real fight. The Panthers haven’t won at home yet, because they’ve been waiting to really show the fans something. This week they play hard, physical, and aggressive on their way to a very impressive win.

Panthers 27, Colts 24

Hater says: This has all the makings for a real embarrassment. This season the Panthers have played with some flashes of greatness, but they’re wildly inconsistent and are playing one of the most consistently good teams in the NFL. Look at the Indianapolis/Tampa Bay game to get an idea of what will happen here. The Colts’ offense was just dominating against a much better defense than Carolina’s, despite missing five starters.

When the Panthers have the ball they’ll find a big clog in the middle thanks to the emergence of Ed Johnson as a run stuffer. The few times they do get through the DTs Foster or Williams will get their bell rung by Sanders’ flying across the field or Gary Bracket plugging the hole. The Colts defense is fast. The only way to beat them is be physical, and the Panthers just don’t have the personnel to do that this year. Oh, and just to add to the Panthers’ woes, David Carr might start.

When the Colts have the ball it will just look bad. Addai can run, makes good cuts and knows which direction the end zone is. He may not get 100 on the ground, but he and Keith will combine for at least 150. Manning will pick apart our soft interior with ease, and as soon as the secondary makes an inevitable mistake, he’ll exploit it for a big gain. The only stat the Panthers will lead the Colts in is punting yardage.

It’s not going to be pretty, but maybe it will be a much-needed wake up call for the Panthers. At least the game film will be a teaching lesson for Fox to show what good discipline can do for a team.

Colts 42, Panthers 12.


Homers and Haters, Arizona edition

Note: This article was written for the Carolina Huddle fan site, and originally appeared in their forums here.

The Carolina Panthers travel to the big pink dome in the desert to take on the Arizona Cardinals this week. Like the Panthers, the Cards are 3-2 and tied for first in their division. Unlike the Panthers, Arizona fans are largely happy with their record right now.

Arizona is one of those teams that always seems to start out saying, “This is finally the year!” and go out saying “Wait until next year!” There are signs though, that this may indeed be the year for them, although some injuries may be starting to interfere with their goal of the playoffs.

In 2006 the Cardinals completed rebuilding their offense by signing Edgerrin James to complement their strong receiving corps. Unfortunately, the running game never materialized and the defense couldn’t stop the pass. The Cardinals finished 5-11, and the front office reacted by firing coach Dennis Green and bringing in former Steeler offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt also hired Russ Grimm, one of the best at his position, to coach the offensive line.

So far, Arizona’s results have been encouraging, but more because of the emergence of their defense. Their 30th ranked 2006 pass defense is now giving up 218 yards per game, which is good for 18th in 2007. The Cardinal rush defense, which was 16th in 2006 at 119 yards per game, is now 13th in the league at 101 yards. Overall, the defense has improved from the 29th ranked unit in 2006 to the 14th in 2007. On offense the running game has started to emerge, which has helped the Cards improve from 14th in the league to 10th.

The Cardinals are taking all the right steps to get to the playoffs. They have a young quarterback in place for the long haul, their star receivers Boldin and Fitzgerald are also young, and the club has a head coach in place that brings discipline and faith to the organization. However, the Cardinals have suffered injuries and still a have a work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Unless Kurt Warner rediscovers his MVP form, the club and its fans may have to go through another season of rebuilding. Here’s what you can count on seeing this Sunday.

Kurt Warner is once again the Cardinals’ starter, the result of a season-ending injury to Matt Leinart. The former two-time MVP has performed well so far this season, with 43 for 69 passing, four touchdowns, and only one interception. His rating of 102.3 is his highest since 1999 with the Rams. This past week the Cardinals signed former 49ers QB Tim Rattay as a backup.

Homer says: “Warner is a great quarterback if you’re playing in the 20th century. Since his knees went, he spends way too much time in the pocket and makes Drew Bledsoe look mobile. If Peppers can’t break out of his sack slump against the Cardinals, well…”

Hater says: “What is it with our luck this year? Instead of Matt Leinart and his four interceptions, once again we get to face a veteran who knows how to exploit our weaknesses. Warner’s made a living with the quick pass, and has two outstanding receivers to throw to in Arizona. He won’t get sacked because he won’t have to hold the ball long enough. Maybe we can stall him in the red zone, but he won’t have a big challenge marching down the field against our soft middle.”

Running Backs
Edgerrin James had a shaky start with the Cardinals, playing behind a poor line and putting up some of the worst numbers of his career. With Grimm’s coaching though, the offensive line is giving James time to find the holes this year and he’s starting to produce the kind of games that management hoped for when they signed him away from the Colts. Edgerrin’s yards per carry are up from 3.4 to 4.1, and more importantly he’s getting into the end zone more. James has gotten three touchdowns already, compared to six for all of last year. A contributing factor to that is the increased use of the lead blocker in Whisenhunt’s schemes. Fullback Terrelle Smith is a six foot, 250 pound back that rarely carries and is not a receiving threat.

Homer says: “James is a good back when he has a great QB to keep the attention off of him, and Warner no longer qualifies. Without Peyton Manning, he’s become rather ordinary and can be handled. He’s fast and hits the hole well, but the offensive line won’t find too many against Jenks and Kemo, and our speed at linebacker should neutralize his game here.”

Hater says: “Where James is going to kill us is in his skill in sustaining drives. Last year he couldn’t manage four first downs per game, this year he’s over five. The Panthers have had trouble getting the opposing offense off the field all season, and James will do his part to keep that streak alive. He’s getting almost 90 yards a game, and when the Panthers give up 100 it doesn’t bode well.”

Wide Receivers
This is where the Cardinals shine. It’s rare for a team to have a receiving tandem as scary as Anquan Boldin (22/286, 3 TDs) and Larry Fitzgerald (34/448, 1 TD). Boldin is a playmaker with tons of quickness and an ability to pick up yards after the catch. Fitzgerald is a tough matchup, and his 6-foot-3 frame makes him and a solid possession receiver. Bryant Johnson is a a solid number three for this unit. Standing at 6-foot-8, tight end Leonard Pope (5/57, 1 TD) is also a big red zone target on the Cardinals.

Homer says: “Meh, I got nothing here…”

Hater says: “There’s no way to put a positive spin on our matchups here. If Warner gets any time to throw, we’re going to give up tons of yards in the air.”

Offensive Line
Last year the Cardinals were never able to get things going on the ground mainly because of poor offensive line play. To help remedy that they used the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft on Penn State tackle Levi Brown. Buffalo Bill free agent Mike Gandy holds down the left tackle spot. Lastly, center Al Johnson was another free agent pickup, giving the Cardinals three new players on their line. The Guards are returning starters Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui. Brown has been out with an ankle injury, but may play this weekend. If he can’t go then recently signed Keydrick Vincent will take his place.

Homer says: “Panther fans know all about injuries on the offensive line. Holes don’t open, assignments are missed, quarterbacks get sacked, and the offense just can’t get in a rhythm. The Cards have to deal with a backup Quarterback and a starting tackle who wasn’t even on the squad last week. What’s worse, it’s on the side that Peppers attacks from. It’s going to be a long day in Arizona.”

Hater says: “Their line’s shaken up, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting a running game going. Russ Grimm is the kind of coach the Panthers need–he has the Cardinals actually opening holes in the running game, and they’ve only given up six sacks. Given how well the Panthers have been rushing the passer so far, the Cards have no worries in this area.”

Defensive Line
This has become a strength of the Arizona defense. They’re the fifth best unit in the league where sacks are concerned, and they’re doing a fair job against the run, allowing only four yards per carry. Antonio Smith (18 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks) and Bertrand Berry (11 tackles, 2 sacks) play the left and right end spots, respectively. Darnell Dockett (20 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) returns to play one of the tackle positions and Gabe Watson (13 tackles) will line up along side of Dockett.

Homer says: “They’ve done a good job getting after the quarterback, but if you look at the teams they’ve played, then their numbers suddenly don’t look so hot. Arizona’s gotten 14 sacks but their opponents have given up 58. The Panthers have given up only 6, so don’t think that Arizona is going to continue their party here. They can be run on too, and the Panthers will take advantage of that.”

Hater says: “This is how a defensive line plays when the coach lights a fire under them. Maybe the Panthers will finally get a clue as they watch their offensive line get crushed beneath a real pass rush.”

Calvin Pace (21 tackles, 1 sack), Gerald Hayes (31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) and Karlos Dansby (43 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble) start at the linebacker spots. This is a fairly young group without a lot of depth. As a unit, they’re decent versus the run but soft in coverage.

Homer says: “This is where having David Carr or Vinny Testaverde will work out for the Panthers. Passing underneath the coverage will be available, and Davidson will game plan for that. The advantage there, of course, is that short passes don’t take a long time to develop, and those plays won’t give the defensive line time to bring pressure.”

Hater says: “The Panthers can go with a QB who can’t get the ball to their playmaker, or one that has just as much rhythm with the Arizona defense as he does with the Panther receivers. Short passes take timing, and the Panthers don’t have it. That leaves the running game, which is where this group shines. Too bad for our running backs that they force fumbles too…”

Defensive Backs
This unit has really improved under the new coaching staff. The defensive backs are anchored by pro-bowl safety Adrian Wilson. Wilson (34 tackles, 2 INT) is a strong blitzer, can stop the run, delivers hard hits and is by far the best defensive player for the Cards. He’s lining up next to a new partner in free safety Terrence Holt (19 tackles, one forced fumble). Corners are where the Cardinals suffered last year, and although Eric Green (20 tackles) has returned newcomer Rod Hood (16 tackles, 2 INT) has won the other starting spot.

Homer says: “The secondary does well against the run, but it’s job is defending the pass. Neither corner can cover Steve Smith, and he’ll draw enough attention that Colbert and King will find themselves open regularly. Assuming the running game keeps the safeties honest, the pass will still be open.”

Hater says: “Just pray that they don’t blitz…”

Homer says: “Ok, we have a matchup against two teams that are tied for first, and there are other similarities. Both teams have lost their starting quarterbacks, and that’s going to be very disruptive to each offense. Both teams can play defense, and both have receiving corps that scare opposing defensive coordinators. The difference is in their recent history. Arizona is used to losing, the Panthers expect to win. The Cardinals are in new territory and excited to be there, while the Panthers are annoyed that they haven’t been dominant.

When the Cardinals have the ball, they’re going to be tentative against our defense. Their tackles can’t stop the pass rush, and it’s coming from the right side where Warner can see it. Expect a lot of passes thrown more to get rid of the ball than to put it in the receivers’ hands. Our linebackers are fast enough to keep James from running wild too. Arizona is going to move the ball, but in money situations it won’t get far.

When the Panthers have the ball it will be more of the same. Depending on who starts, the Panthers will either do a lot of bootlegs and short passes or they’ll give Arizona a heavy dose of the run. When they get close, Kasay will show Racker what reliability means.

Figure on a low scoring game, which will be a surprise given how mediocre both these defenses have been. Once it gets tight and the Cards look at the chances they’ve squandered the old butterflies will return. When it gets tight for the Panthers they’ll ignore their mistakes, look to Kasay, and be comforted.

Panthers win a close one, 13-10″

Hater says: “Kurt Warner vs. Vinny Testaverde? Now THAT inspires confidence…

Warner may not have the mobility he once did but he won’t need much to get the ball out to Boldin and Fitzgerald, and let’s not forget Pope and even James. The Cards have all kinds of players who can catch the ball and they don’t mind using them. They also play with intensity and confidence, which are characteristics the Panthers have lacked lately.

When the Cards have the ball they’ll move it confidently down the field with a series of short runs and passes. No one on that team feels like they need a big play to win, and they’ll have the veteran presence of Warner in the huddle to keep them focused. In the red zone the Panthers have no one who can match up with Pope, and Fitzgerald is money there as well. Racker won’t be kicking anything but extra points.

When the Panthers have the ball expect the Carolina fans to explode in frustration. Outside of a couple decent runs, they’ll do nothing. Three and out will be how it starts, and probably how it ends. The Cardinals will put eight in the box to stop the run and dare Carr to beat the pass rush. If it’s Testaverde, then you want Arizona as your fantasy team on Sunday because he’ll be good for at least two interceptions.

It won’t be pretty this week. Arizona 28, Carolina 6″


Homers and Haters, New Orleans edition

Note: This article was written for the Carolina Huddle fan site, and originally appeared in their forums here.

The Panthers head to New Orleans this weekend in a showdown with the team that many thought would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year. Instead, the Panthers have come out flat and New Orleans has yet to win a game. In sharp contrast to last year’s 10-6 campaign, the Saints’ offense is finding it difficult to score. They’ve yet to get a sack, and their defense has been unable to keep opposing offenses out of the end zone.

Last year the Saints were as fortunate as a team can hope to be. They were almost injury free. Virtually all of first-year-coach Sean Payton’s decisions were the right ones. They were lucky in the draft and free agency as well, netting highly productive players from both. Their schedule turned out to be kind, with most of the NFC South battling injuries and poor play.

In the 2006 draft the Saints found starters Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, and Marques Colston. In this year’s rookie class only Usama Young has been able to get on the field, and just as a backup defensive back and special teamer. In the 2006 Free Agency period, the Saints got quarterback Drew Brees and middle linebacker Scott Fujita. This year’s most significant acquisition has been cornerback Jason David. Last year the Saints pulled off draft day trades for starters Hollis Thomas and Jeff Faine. This year they got a backup kicker. In short, things haven’t quite gone their way so far in 2007.

Last year the Saints represented a city on the mend. This year the realities of living in a rebuilding city are showing. According to a recent USA Today article, New Orleans has a higher crime rate than before Katrina, it’s infrastructure is still unstable, and residents are basically stressed out from living in a construction zone. Maybe the Saints are still representing, but it’s not a representation of hope. Then again, maybe they’re still capable of bringing some of that to the people of New Orleans and continuing to inspire New Orleans’ recovery.

Here’s what to expect in the Superdome on Sunday.

Last year Drew Brees was a legitimate MVP candidate. He threw for 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns, and maintained a 96.2 rating. So far in 2007 he’s not even close to those numbers. Much of his problems stem from the fact that the Saints are forced to throw the ball more this year. Through three games last season, Drew Brees had thrown 99 passes, completing 62 for 714 yards. He had scored three touchdowns and only had two interceptions. This year the Saints have been in more obvious passing situations, and the defenses have reacted. Through the first three games in 2007, Brees has been called on to throw 130 times. He’s completed 83 for 677 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions. He’s also fumbled the ball twice, and his rating is a lowly 57.1.

Homer says: “Drew Brees played lights-out in 2006 but has clearly come down to earth this year. Just like his coach has experienced, the decisions Brees makes that were so good last year are just terrible now. He’s turned the ball over NINE times in just three games, which isn’t really what you look for in an MVP candidate. It could be a severe case of happy feet, it could be that Drew misses Joe Horn, it could be that he’s consistently in more obvious passing situations. Regardless, Brees is not getting it done. A quarterback needs an offensive line, a running game, and receivers to be successful in the NFL, and Brees doesn’t even have two of three this year.”

Hater says: “Brees has been underestimated before and always seems to find a way to make people pay when that happens. Before everyone starts planning on a big defensive day, here’s something to keep in mind. The knock on Brees is his lack of arm strength and size. He’s a great on-the-field leader and a very accurate passer, particularly in short crossing routes. The Panthers haven’t been vulnerable to the long ball this season, but the short game is another story. Harrington, Schaub, and Garcia have all looked like pro-bowlers exploiting our secondary. Brees actually IS a pro-bowler. And try this number on for size: 94.74. That’s the combined quarterback rating the Panthers are allowing this year. All Brees needs is to get hot at the right time and the Panthers are going to be burned badly.”

Running Backs
The Saints started the season just as they ended 2006, with Deuce McAlister and Reggie Bush lining up in the backfield. McAlister is a workhorse type of back, excellent between the tackles and a strong power runner. Bush is better in space, using his speed to hit the edge and accelerating away from the defense. Last season Bush set a rookie record for passes caught by a running back. Unfortunately for the Saints, McAllister injured his ACL against the Titans in week three, and is out for the season. That leaves Bush as the Saints’ primary back. So far this season Bush has only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Aaron Stecker (5 carries for 27 yards) will back up Bush.

Homer says: “Deuce McAlister is still the Saints’ best option at running back and he won’t get another carry until next year. Instead the Saints will call on Reggie Bush to be their every-down back. So far in 2007 Reggie Bush has more endorsements than yards from scrimmage. Maybe Bush wants to be like Emmitt Smith, but someone needs to tell him to wait until he’s out of the backfield before he starts dancing with the stars. The Panthers will have no problem shutting him down at all, he does that by himself. Oh, and two fumbles already? Reggie Bust.”

Hater says: “It’s actually hard to worry about the Saints’ running backs, unless you fear the unknown. Bush is not going to scare anyone lining up in the backfield, but Stecker is somewhat of a mystery. He’s not tall but weighs in at 213 pounds and can hit the hole like a fullback. In limited action this year he’s getting 5.4 yards per carry, which is tops among Saints running backs. Unless the Panthers get some run blocking on their defensive line he could look like a star. As far as Bush, if you just try running him between the tackles he’s going to look pretty ordinary. However, Payton uses him in space, throws him the ball a lot (he broke a record last year that way), and finds creative ways to put him in space with the ball. A fast aggressive defense can contain him, but the only one of those that’s been seen in Carolina this year belonged to Tampa Bay.”

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
In 2006 Marques Colston finished third in Offensive Rookie of the Year balloting after catching 70 passes for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. He returns as the primary receiver and has caught 18 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. Devery Henderson (4, 45) mans the other starting slot, and Terrance Copper (3, 29), David Patten (5, 90), and Lance Moore (9, 100) round out this group. The Saints used their number one pick in 2007 on Robert Meacham from Tennessee, but he has yet to appear in a game. At Tight End, ex-49er Eric Johnson has performed well, catching 16 passes for 98 yards.

Homer says: “This one is almost laughable. Marques Colston is showing why he was drafted in the 7th round and Devery Henderson is playing like Devery Handsofstone. In fairness, this unit could probably be effective if they had time to get open, but it’s not happening. Neither starter can match up with the Panthers’ starting cornerbacks, and none of their receivers have a history of doing particularly well against Carolina. An easy day for the secondary.”

Hater says: “The receiving corps for the Saints is a victim of a hurried passer more than anything. They’re getting open enough, and if Brees has the time to make the throw they’re hauling in the catch. Colston is catching 70% of the balls thrown his way, and Lance Moore’s grabbing 60%. All told, through three games the Saints’ receivers have caught 39 of 69 passes thrown their way (57%), which isn’t that bad when you consider that the Panther receivers have caught 30 of 52 (58%). This is actually the most productive unit on the Saints.”

Offensive Line
The Saints are playing with almost the same offensive line that was outstanding in 2006. The success they enjoyed in 2006 is not happening in 2007 though. In protection the Saints are still performing somewhat well, allowing four sacks in three games (in 2006 the Saints surrendered 23 sacks in 16 games). This is a fairly young unit, with an average of just under five years in the league per player. Third year man Jammal Brown lines up at the left tackle position and Jonathan Stinchcomb is in his fifth year on the right. At guards, former Panther Jamar Nesbit (ninth year) is the old man of the line on the left side and second year man Jahri Evans is on the left. Jeff Faine returns for his fifth year at center. The Saints use a lot of counters and misdirection in Payton’s offensive scheme, and the execution starts here.

Homer says: “In New York, Sean Payton became well known for the way he came up with innovative schemes that disguised the weaknesses of his line. He then became well known for not adjusting those schemes after opposing teams figured them out, and was all but replaced in midseason. Apparently no one’s told him that he’s not the only guy in the league who can study film. His line’s been exposed as the collection of has-beens and never-will-be players that everyone knew they were, which is why Drew Brees seems to be constantly facing pressure and the running game is producing 30 fewer yards per game than last year. Someone needs to tell this collection of turnstiles that the phrase, ‘The big easy’ should NEVER apply to football. Not until after the Panthers get well against them though.”

Hater says: “Nothing makes an offensive line feel better than facing the 2007 Panther defensive front. Peppers can covered with an overweight offensive tackle, Rucker has disappeared, and Kemo is only effective in a straight line. The only Panther defensive lineman that this group needs to worry about is Jenkins, and they can throw two linemen at him and still have the running back for a last minute block if needed. So far the Saints’ offensive line has looked mediocre, but that’s been against three very good defenses (5th, 9th, and 11th in the league). Now that the Panthers are in town with their 23rd ranked defense, look for them to get better in a hurry.”

Defensive Line
This unit is also unchanged from last year. Charles Grant (13 tackles) and Will Smith (10 tackles) anchor the defensive end positions for this group, while Hollis Thomas (4 tackles) and Brian Young (4 tackles) guard the interior. They still lack depth in this unit, which was partly responsible for their being 23rd against the run in 2006. In 2007 the Saints are giving up 116 yards per game, which is good for 18th in the league.

Homer says: “This is why the Panthers will win. Simply put, the Saints can’t stop the one-two punch of DeShaun Foster and Deangelo Williams. Last year when the Saints were playing lights-out Foster still averaged 5.3 yards per carry against them. Williams was good for 4.1 and caught seven balls against the Saints for another 61 yards. If that’s not bad enough, both games were played with the Panthers starting a makeshift offensive line. This unit also doesn’t bring pressure to the QB, not that the Panthers were ever really worried about that anyway…”

Hater says: “This unit may have trouble against the run, but they’re disciplined and won’t make mistakes. They’ve actually surrendered 3.7 yards per carry, which is better than the four yards that the Panthers give up, and they’re allowing fewer yards per game than the Panthers do. Foster can get his stats, but only if Davidson doesn’t abandon the running game in an effort to establish the pass.”

The Saints signed Brian Simmons (1 tackle) away from the Bengals in hopes that he would take over at the middle linebacker spot, but he was unable to unseat Mark Simoneau (18 tackles). Scott Fujita (24 tackles) and Scott Schanle (11 tackles) line up on the strong side and weak side, respectively. As with the defensive line, this unit is unchanged from 2006.

Homer says: “What is it with the Saints and defense? Surely no one looked at their 2006 squad and saw potential, did they? Their linebackers are mediocre against the run and mediocre in coverage. Sure they can stop the run, but only after it’s in the secondary. They can help in coverage but only by preventing the short gains from becoming long ones. There’s no way that King doesn’t catch at least six balls against this group, and Foster and Williams will be able to run sweeps on them at will.”

Hater says: “As with the Defensive Line, the Saints Linebackers are not world beaters but instead are a reliable, disciplined unit that doesn’t make too many mistakes. They don’t surrender long runs, they don’t make penalties, and they don’t miss their assignments. They can be beaten, but only by an offense that’s running on all cylinders.”

Defensive Backs
At cornerback the Saints began the season with 2006 starter Mike McKenzie (8 tackles) and ex-Colt Jason David (12 tackles). David fractured his arm in week three and will likely be replaced by either Jason Craft (9 tackles) or the other 2006 starter Fred Thomas. Second year man Roman Harper (19 tackles) has returned from a knee injury to start at the Strong Safety position, while Josh Bullocks (20 tackles) is lining up as the Free Safety.

Homer says: “The deeper you get into the secondary, the worse it gets for the Saints. For starters, take Jason David. He was a reject from the “vaunted” Colts secondary, and he was still the best they had. Now even his backup is going to be the starter. Smitty is trying to get angry about something they said or did, but about all he can grab on to is the fact that they’re TOO afraid of him, and that just pisses him off. What does it mean again when your defensive backs lead the team in tackles? It means the opposing Offensive Coordinator leaves the stadium with a big grin on his face, that’s what it means.”

Hater says: “This unit is where the Saints need help, but there’s good news for them. The Panthers will be starting David Carr, who has a lifetime rating of 75.2 (60.5 in 2007) and wasted no time last week against the Bucs in cementing his backup status with a paltry 211 yards and an INT. If Carr was willing to throw deep he might be able to take advantage of a weak Saints’ secondary. Unfortunately, Carr’s internal clock is all about when he should throw the ball out of bounds or run backwards to take the sack, so New Orleans has no worries here.”

Homer says: “This is an easy one to predict. The Panthers are one of the scariest road teams in the NFL this year, and the Saints are once again the Aints. This New Orleans team can’t score, they can’t play defense, and they can’t figure out why thinks just aren’t working for them any more. It’s so bad that the Saints are the only team in the league that the Rams have circled on their calendar as a win. Everything has gone wrong so far, and it’s just going to get worse. Maybe this year New Orleans will actually get a game-changer with their top five pick.

When the Saints have the ball, they’re going nowhere. This week the Panthers will be able to finally get a rush going from their defensive line. The Saints are decent in protection actually, but they can’t run so the Panther linebackers should be able to stay in coverage and make Drew Brees hold the ball too long. That’s going to result in a couple sacks and an INT or two. Don’t be surprised if the Saints don’t score in this game, they’re that bad on offense.

When the Panthers have the ball it’s going to be one long, sustained drive after another. Fantasy Football players everywhere are dropping defenses like the Bears and Ravens in an effort to start whoever’s playing the Saints. The Saints can’t stop the run, and can’t cover the pass. They have no rush and don’t cause turnovers. This is going to be an easy day for David Carr to get comfortable with his receivers.

Final score, Panthers 27, Saints 10″

Hater says: “Against last year’s Panthers this would be an easy call, even with their injuries. Against the 2005 squad? Easy call. Even the 2001 team would probably go to New Orleans and give them hell and possibly walk out with a win. Not this year’s edition though. The 2007 Panther offense is just as predictable as Dan Henning’s was, the defense has no heart, and the Special Teams play has gotten worse. Pit that against a Saints team that’s angry about last years two losses to the Panthers, frustrated about not winning a game, and coming off a bye, and you have a recipe for a loss.

You can bet that Sean Payton has spent the last two weeks reviewing tape, and has put in several plays designed to exploit the soft Panther middle. Drew Brees will have a field day throwing short pass after short pass, easily beating the slow Panther rush and taking advantage of three Panther linebackers who are dreadful in coverage. Payton will use Reggie Bush in ways that maximize his skills–the Saints will throw lots of short passes to Bush out of the backfield where all that stands between him and a large gain is a Panther defensive back, and none of the Carolina DBs have been good enough to stop those passes so far. This is a game where the Saints offense begins looking like the 2006 edition again.

On defense the Saints will stack eight men in the box until David Carr shows that he can hit the short pass consistently. Even if Foster and Williams rack up some good running yards, Jeff Davidson has already shown a disturbing tendency to call three quick passes that kill a drive. The Panthers will probably score early with their running game, but as the Saints open their lead the Cats will become one-dimensional. With Carr at the helm, that means the game is over.

Another Panther loss is on the horizon. With two bad defenses on the field look for a high scoring Saints victory. New Orleans 38, Carolina 24.”