Unconventional Preview: Patriots-Saints

Welcome to Season 2, Episode 6 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that usually runs right here every Friday around noon. The 4-1 Patriots, coming off a touchdown-free loss at, Cincinnati, host Billy Kilmer Archie Manning Wade Wilson John Fourcade Bobby Hebert Aaron Brooks Drew Brees and the 5-0 Saints. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this thing started already …


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THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I’LL BE WATCHING
1. Drew Brees: Well, obviously. I’ve always thought of Brees as just a notch below Brady and Manning among the premier quarterbacks of this era … but you know what? He belongs with them. He does. He led the league in completion percentage every year from 2009-11. He’s thrown for more than 5,000 yards three times and has led the league in passing yardage four times. He topped the NFL in touchdown passes four times in five years. And he has as many Super Bowl wins as Manning. And then there’s the most notable record he owns: Had Brady thrown a touchdown pass last week against the Bengals, he’d be attempting to tie Brees’s record of 54 straight games with a TD pass against Brees’s team. Instead, Brady will try to make it one in a row.

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2. Cameron Jordan: I don’t think anyone is complaining about the Patriots’ decision to select tackle Nate Solder with their first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He’s proven a worthy successor to Matt Light as the protector of Tom Brady‘s blind side. But If you recall, there seemed to be consensus feeling of frustration among Patriots fans that night, at least from those who A) believe Mike Mayock has nothing on their draft prep and B) have Twitter accounts and aren’t afraid to use them. Jordan, a defensive end from Cal who looked the part of the pass rusher the Patriots needed at the time, and Alabama running back Mark Ingram were the two players designated to the Patriots in the first round in most mock drafts. Instead, the Pats took Solder, and traded their second first-rounder with Ingram on the board. Both ended up in New Orleans, and while Jordan has emerged as a quality pass rusher with four sacks this year, Ingram is a bit of an afterthought, averaging just 1.8 yards on 17 carries this year while dealing with a toe injury. In fact, the Patriots’ fourth-round pick that year, Stevan Ridley, had more rushing yards last season than Ingram has in his career.

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3. Joe Vellano/Chris Jones Well, someone has to play defensive tackle for the Patriots, and it doesn’t look like Tommy Kelly will be one of them after missing three days of practice this week with a knee injury suffered against the Bengals. (Update: He’s been ruled out. Anyone know where to find Ted Washington?) Saints running back Pierre Thomas is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry, but he may get his chances to gash the middle of the Patriots’ defense on the occasions when the ball isn’t in Brees’s hands.

JUST TO PROVE THAT MANNINGS DO EVENTUALLY RETIRE
After watching the entertaining hagiography “Book of Manning” recently, I’m pretty much convinced that Peyton Manning‘s entire childhood was caught on camcorder, with clips dispersed to NFL Films at designated Archie-determined intervals throughout his career.

Oh, all right, I’ll admit it: the Mannings, especially Archie and mom Olivia, seem like good and decent people.

But … I’m still not going to admit Archie was a better quarterback than Steve Grogan. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. Both could run and throw. Both took an ungodly beating at times. Grogan played on better teams. But their numbers were remarkably similar.

Consider:

Archie Manning, career passing:

G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk
151 139 35-101-3 2011 3642 55.2 23911 125 173 67.1 396

Steve Grogan, career passing:

G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk
149 135 75-60-0 1879 3593 52.3 26886 182 208 69.6 247
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/11/2013.

Manning, rushing:

Rushing
G GS Att Yds TD Y/A
151 139 384 2197 18 5.7

Grogan, rushing.

Rushing
G GS Att Yds TD Y/A
149 135 445 2176 35 4.9
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/11/2013.

Pretty close, huh? The only category where the numbers aren’t close is sacks — Manning was hauled down 149 more times than Grogan in two more career games. Did the Saints field a three-man offensive line or something in those days?


GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
His days as a collegiate “star” in another sport are part of his burgeoning legend, but have no doubt, Jimmy Graham is much better at catching a football than shooting a basketball. The Saints tight end was a decent college basketball player — he averaged 4.2 points per game in four seasons at Miami. But his true athletic calling has come in the NFL, where he’s becme as good as it gets at tight end, leading the NFL in receiving yards (583) while ranking second in touchdowns (6) and third in receptions (37). Actually, let me modify that “as good as it gets” part, because that’s where my grievance comes in. Graham is a brilliant pass-catcher, virtually unstoppable, an extraordinary combination of height (6 feet 7 inches) and range. But as an all-around tight end, he is not close to a healthy Rob Gronkowski, and I hate that I’m really beginning to wonder when or if we’ll see a completely healthy Gronk at the height of his powers again. I’ll take that guy over Jimmy Graham every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Chuck Muncie, who apparently knew a thing or two about fashionable eye-wear long before Dwyane Wade and friends made it a goofy NBA trend, was actually my second choice here. But I just couldn’t seem to find a card of Guido Merkens, who I wanted for this spot because, you know, his name is Guido Merkens. So Muncie it is. Chosen third overall in 1976 — two spots before the Patriots chose Mike Haynes — he’s evidence that that the narrative that Manning never had any talent around him isn’t entirely true. Muncie ran for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns in ’79, when the Saints offense also featured Manning, third-down back Tony Galbreath, and receiver Wes Chandler. Traded to San Diego, his career was derailed by drug problems, as detailed in former teammate Don Reese‘s 1982 cocaine tell-all to Sports Illustrated. He eventually turned his life around, becoming a counselor for troubled youth, before dying of a heart attack in May at 60.
PREDICTION, OR WHERE ARE STANLEY MORGAN AND IRVING FRYAR WHEN YOU NEED THEM?
The Saints are ninth in the NFL in scoring, averaging 26.8 points per game. The Patriots, as unfathomable as would have seemed not that long ago, are 24th at 19 ppg. That sounds like the vicinity of the final score to me. Saints 27, Patriots 20
(Last week’s prediction: Patriots 24, Bengals 21. Final score: Bengals 13, Patriots 6. Season record: 3-2.)