Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
While Saints fans were getting ready for the playoffs around the NFL other fans were watching their coaches getting fired on what is known as 'Black Monday'. After watching the carnage and comedy around the NFL on 'Black Monday' it made me realize Tom Benson is a pretty darn good owner to have for New Orleans Saints fans.
Talking about Tom Benson always brings out the sharp knives among some Saints fans because of what happened in 2005 when Benson reportedly wanted to move the Saints to San Antonio. I'm not going to go into the particulars, if you want to know details Google it. The short version is the mayor of San Antonio was making no bones about swiping the Saints from New Orleans before the waters from Katrina receded. And Tom Benson was really interested in what the mayor was saying.
If you can't forgive or forget what Benson tried to do in 2005 I won't hold it against you because I still root against the Spurs in the NBA because of it. Who says grudges can't be irrational and fun to carry?
What Benson tried to do during Katrina is part of his legacy. He failed in crisis but post Katrina was kind of insane for everyone in New Orleans. I always remember what my Dad said as we were ripping out sheet rock in Lakeview, 'Surviving Katrina isn't about doing anything great. This is about hoping you aren't in a thousand pieces in a year.' I won't excuse what Benson did but I can move past it in judging him as an owner. Since that failure he's been brilliant.
Benson let Mickey Loomis hire Sean Payton and has basically stayed out of everything football related just like he's always done since he bought the Saints in 1985.
The Saints have never lost a player since 2006 because they refused to pay the going rate. They at different points since 2006 have had the highest paid quarterback, guard, and head coach. The idea that Benson is somehow cheap with money regarding players and coaches is a myth that has no basis in fact.
Let's also never forget when the entire Bounty Gate scandal broke some in the national media were calling for Sean Payton's and Mickey Loomis' heads on a platter, Benson stayed quiet and where he failed in crisis in 2005 in 2012 he was masterful. He didn't do something stupid and rash like fire everyone in a public relations panic.
Before you say no one would ever be so stupid as to fire a Super Bowl winning coach and general manager, have you seen what some of these NFL owners have been doing this week?
Cleveland is about to hire I think their 120th coach in the last five minutes. After firing their head coach Sunday night at the Monday press conference Browns owner Jimmy Haslam actually had to answer a question if the Browns front office was the Three Stooges. If the media is brave enough to ask if you are the Three Stooges the answer is pretty self-evident. That could be the Saints if Tom Benson was a meddlesome owner. The thought just made me black out.
Or Benson could be like Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones and want to pick players and have his own press conferences. Wouldn't it be exciting to hear Tom Benson's thoughts on how Terron Armstead looks at left tackle? I'd rather drink a margarita of motor oil. I can't remember anything Benson has said Saints related since 2006 and it makes me incredibly happy.
Or Benson could be like The Ford family who owns the Lions and let Matt Millen drive the team into the ground then let Millen set the wrecked car on fire. The Lions are about to hire another coach and still are nowhere near getting their first Super Bowl. Benson has shown he's definitely not afraid to fire people even after giving them a contract extension. Just ask Mike Ditka.
I've always thought Tom Benson knows he screwed up in 2005 but I forgave him when he bought the Pelicans. He's not perfect but no one ever is. So as you get ready to watch another Saints playoff game and are thankful for Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, and all the rest remember Tom Benson deserves some credit too.
Rob Ryan's Big Chart of Fun: All year long I'll be charting how the Saints defense does under Rob Ryan in certain situations. For a full explanation of how it works read this. Special thanks to the guys at Black and Gold Review who took the chart and made it interactive.
Rob Ryan's boys hit my goals set for 7 of 10 categories. They only missed in turnovers, allowing big pass plays in run situations, and conversions on 3rd and less than four. The goal for turnovers was 32 and they only created 19. The last nine weeks the defense only created four turnovers.
The goal of only allowing 30 percent pass completions of 10 or more yards in 2nd and 3rd down of less than four might have been a little ambitious along with 41 percent conversion goal of 3rd and less than four.
The good news for the Saints was while teams were able to hit big plays on 2nd and 3rd and less than four they didn't have many chances to do so. Teams never attempted more than 9 passes on 2nd and 3rd and short the entire year.
It was an extraordinary year any way you slice it.
Last Week: 1-4
New Orleans (+2.5) at Philadelphia: In the NFL we are 'prisoners of the moment'. Whatever we just saw happen is what will happen again forever until the end of time.
The Saints have struggled away for the Superdome. I'm sure you've heard it all this week. They haven't scored 30 points once away from home and haven't won a road playoff game ever. So the media narrative is, 'THE SAINTS WILL NEVER WIN AN IMPORTANT ROAD GAME EVER AGAIN!'
The Saints road troubles are like the sun blocking out every other possible story this week.
If you think the Saints are a disaster on the road which loss is their worst? Was it the 27-16 loss to the 7-9 Rams or maybe the 26-20 defeat at the hands of the 8-8 Jets?
The Saints other three losses were to playoff teams not playing this week.
In four of the Saints five losses the one common factor among the teams is a devastating pass rush.
The Jets have two elite pass rushers in Muhammad Wilkerson and Calvin Pace. They also have a superstar in waiting with Sheldon Richardson.
The Rams have Chris Long and all-world Robert Quinn who had 19 sacks.
Seattle has six guys with at least 4.5 sacks and the number one ranked pass defense in football.
Carolina has Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy who combined for 25 sacks.
Maybe the Saints struggled on the road this year because they played elite defenses that could exploit an average offensive line. Maybe the Saints struggles have nothing to do with Gatorade or Popeye's Chicken on the flight but the fact the Saints faced teams with multiple guys who could sack the quarterback?
The Eagles have two players with more than four sacks; Connor Barwin has five and Trent Cole has 8. Their pass rush isn't close to the four teams I just mentioned.
The Eagles defense has gotten much better since being a train wreck the first month of the season. They held 12 teams under 21 points which ranked second to Carolina but I'd argue they only faced two Top 10 ranked passing offenses after week four and one was Detroit in a blizzard. To be fair they were very good against the Chicago Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown.
The Eagles defense does two things well in creating turnovers and not giving up big plays. According to Football Outsiders they rank eighth in turnovers created per drive and their linebackers rank fifth in allowing yards to running backs that reach the second level. Basically this means the Eagles linebackers do a great job of making open field tackles even if their defensive line is getting pushed around.
The Saints won't win Saturday running the ball because let's be honest, it's all about Drew Brees throwing and the Eagles rank last in pass defense. Here is what quarterbacks have done to the Eagles in three of their losses...
Phillip River 413 yards
Peyton Manning 331 yards
Matt Cassel 382 yards.
Even Kyle Orton managed 358 yards for the Cowboys on Sunday night.
Some of you are probably screaming at your computer, 'But Ralph three of those games were either in a Dome or nice weather early in the year!'
Fine. You go ahead and fear 27 degrees, partly cloudy skies, and six mile per hour wind.
I'll put my faith in Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, and Sean Payton against the WORST PASS DEFENSE IN FOOTBALL.
Oh, did I mention Cowboy tight end Jason Whitten caught 12 passes for 135 yards Sunday?
But the cold weather is going to cure ALL THE EAGLES PROBLEMS! Cold weather turns any defense vs. Drew Brees into the 1985 Chicago Bears or something.
The Saints offense is going to be fine.
On defense Rob Ryan's crew faces a huge test against the brilliant mind of Chip Kelly.
The Eagles go at 100 miles an hour and have fantastic playmakers in DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and even Riley Cooper. Nick Foles has been great running the offense and not making mistakes.
Rob will slow McCoy just enough early and the Saints pass rush will deliver sacks.
Some might expect a shootout but I'm expecting a blowout.
Something has to change in this game, either the Saints will stop losing on the road or the Philly pass defense will stop being atrocious. The Eagles defense has survived on turnovers all year but Drew Brees won't give them any and the Saints offense will be in destroy mode from opening kickoff.
Eagles won't be able to keep up.
Indianapolis (+2.5) vs. Kansas City: The Colts just two weeks ago went to Kansas City and won 23-7. The Chiefs ran for 155 yards but had four turnovers. I love when Saints play the late playoff game because we get to enjoy the opening game. I'm going to savor seeing Andy Reid using all his timeouts and challenges in the first quarter.
As for the game, I'll take Andrew Luck late.
Cincinnati (-7) vs. San Diego: Believing in a Marvin Lewis team in the playoffs is never a good idea but the Chargers defense is awful as they rank 29th in pass defense. Remember Chase Daniels? He just looked really good against them so I'll take my chances with Andy Dalton.
Green Bay (+3) vs. San Francisco: The story no one has noticed is the 49ers let both Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer have really nice games against them the final two weeks.
Aaron Rogers should be able to move the ball but the Packers defense smells like my clothes on New Year's Day after a night of partying. Everyone has the 49ers as the 'hot' team so I'm going the other way.
Rogers plays awesome and Green Bay wins
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.