Optimistic but Cautious | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Optimistic but Cautious

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In sports, you see a lot of overreaction the Monday after Sunday's NFL games. Fan bases can swing wildly throughout the season, depending on their favorite team's performance from week to week.

This is by no means just confined to the NFL. Just ask college football fans for week-to-week reactions—as a good example, listen to the Georgia fan who called into a radio station crying about the Bulldogs' loss to Clemson, thinking the season was over. (Georgia defeated South Carolina this week).

Wild reactions are the nature of football because, unlike the NBA or MLB where teams have 82 to 162 games to right the ship, NFL teams only have 16 weeks get things right. Which brings me to my point this week. If you watched the New Orleans Saints 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons, you might see the possibility for overreaction.

The Saints opened this season with a win after dropping the first four straight games and four of their final six games last season. New Orleans suffered a historically bad defense that allowed 440.1 yards per game and set a NFL record for 7,042 yards allowed.

Last season, New Orleans opened against the Washington Redskins and allowed 459 offensive yards on defense. The offense turned the ball over three teams without forcing a turnover in a 40-32 loss. On Sunday, the Saints only allowed 367 yards on defense and turned the ball over once on offense—but the defense forced two turnovers.

Against the Redskins last year, the Saints defense allowed 153 rushing yards, and the Washington offense went three of five in red-zone attempts. On Sunday, the Saints defense only allowed just 88 yards rushing, and the Atlanta offense went two out of four red zone attempts. The Saints defense's goal-line stand won the game.

New Orleans, in theory, should get better under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but Saints fans will be wary after the defense didn't improve under former DC Steve Spagnuolo. You might have reason to hope if you watched what Ryan did with an injury-plagued Dallas Cowboys defense last season.

The Cowboys were banged up and missing defensive stars all over the field, and Ryan kept the unit functioning well enough for Dallas to be in the playoff hunt until the final game of the season. Dallas fired Ryan, but he really did a superb job if you go back and look at all the injuries the Cowboys had to work around on defense last season.

It was good that the Saints defense won the game with a goal-line stand to build confidence after a disaster of a year for the unit in 2012. One thing the Saints need to improve on is offense.

New Orleans only rushed for 78 yards against the Falcons—which was a lot better than the 32 they had against the Redskins a year ago—but the Saints still need more production from their running backs if they want to reach the playoffs this year.

Fans have good reason to be optimistic about the Saints' win over the Falcons, but they need to use caution until the team has more games under its belt. That's the only way to learn if the defense is truly improved—or if the Saints just had a one-game fix.

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