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Titans at Saints Preview

The Tennessee Titans will return to primetime this Monday night to take on the Saints in New Orleans before a national television audience. Although much of the hype will surround Vince Young and Reggie Bush, two of the top three draft picks last year, the real story is about the teams.
The NFC runners-up last year, the Saints fell one game short of a Super Bowl appearance and were touted by many as favorites to make it this year. Surprisingly, they’re off to an 0-2 start, losing to the Super Bowl champion Colts and the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Monday night will be their home opener and they’ll be as dangerous as an animal backed into a corner.
New Orleans scouting report:

Overview – A loss by anyone to the Colts isn’t considered a surprise, and the Saints played them evenly in the first half of their season opener before being blown out in the second half. The loss to the Bucs is another story. Tampa Bay stormed to a 28-0 lead and Joey Galloway torched the Saints secondary for 135 receiving yards and two TDs.
Sean Payton, the 2006 NFL Coach of the Year, and his Saints team are being thoroughly pilloried in the New Orleans newspapers. Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote the Saints have

      “one of the league’s most anemic offenses, one of the league’s most penetrable defenses and one of the league’s shakiest special teams units.”

The Times-Picayune‘s John DeShazier wrote

      “They don’t run, block, pass, catch, tackle, cover, kick or coach well, which means they don’t score or prevent opponents from doing so, either.”

It’s a good thing the Saints don’t play in New York or they might get some criticism and negative press coverage.
Offense – New Orleans led the league in total offense and passing offense in 2006 and were fifth in scoring. With the exception of Joe Horn, the nucleus of that offense returns this year, making them a formidable foe. The Saints have a strong inside running game with Deuce McAllister and an all-purpose threat in Bush. New Orleans will have to establish the running game early this week and not fall behind like they did in the first two games. The Saints have scored only 24 total points in their first two games this season.
Defense – If misery loves company, then the offense and defense are probably getting along well with each other. The secondary was considered the weakness of the team in 2006 and it doesn’t appear anything significant was done to improve it during the offseason. The rush defense isn’t doing much better, ranking 22nd in the league. The Saints have given up 72 points in two games.
Special Teams – Lance Moore is the primary returner, but the Saints have used Bush on one punt return this season. He returned 28 last year and could be utilized there again in key situations. Kicker Olindo Mare is just 1 for 3 on field goal attempts.
Keys for the Titans:
1. Spread the Saints out and run the football. That may differ from what many are predicting, that the Titans will try to take advantage of the Saints’ secondary. That runs counter to the Titans’ personality and identity on offense however, and I believe they’ll run the ball often with the pass mixed in.
2. Limit Reggie Bush. The Saints will line Bush up all over the field, using him much like the Rams did with Marshall Faulk and the Eagles do with Brian Westbrook. Bush led New Orleans in receptions last year (88) although Marques Colston and Horn were the marquee receivers. Bush also gained more yardage receiving (742) than rushing (565) in his 2006 rookie campaign. Tennessee should be in decent shape if they can prevent Bush from making big plays.
Matchups to watch: Two of the Saints’ best defenders are defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. Try to follow Michael Roos and David Stewart blocking them, especially on rushing plays. Veteran center Jeff Faine working against Ryan Fowler will be a good one to watch. Bush will be matched up against several Titans in various schemes. As a guy who can score anytime he touches the ball, he’s someone worth watching. I’ll have more enjoyment watching the Titans successfully defend him.
Connections: New Orleans is the hometown of Titans WR Roydell Williams, who played in college for Tulane. Center Kevin Mawae is a Louisiana native and played at LSU. Saints rookie WR Robert Meachem played his college ball at Tennessee and veteran CB Fred Thomas played at UT Martin. Former Titans TE coach George Henshaw is now the Saints RB coach.
Prediction: The oddsmakers have made New Orleans a four-point favorite, despite their two blowout losses on the road. Are they giving the Saints too much credit for what should be a fired up home crowd? I don’t buy it.
Titans 24
Saints 20
For an outlook from the Saints’ viewpoint, please check out MVN’s Cajun Up With the Saints.