M.A.S.H. unit Saints struggling to find answers

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 24, 2008

We’ve all heard what’s been said over the past week about the hometown Black and Gold.

Too soft. Too up and down. Not balanced enough. Can’t handle adversity.

Whether the Saints are or aren’t these things, I can’t say for sure. But I’ll offer one thing that I know for sure this team doesn’t have these days: health.

I do believe good teams can overcome injuries to a degree. But the Carolina defense isn’t Oakland’s or San Francisco’s. Drew Brees was likely never going to go 26-of-30 against this unit, currently the fifth ranked squad in the NFL — be it by points or yards allowed.

Because no matter how well Lance Moore has filled in…or how many deep bombs Devery Henderson has caught…or how pleasantly surprised we’ve been at Robert Meachem’s progression…there was a reason that the Saints targeted this game to bring Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey back from injury. Moore, Henderson and Meachem at this point are all nice secondary threats, but they aren’t go-to guys, the kind that can make a fantastic defensive team pay.

Colston, as we saw, wasn’t ready at all. Shockey apparently wasn’t either, noting he aggravated his groin injury after the game.

Add to that the loss of Reggie Bush — the offensive centerpiece and Drew Brees’ last “big gun” remaining — at halftime, and it was a recipe for disaster.

I can’t fault anyone for wanting more, as this began as a season of great expectations. And the Saints got whipped in every way imaginable on Sunday. But take a good look around the league — key injuries have slowed Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Diego, and recently the Cowboys. As much as it’s popular to say, “Man up, injuries are no excuse”, it’s a different time in the NFL. There isn’t much separating good teams from bad, anymore. And when you lose key talent, it matters, big time.

So before we determine whether Sean Payton’s coaching style works, or if Mickey Loomis brought in the right players, or if this team has any heart, lets at least wait and see how everything looks when most of the pieces are back in the puzzle.

• NBA season is here in a few days, basketball junkies. I was reading a poll the other day that was taken among NBA General Managers, and the Hornets had the third highest vote total among teams picked to win a championship. With Chris Paul, anything is possible, and with such a young team, any improvements by Paul (the scary thing is, he probably will get even better), Tyson Chandler or David West could be enough to put it over the top.

Does that make them my pick to win the title? Actually, no. I think the Hornets are a top three team in the West (and may even finish with the best record), but the Lakers look absolutely stacked again. Andrew Bynum is back, and it’s like adding a fourth All-Star caliber player to Kobe, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. Barring injury, that’s a tough squad to beat.

From the East, Boston will contend, but I think they’re upended by Philadelphia in a changing of the guard. As talented as the Celtics are, it’ll be hard to recreate the same hunger they had between KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Plus I just love Philadelphia’s team after adding Elton Brand. He’s an elite big man. Samuel Dalembert is a big time shot blocker next to him. Andre Miller could lead the NBA in assists, and Thaddeus Young is ready to explode. And I haven’t even mentioned Andre Iguodala, who seems to do everything. Young, Iggy, and Miller all rack up steals and Brand and Dalembert shut down the lane.

Am I sure I don’t want to pick Philly over L.A. outright? Not really, but I’ll go with Kobe in a seven game series.

Here are some more picks: MVP: Chris Paul; Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard. Sixth Man of the Year: Rodney Stuckey, Detroit; Rookie of the Year: Greg Oden (I consider this his rookie season); Comeback Player of the Year: Dwyane Wade.

For some made up ‘honors’: Biggest flop: Houston Rockets (no way T-Mac, Yao and Ron Artest all stay healthy); Best under the radar addition: Maurice Williams, Cleveland (LeBron finally gets some help); Breakout Season: Wilson Chandler, Knicks (I have to pick my ‘other team’ for something, and Chandler may fit Mike D’Antoni’s system better than anyone on the roster); Surprise Western Conference playoff team: Clippers (A total contradiction on my “Houston will flop” pick, but Baron Davis, Marcus Camby and Chris Kamen are a very talented trio); surprise Eastern playoff team: Bucks (Andrew Bogut’s breaking out, Michael Redd’s an elite shooter, and Charlie Villaneuva seems to have begun to figure things out. Add Richard Jefferson to that mix.).