My last two pieces (last weekend’s game review and the write up on Jason Babin) had an air of positivity. Tonight I’m shedding that skin. We have a legitimate reason to be scared. For a few weeks now the Chiefs have thrived in spite of (and in some cases because of) the stunning catalogue of injuries to starters and key role players. Don’t expect that to keep up. The injuries are piling up even higher and we’re about to enter battle against a team that is uniquely suited to exploit each and every resultant weakness.
The Saints are coming, and this is where injury purgatory meets matchup hell.
1ST RUNG: Roman Harper vs. Dwayne Bowe.
Somebody should show Dwayne some of that priceless 1998 Tony Gonzalez footage that had fans everywhere clamoring for Ted Popson to see more playing time. You remember that footage, right? The stuff that made you wonder if somebody was replacing his Stickem with Astroglide? There’s no denying that Dwayne has developed a case of the dropsies. Roman Harper is going to do his damnedest to drive that point home. Roman doesn’t make interceptions. Roman bats balls down. Roman is outmatched in size, but not in ability. The advantage goes to Bowe, but Roman won’t make it easy.
2ND RUNG: Jeremy Shockey vs. Rocky Boiman.
Rocky vs. Shockey. The underachiever vs. the overachiever. The resistable force vs. the movable object. Shockey hasn’t looked like much for a couple of years. Rocky hasn’t looked like much since he left Notre Dame. Rocky put up a decent performance one week ago. Shockey put up a decent performance one team ago. I give the slight advantage to Boiman on account of the fact that his giveadamn isn’t busted, but if Shockey decides he wants to make a point Chiefs fans will be calling for the return of Kendrell Bell.
3RD RUNG: Jammal Brown vs. Turk McBride.
This isn’t a matchup. This is an embarrassment. McBride is not now, nor never has been, a pass rush threat. Brown is superlative pass defender. McBride is best suited as a rotational player. Brown is a star. The advantage goes to Brown by a country mile.
4TH RUNG: Jonathan Vilma vs. Wade Smith.
This isn’t a direct man-on-man matchup, but rather a matchup of consequence. When Kendrick Clancy – hardly a world beater – blows Smith right off the line, Mike Cox will be left to hold back a man who outweighs him by 50 pounds in hopes of opening up some semblance of a running lane. In the off chance that LJ (or Charles or Savage) actually finds that lane, expect Jonathan Vilma to reunite with his old head coach through a 3rd party intermediary. The only positive here is that somebody in our front office might finally notice Jonathan Vilma and bring him in for an interview in the offseason.
5TH RUNG: Jonathan Stinchcomb vs. Alfonso Boone.
Think the matchup on the other side is ugly? This one is gonna be uglier. Unfathomably ugly. Guys like this are why the league asks players to leave their helmets on. This matchup isn’t chess. It isn’t even checkers. It’s Candy Land: The Gravyboat Edition. Call it Lardo Land. And Stinchcomb will win. Boone is not a defensive end.
6TH RUNG: Lance Moore vs. Mike Priefer.
I don’t have a lot to say here other than that Priefer will probably make the transition from Reggie Bush to Lance Moore a lot easier on Saints fans. Also, fire Mike Priefer.
7TH RUNG: Devery Henderson vs. Maurice Leggett.
The charge most often levied against Devery Henderson is that he is woefully inconsistent. Unless he starts batting down his own passes, he’s safe from any such accusations this week. This will be his easiest matchup this season. It may well be the easiest matchup of his career thus far. Then again, if Leggett falters, Henderson might have to deal with some Ricardo Colclough action. Colclough might very well make Leggett look like Champ Bailey, which in turn might make Henderson look like Jerry Rice.
8TH RUNG: Marques Colston vs. Brandon Carr.
The good news is that we’ll probably pair our most consistent remaining CB on New Orleans’s most consistent receiver. The bad news is this: the thing at which Carr is most consistent is playing soft coverage. Carr doesn’t want to give up the big play. Colston is not the big play man. I feel comfortable in stating that Carr won’t give Colston more yards than Atlanta gave him last week. Too bad Atlanta gave him 140 yards.
9TH RUNG: Drew Brees vs. the non-existent pass rush.
Gunther’s new blitz scheme will not make all the difference. Brees is a highly accurate QB with one of the league’s better trios in Colston, Henderson, and Moore. Give him a five-count or better and he’ll find a target. Barring unexpected contributions from newcomers like Wallace Gilberry and Jason Babin, expect Brees to play most of the day with a clean jersey.
10TH RUNG: Drew Brees vs. the depleted secondary.
Brees won’t need that five-count. Good receivers don’t need that much time to separate from scrubs. Our CBs are going to hand out career days like Gideon’s Bibles after school.
All is lost, right? Not exactly. Redemption is found by beating them in the middle. The Saints are weak where we are strongest. On defense, Rudy Niswanger and Brian Waters must win the battle against Kendrick Clancy and Sedrick Ellis. That’s not a tall order. Neither Clancy nor Ellis is particularly large or particularly powerful. Rudy can’t expect help from Wade Smith against Clancy, however. He must mentally prepare himself to handle that responsibility singlehandedly. As for Ellis, Waters can bowl right over that kid. LJ must adapt and find his running lanes behind Waters and Albert and through Scott Shanle. That’s right – through. LJ must duck his shoulder and hit a guy who outweighs him by 15 pounds. He can average 5-yards per carry if he adheres to that methodology. He’ll need to, because Damion McIntosh is going to lose the battle against Charles Grant and Branden Albert is going to struggle to keep Will Smith from gettin’ Thiggy with it.
Likewise, on the other side of the ball success can be found up the middle. The Saints are playing with a backup C in Matt Lehr and a backup LG in Carl Nicks. Tank Tyler and Glenn Dorsey are coming off of their best game to date as a tandem. If they build on last week’s success, which came against one of the league’s best interiors, they can at a minimum slow the bleeding. They might even land a sack or two. Or more. This game has the potential to bolster Dorsey’s confidence and put an end to any discussion as to whether it was he or Ellis that was the better choice.
Our backup LBs can earn their keep too. Reggie Bush is out and Deuce McAllister is aging fast. Deuce could still pull off a big game, but only if Rocky, Demorrio, and Dacus let him. The unit that should have been our deepest still can be. They can earn the one thing that’s more gratifying than respect: job security.
Folks, hold on to your hats. This one could suck.