New Orleans is winning with defense and the emerging Ricky
Saints defensive tackle La'Roi Glover was halfway through dinner
last Saturday when he put down his knife and fork and explained
why this season is unlike any of the previous three he had
experienced in New Orleans. "Now, when we beat a team pretty
good," he said, "no one is surprised. We expect to win."
Don't condemn NFL parity because the Saints, of all teams, are
playoff contenders. Celebrate it, because no club plays harder
than first-year coach Jim Haslett's band of overachieving draft
picks and free-agent pickups. The Saints have pronounced
weaknesses in the secondary and at linebacker and wide receiver,
but thanks to a strong front four, they have the NFL's top-rated
defense. And the running game ranks second, producing 147.6
yards a game.
By virtue of its 21-19 win over the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday,
New Orleans improved to 4-3, including a 3-1 mark on the road,
and surpassed its victory total of last year. With its next three
games against the Cardinals, 49ers and Panthers, New Orleans
should be in the playoff race for the long haul.
Led by the quirky Ricky Williams, the Saints are an odd group.
Williams has finally arrived as one of the most productive
runners in the league, averaging 127 yards rushing and 43
receiving over the past five games, yet he still seems burdened
by that responsibility. Haslett fined him $3,051 last week for
skipping a doctor's appointment to have his bruised right knee
examined. When the coach told him in midweek he might ask him to
carry the ball 40 times against the Falcons, Williams, who was
also nursing a sore foot, replied, "Please don't." Also, one
teammate said that Williams asked Haslett not to use the "jumbo"
formation--the two-tight-end smash-mouth alignment--as much as the
Saints had been.
"I think Coach Haslett caught me in a bad mood that day,"
Williams said on Sunday, after he'd abused the Falcons with 156
yards and a career-high three touchdowns on 29 carries. He wore
down Atlanta with 103 yards in the second half.
The real strength of the team, though, is the defensive front, a
terrific blend of run stoppers (310-pound tackle Norman Hand is
one of the league's best), outside rushers (Joe Johnson and
rookie Darren Howard provide consistent pressure) and versatile
performers. No one fits the latter bill better than the 267-pound
Glover, who has 11 sacks. He can bull rush a 310-pound guard or
use his quickness to slip between a double team. Glover has keyed
the Saints' three-game winning streak with three sacks each
against Chicago and Carolina and two on Sunday. "In Chicago,"
said Haslett, "he bulled [tackle] Big Cat Williams into the
quarterback for a sack." The Cat weighs 345 on a light day.
A 1996 fifth-round draft pick by the Raiders out of San Diego
State, Glover went to the World League in 1997 to get game
experience, but Oakland still waived him that summer. When the
Saints claimed him, Glover knew it might be his last chance to
stick in the NFL. He began poring over game tape and asked
teammates about great defensive linemen with whom they had
played. In 1998, his first season as a starter, he led the Saints
with 10 sacks.
"If a young player who wants to be good could watch one guy for
24 hours a day to learn how to practice, how to study and how to
play the game," said Haslett, "I'd tell him to watch La'Roi."
On Sunday, Glover passed Bucs tackle Warren Sapp on the sack list
with his 10th and 11th takedowns of the season. Sapp happens to
be one of the guys whom Glover studies regularly. "To think that
people might mention me with [Sapp] is incredible," Glover said.
"That's why I will never take a play off." Like his teammates,
Glover finds something to fight about every Sunday.
In Payton's Place
Dillon Runs into The Record Book
There have been few more unlikely events in recent memory than
Corey Dillon's 278-yard rushing performance against the Broncos.
The Bengals' fourth-year running back broke Walter Payton's
23-year-old single-game rushing record of 275 yards, despite
having exceeded 50 yards in a game only twice this year. What's
more, Denver entered the game second in the league in run
defense, and Cincinnati's passing game was so anemic--a league-low
44.9% completion rate--that defenses were loading up to stop the
On Sunday, however, the Broncos were too aggressive. "The defense
was fast and overpursuing in some cases," said Dillon, who rushed
for more than 1,100 yards in each of his first three seasons.
"They gave me lots of lanes to cut back through. I just made
people miss." Dillon had six runs of 30 yards or more, including
touchdown romps of 65 and 41 yards in the final six minutes to
seal Cincinnati's 31-21 upset. The Bengals (1-6) had 407 yards
rushing, the most in the NFL in 50 years, and won despite
completing only 2 of 14 passes.
Stunned when he saw on the scoreboard that he'd broken Payton's
record, Dillon, who also holds the NFL rookie single-game mark
of 246 rushing yards, fell to the ground. When he entered the
locker room after the game, Dillon was surrounded by teammates
who bounced him from man to man, slapping and hugging him. Coach
Dick LeBeau, a throwback who played for 14 pro seasons, shouted,
"Let's hear it for Corey! Hip hip..." The locker room exploded
in a "hoo-ray!"
It's the curse of the woebegone Bengals that Dillon will be a
free agent after the season, and he has a clause in his contract
that prevents the team from slapping the restrictive franchise
tag on him. He has said he will leave Cincinnati because he feels
the team has no chance to win. Told of Dillon's performance,
Saints coach Jim Haslett said, "Corey Dillon just made himself a
lot of money."
Tampa Bay Tumbles
Bucs Struggle To Find Identity
The biggest reason for the collapse of the Bucs over the past
four weeks is that they've stopped doing the things that made
them a Super Bowl contender in the first place. Tampa Bay's
philosophy last season, when only a Ricky Proehl circus catch
enabled the Rams to avoid a shocking Bucs upset in the NFC
Championship Game, was simple: Play ball-control offense, and put
the game in the hands of the defense. But early in the fourth
quarter of last Thursday's tight game against the Lions, the Bucs
passed on third-and-two. Incomplete. The next series they passed
on third-and-one. Interception. The next series they passed on
third-and-two and fourth-and-two. Incomplete, incomplete.
On four of the most important plays of the game, Tampa Bay put
the ball in the hands of struggling quarterback Shaun King
instead of stalwart running back Mike Alstott, who had fumbled
earlier in the game. On all four plays King, eschewing the
scramble even with receivers closely covered, failed. Meanwhile,
Detroit running back James Stewart was bolting through the
defense for 116 yards and three touchdowns, including 44 yards
and two scores in the last 8:36 of the Lions' surprising 28-14
King has been a Dilferesque 53% passer during the Bucs' four-game
skid. Wideout Keyshawn Johnson piped down after having 12 balls
thrown to him on Thursday (he caught six), but he'll hold his
tongue only as long as his chances are plentiful. Usually the
Bucs pound away with Alstott, but on Sept. 24 he fumbled in the
last two minutes against the Jets, setting up New York's
game-winning touchdown. On Thursday his fumble led to a Detroit
field goal after Tampa Bay had jumped ahead 8-0.
Following the game, Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp sat
Buddha-like in disbelief. "You know how many points we've given
up in the last four fourth quarters?" he finally said.
"Forty-six. Ridiculous. We shouldn't give up that many in four
True, but the inefficient offense has repeatedly put the defense
in a hole. Even with the $52 million investment (Johnson) it made
in the off-season, not to mention the money that was doled out to
acquire center Jeff Christy and left guard Randall McDaniel,
Tampa Bay looks no better on offense than it did in the first
half of 1999, when Trent Dilfer was calling the signals. If King
(two touchdowns and six interceptions during the recent slide)
can't raise his play, the Bucs will be home for the postseason.
Who would have believed that, after the trade for Johnson?
Against the Lions, Keyshawn took a beating, the hardest shot
coming from safety Corwin Brown, who separated him from his
helmet when he tried to catch a slant pass in the third quarter.
As Johnson walked slowly from the shower to his locker, someone
asked the battered wideout, "How are you doing?"
Johnson smiled wanly. "Here's how I'm doing," he said, holding up
a packet of Extra Strength Tylenol. The team that used to supply
all the headaches is now getting them.
Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.
Former Steelers director of football operations Tom Donohoe spent
two days in Dallas last week critiquing the Cowboys. It was the
second time this year that Donohoe had been summoned by Jerry
Jones, but it's unclear whether the Cowboys' owner would consider
hiring Donohoe (who would prefer to work closer to Pittsburgh) to
assume the duties of de facto G.M. Larry Lacewell....
How hot is Colts wideout Marvin Harrison? In 10 of his last 12
games he has 100 or more receiving yards....
The Browns could have taken Rams quarterback Kurt Warner in the
1999 expansion draft, and they also passed on another player who
has since turned into a stellar performer: Bucs defensive end
Marcus Jones, who, by virtue of his four-sack performance
against the Lions last Thursday night, ran his season sack total
to 10. Cleveland chose Tampa Bay quarterback Scott Milanovich in
that draft but cut him even before training camp began....
Oakland defensive tackle Darrell Russell, the second pick in the
1997 draft, is being handled by single blockers and says,
"Pretty much, I'm a defensive decoy." The Raiders are quietly
questioning his work ethic.