Saintsinsider.com's Top 5

Each week Saintsinsider.com's Matthew Postins will analyze the top five issues facing the New Orleans Saints that week. In this opening edition, Postins analyzes how the Saints might use Deuce McAllister, why the Saints kept seven cornerbacks and if Martin Gramatica is the answer at placekicker.

1. Will Deuce be loose again?

Certainly the New Orleans Saints are glad to have Deuce McAllister back in the backfield.

But exactly how much will McAllister be used during Sunday's opener?

I'm not entirely sure, and I don't think the Saints are, either. I think you'll see McAllister early in the game in those two-back sets with Reggie Bush that worked so well in 2006. But will how much will he touch the football?

McAllister didn't touch the football much until the final preseason game, and he proved to be effective. But McAllister's workload, I think, will depend entirely on how much faith the Saints have in McAllister's surgically repaired knees.

I'm not sure they have that much faith, at least not right now. McAllister didn't get enough work this preseason to warrant more than 10 carries per game in the first quarter of this season.

That's why you'll see quite a bit of Pierre Thomas on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised if Bush, McAllister and Thomas divided carries evenly — at least until McAllister proves his knees are more capable of more work.

2. How much better will the defense be?

Give the Saints this — they left no stone unturned in trying to improve their defense.

They added talent at all three levels of their defense. They traded for MLB Jonathan Vilma. They signed CB Randall Gay. They drafted DT Sedrick Ellis and CB Tracy Porter.

The Saints were one of the worst defenses last year, especially against the pass, where they gave up more passes of 40 yards or more than any other team in the NFL, except for Baltimore, which gave up just as many.

Now, the Saints defense surely will be improved. But the question is, how much?

The key is going to be getting a pass rush going consistently. If the Saints can do so, they can help out their secondary, which I believe still has some wrinkles to iron out (see next entry).

But I'm not sure how the Saints will do that. They kept only three defensive ends. Granted, Charles Grant, Will Smith and Bobby McCray are all good. But there's not much depth to rotate them with.

I expect the Saints to use more blitzes, especially early in the season, to supplement what the ends can do. By doing so, they'll likely see better pass coverage in the secondary. I expect the Saints to move up into the middle of the pack in pass defense by the end of the season, and an above-average pass rush can move them into the Top 10.

3. A magnificent seven?

The Saints needed help at cornerback after last season. There was no argument about that.

But the Saints kept seven of them after the final roster cuts came in. Brilliant strategy or overkill?

I think it might be overkill. Few teams keep more than five cornerbacks on their roster. Keeping seven smacks of not knowing what direction you're going in.

And maybe that's part of the problem. The Saints have mixed and matched all preseason at cornerback, and the results were decidedly mixed. Plus, Mike McKenzie didn't play all that much as he continued to recover from his late-season knee injury.

McKenzie and Gay are solid starters, and Porter should make a solid sub. But Jason David continued to have problems with deep routes. Aaron Glenn is aging and probably won't contribute much. Usama Young struggled in preseason and surprised many by making the roster.

Do the Saints know which direction they're going? It's hard to say. They probably feel equipped for whatever comes their way. But I have some doubts. You don't keep seven cornerbacks if you don't think trouble could be brewing.

4. Which Martin will show up?

Saints fans are probably thankful that Martin Gramatica will handle the placekicking duties.

Well, that all depends on which Gramatica shows up.

If it's the one that kicked for the Buccaneers through 2002, then the Saints will have their best kicker since Jon Carney. Gramatica has leg, accuracy and just a little bit of moxie.

If that's the Gramatica that shows up.

Now, if it's the Gramatica that suffered from confidence issues in Tampa Bay from 2003-04 and saw his career crater as a result, then the Saints will be looking for their third kicker in two years.

And it's not a stretch to see that happening. Gramatica's woes started out of nowhere and engulfed the kicker.

Maybe, fifth-round pick Taylor Mehlhaff better stay close by.

5. A strong start?

Everyone saw what happened last year. The Saints played four horrible games to start the year, then played 12 consistent ones and missed the playoffs.

The Saints must start off better in 2008, and I think they will.

Along with an improved defense and a top-notch offense, the schedule will help.

While the schedule does look tougher than it did four months ago, the Saints host three straight games in September and October, keeping them in the Louisiana Superdome and giving them a great homefield advantage. Plus, the Saints have Denver, Oakland and San Francisco on the early schedule. That's three wins, if you ask me.

I don't think it's a stretch to see the Saints at 5-2 entering that matchup with the Chargers in London on Oct. 26.


Matthew Postins is the editor and publisher of saintsinsider.com.


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