Ronde Barber saw plenty of the Saints in his 16 years as a cornerback in the NFL, all of them spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And now, in his third year as an analyst with Fox, Barber frequently sees his old adversaries again. That includes last Sunday’s game against the Bucs and this Sunday’s game at Carolina, which Barber will be working with Chris Myers and Jennifer Hale.
Barber talked with the Advocate’s Ted Lewis about what he’s seen thus far of the Saints:
Advocate: It appears that Drew Brees has at worst a bruised rotator cuff, which could keep him out of a game or two. How much was it noticeable that he was not himself against the Bucs?
Barber: There were things we were hearing about during the broadcast, but we didn’t want to say anything. We did speculate at the end of the broadcast that something was definitely wrong. I watched the film of the Arizona game the week before and Drew looked really good in that one and his arm was live in practice on Friday. But after he got hit two or three times there was definitely something off. There were balls being thrown into the ground and I never seen him do that.
It was hard to see. Drew’s not a great physical specimen, but his precision makes him great. He didn’t have it the other day.
Advocate: Drew’s injury notwithstanding, what do you believe is wrong with the Saints?
Barber: They’re like a lot of teams when they get into a transition period. The team used to run with such precision and timing. It was almost impossible to stop them unless you had played them a bunch of times and had a really good feel for what they were running. Otherwise they just tore you up.
Even when you did so, sometimes they tore you up. But you lose a lot of those guys, and it’s hard to find that rhythm. Rhythm is what makes their offense work.
You never knew which one of their four or five receivers as going to get hit. There were always four or five receivers and a dynamic tight end we’d have to find a way to match up on. You wound up playing a lot of zone to keep everything in front of you, but Drew could still just kill you.
But I think with all of those young guys, even (Brandin) Cooks who has less than a year’s experience, that speaks volumes. And then you lost all of that production at tight end. We made a point in the broadcast that Jimmy Graham was targeted 100 times more than the next two guys combined. That’s hard to replace that and they’re back to having a crapshoot.
Their offenses in their best years also were hardnosed teams who could run the ball. This one is going to be tough like they were and show the ability to run the football.
On defense, Rob (Ryan) is running things much more simpler.
Every film I’ve watched in preseason, I could tell when they were in single or double high. In years past I would look at that and have no idea what they’re playing.
They had to simplify it because they have so many young guys. They lost about six guys on defense for a different reasons and it shows.
Advocate: When you simplify, what is the downside?
Barber: Rob’s old defense wasn’t tricking people, but there was so much confusion when you looked at it on film you couldn’t put it on a card and say ‘This is what they were doing.’ There were gaps they just assumed you weren’t going to get to. DBs who should be in the middle of the field are down by the line of scrimmage.
The innovative defenses of the last few years are ones you run periodically. But Ron is running them every single snap and taking chances.
But now, you can see the structure - you can tell when the corners are playing two-deep or man coverage – and it’s just more basic. That’s easier to attack.
Advocate: With so many new players on the roster, how does that affect special teams?
Barber: You’re going to have a lot of miscommunication. Core special teams guys are probably the most important people on the team. Sometimes they’re starters, but more often they are backups who are really good on special teams. When special teams are good, you never head about them.
But on a younger team when you have guys who haven’t assumed those roles, it’s another deficiency on your team.
Advocate: The Saints have lost six in a row at home? What’s happening there?
Barber: We used to go into that place and say, ‘Let’s just out of here. We’ll do what we can do, but don’t let it get out of control.’ But usually it was over with quickly.
Drew was trying to get the crowd into it, but for the Superdome, the crowd was very subdued. Even when it got loud, it wasn’t like before. The Bucs definitely found a way to keep them quiet.
Advocate: Now the Saints have to go to Carolina. At 2-0 the Panthers have to be feeling pretty good about themselves.
Barber: Carolina usually plays it pretty close to the vest. They did get more aggressive last week against Houston though. Offensively, Mike Shula’s a conservative play-caller. They repeat a lot of players with different wrinkle.
But they will use Cam (Newton) as a runner a lot because he is a read option runner. You can see that all year long,
Advocate: Even if Drew is out, do you expect to see the Saints playing with the sense of urgency they need to have at 0-2?
Barber: When you’re 0-2, you never feel like you’re out it. There are several weeks to go before you get that certain feeling.
It’s a division opponent, so these teams know each other. They both feel good about what they need to do. But if Drew can’t play and it’s on Luke, then I don’t know how that team reacts to him.
But I played with Luke in Tampa for two years. He’s a pro. He knows how to get the job done. The team will have to rally behind him.