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Barry Hirstius

Saints Defense Can’t Let Hundley Become a “Hero” in His 1st Ever NFL Start

Max Hall. RG3 (Robert Griffin III). Brian Hoyer. Those are just a few of the rookie or first-time starting QB's over the the past several years, that the New Orleans Saints have made a very bad habit of looking like "superstars". 

Tomorrow afternoon at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Saints defense will try to prevent brand new Packers starter and one-time back-up QB Brett Hundley from adding his name to that list.

Hundley — a one-time Heisman Trophy candidate as the starting QB for UCLA back in college a few years ago — is now in his 3rd NFL season and had to fill in last week for Packers All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers; after the two-time NFL MVP suffered a broken collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings. 

It would be more than fair to say that his performance wasn't exactly all that "overwhelming", as the 24-year old Hundley completed 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards and a TD with 3 interceptions and a QB rating of (39.6). He was also sacked 4 times by the Vikings defense in the Packers' 23-10 loss. 

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

However, make no mistake about it: the young man can play, and he is as talented a runner as he is at throwing the football; and is exactly the type of QB that has given Saint defenses trouble in the past.

Speaking of the past, this isn't the first time that a Saints defense has found themselves facing this type of scenario; and let's just say that the results have been less than stellar.

Back in the 2010 season, the year after the Saints won their first and only World Championship in Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints got beat 30-20 by Arizona Cardinals undrafted rookie back-up QB Max Hall, who was making his 1st ever start that day in place of veteran Derek Anderson, who had been benched by then-Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt .

In fairness, the Saints defense actually played well that day, as Hall was 17-of-27 for 168 yards with no TD's and an interception. But Arizona’s defense forced 4 turnovers by Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense, and scored on 3 of them.

It was only one of 5 wins that year by Arizona, all season. And of course: the only win EVER in the NFL by Hall, who just 2 years later was playing in the Canadian Football League and was out of the sport entirely by the end of 2013.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

A few seasons later in their season-opening game at home in the Superdome back in 2012, the Saints faced the Washington Redskins and their rookie QB and the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Robert Griffin III; or as he's better known: "RG3".

The game was hyped by the League to showcase Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner who was being promoted at that time as one of the "new faces" of the NFL.

Now just 5 years later, Griffin too is now completely out of the sport of Pro Football; after just 3 seasons with the Redskins and a failed comeback attempt with the Cleveland Browns last year during the 2016 season.

But back on that day on which he made his first-ever start as a rookie at the Superdome, Griffin's NFL debut saw him complete 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns.

He also rushed for 42 yards on 10 carries on a variety of designed keepers and option plays that were designed to take advantage of his unique skill-set of speed and athleticism that was unable to be matched by the Saints Front 7 that day.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The win propelled the Redskins to finish (10-6), before they lost in the Playoffs to Seattle.

Meanwhile the Saints finished at (7-9), during what eventually became known as the Saints' "Bounty Gate season"; after the team was handed down punishment by the League for their actions in the infamous scandal that allegedly took place during the team's 2009 Super Bowl run 3 years prior.

And then there was the most recent time that the Saints turned a young inexperienced QB in to a "hero": back in Week #2 of the 2014 NFL season, in which the Saints were facing the Cleveland Browns and their new starting QB, Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer, who the Browns had signed in Free Agency earlier that year after he had been the back-up QB in New England behind Tom Brady, was technically making his 2nd career start after losing his debut the week before at Pittsburgh against the Steelers.

Despite missing suspended superstar wide receiver Josh Gordon and without the services of then-injured Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Ben Tate on that day, Hoyer marched the Browns down the field on the game's final drive with under 2 minutes remaining.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Hoyer directed an 85-yard drive to set up Billy Cundiff's 29-yard field goal with three seconds left, giving Cleveland a 26-24 win. Hoyer completed several big passes on the Browns' final drive, including one on 4th down to tight end Gary Barnidge and a 28-yarder to Andrew Hawkins with 13 seconds to go.

So it goes without saying: the Saints have been in this exact same situation on several different occasions in recent years, and the end results have NOT been very favorable for New Orleans.

This past Tuesday after practice, Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan told reporters that he understands the Packers won't be an easy match-up; just because they're playing with a back-up quarterback. 

"You know they're going to be well-prepared and they still have playmakers on defense," Jordan said. "They have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and it's going to be up to us. 

"Again, we don't have much game film on Brett Hundley, so we don't know exactly what his full extent is. And that's going to be on us to figure that out fast and make him uncomfortable." 

If the Saints expect to leave Green Bay with a win tomorrow and win their 4th consecutive game after an 0-2 start, then they damn sure better.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Jordan is correct in his assessment that it could prove difficult for the Saints defense to be fully prepared for Hundley due to the lack of available film to watch.

However, you can also bet that the small sample size of tape on Hundley from last week's game at Minnesota has been scrutinized heavily by the Saints defensive coaching staff by now, in an effort to detect any tendencies that the Arizona native (and former high school all-star) Hundley may have shown last Sunday.

As it is: ESPN.com writer Matt Bowen observes that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy doesn't want his young quarterback to throw the ball 40 times a game, so you can expect a more balanced offense for Green Bay; starting with a commitment to the running game with RB's Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones

Bowen says that the Saints defense should also expect McCarthy and the Packers to show more spread looks, sprinkle in the run-pass options to create open windows and call for some QB-designed runs.

He adds that Hundley brings another dimension to the Packers offense with his athleticism that can generate some stress for opposing defenses. And that includes movement passes.

Bowen also notes that the Packers can widen the field and get away from those static formations by using shift / motions; which would then force the Saints defense to declare coverage (zone or man) and give Hundley the exact match-up he wants.

With the arm strength to push the ball outside of the numbers and attack the deep middle of the field, Bowen says that Green Bay can mix alignments to create some big-play opportunities.

Photo courtesy of Matt Becker, Packers.com

And as noted up above: the Saints defense has allowed that very thing to happen on several different occasions in the recent past.

Grant it, this current Saints defense is playing very well right now and is making the most of its opportunities recently; but IF the Saints expect to leave Wisconson with the "W" tomorrow, then they'd better not make the mistake of underestimating this kid; and they'd also better play fundamentally sound and assignment error-free football for a whole 60 minutes.

If they don't want to let Hundley become a "hero" in his first-ever NFL career start, then they don't have much of a choice.........

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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