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Barry Hirstius

Do Saints Fans Owe Ken Crawley An Apology?

Despite the current 5-game winning streak for the New Orleans Saints, their fan-base can be a very hard one to please when it comes to on-the-field performance by the team's players.

And out of all of the players on the team's 53-man roster at the moment, perhaps no one player has Saints fans more divided right now than 2nd year undrafted former University of Colorado cornerback Ken Crawley.

There is no "in between" right now when it comes to their opinion on Crawley, for a majority of Saints fans.

They either LOVE him, or they HATE him.

But as the good folks over at Pro Football Focus reminded us this week: whether he's cheered or jeered, Crawley is having a phenomenal year based on their rating system, and for his ability to "shut down" opposing WR's as the team's starting #2 outside boundary CB so far, 7 games into the 2017 regular season.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

So why all of the negativity from the segment of fans that don't like or even hate him?

Part of it perhaps stems from Crawley's notable struggles at times during his rookie season last year, when he gave up a few big plays in a couple of games that eventually led to Saints losses.

Even though Crawley has made a DRAMATIC improvement from his 1st year as a pro to his 2nd year this season, many Saints fans have very long memories, and they can be quite unforgiving and unsympathetic to Crawley's plight last year; when he essentially was "thrown to the wolves" after the Saints lost both then-starting CB's Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams due to major injuries.

But then this season, there was also the play at Green Bay a few weeks ago; that drew criticism from both fans as well as NFL analysts and writers that cover the team (myself included), who felt that Crawley should have given a much better effort on a play that led to a score by Packers QB Brett Hundley, by either simply wrapping up and tackling him or hit him and knock him out of bounds as he ran toward the goal line.

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

However in Crawley's defense, it can be said that the reason that he didn't do either was out of fear of being penalized by the referees for unneccessary roughness; though it's debatable as to whether or not he actually would have been.

In any event, if you were to take either reason — his struggles as a rookie last year or the controversial (in the minds of Saints fans that dislike him) play against the Packers this year — out of the equation, the undeniable fact is that Crawley has played damn well this season.

In the win against Chicago last week, Pro Football Focus even had Crawley rated higher than his teammate, rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore, who is a serious contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and is having a phenomenal season of his own.

In all of my 40-plus years of growing up and following (I just turned age 50 last week) and now covering the Saints professionally for the past few years, I can't EVER recall this franchise having two "lockdown" CB's (or at least potential-wise, in Crawley's case) at both outside boundary positions (your normal #1 and #2 CB's) on the field together at the same time.

When you can "shut down" the opponent's Top 2 WR's each week, it allows your defense to do many different things that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise, such as switching up looks and coverages within your defensive scheme and the capability to take more chances with blitzing and pressuring the QB.

It's a big reason why the Saints defense is so notably better this year, because they don't have to worry about getting "burned" on the outside and can focus more on covering the middle of the field.

As a result, the Saints defense has forced 11 turnovers through the first seven games. The Saints have the 5th-most interceptions in the NFL with nine (9), with Lattimore (3) and Crawley (1) accounting for 4 of them.

Lattimore has made back-to-back "game-clinching" interceptions late in the 4th quarter in successive weeks in wins against Green Bay and Chicago; while Crawley made a game-changing interception against the Dolphins in London, England a few weeks back that many analysts covering the team believe was a catalyst for the team's current 5-game winning streak.

Photo courtesy of Matt Dunham, The Associated Press

Additionally for Crawley, one other over-looked stat is that he also has a total of (7) passes defensed / broken up to his credit, as well.

Now admittedly, Crawley's performance this season so far is as critical to the team's early success as any other player at the moment; and that includes Drew Brees, Cam Jordan, Alvin Kamara, and obviously Lattimore.

But you don't merely have to take my word for it, if you are among those who are holding out against giving Crawley some well-deserved praise.

My very good friend and former radio podcast partner a few years ago, Canal Street Chronicles football analyst and film breakdown expert Walter "Reverend Deuce" Windham just yesterday put out this brilliant video analysis of Crawley's performance so far this year (click either one of the Links provided right below), that backs up the notion of Crawley's undeniable impact upon the overall success of the team.

As you likely saw from Windham's analysis, Crawley certainly has been playing at a consistently high level thus far through the first 7 games; and it goes without saying that he hasn't gotten the "love" from some Saints fans who quite simply just don't like him, which is because they don't trust him — and fear that his next possible mistake or bad play, is lurking just around the corner.

Is that a fair position to take on a 24-year old who is still actually learning how to play the position properly, and who never shies away from the competition or the situation that he's placed in, no matter what the circumstances are?

No, probably not.

But in the sake of fairness, Crawley has been flagged on several occasions for defensive holding and / or illegal contact with an intended receiver, and there are a large portion of fans that consider him to be "too grabby" with his hands.

But it hasn't been anything on the level of egregiousness, nor has it cost the Saints a win this season (yet).

And with today's breaking news that fellow CB Delvin Breaux has suffered a set-back in his rehab from a broken fibula injury and could miss the remainder of the season, Crawley figures to be a key contributor for the Saints defense going forward.

Which then of course, begs this question:

Do Saints fans owe Ken Crawley an apology?

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

I'll leave that ultimately up to you — the readers — to decide for yourselves.

But while Saints fans debate that particular question among themselves, I'll just go ahead and leave you with this.

IF Ken Crawley was as 'bad' as some Saints fans seem to think that he is, then there's NO WAY IN HELL that this team would have a (5-2) record, lead the NFC South Division, or be the #3 seed currently in the NFC Playoff race.

Your team doesn't accomplish those sort of accolades if they're insane enough to leave a CB who allegedly is "total garbage" to remain in the starting line-up, and especially at the outside boundary spot, where he'd be completely exposed in due time by some of the NFL's very best at the wide receiver position every single week.

And maybe that's because in the actual reality of the situation, that Ken Crawley isn't "total garbage" at all.

Maybe he is what PFF, Walter "Deuce" Windham of Canal Street Chronicles, and a handful of others, say that he is.

Maybe Ken Crawley is playing some of the best football of his ENTIRE 24 YEARS OF LIFE — and it's time that we finally start giving him credit for it.

I'm ready to admit it....... but are you?

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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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