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1st & Goal: Larry Holder, The Athletic NFL/Saints Reporter

Zach Gelb Show / Zach Gelb
The Truth Network Radio
August 24, 2023 9:18 pm

1st & Goal: Larry Holder, The Athletic NFL/Saints Reporter

Zach Gelb Show / Zach Gelb

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August 24, 2023 9:18 pm

Larry Holder joined Zach to discuss where Derek Carr ranks heading into this season and if the Saints are the team to beat in the NFC South. 

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That's ShipStation.com slash audio. The NFL season is inching closer and closer. Who are the contenders and who are the pretenders? We have four downs to figure out your team's future. It's time now for First and Gold on the Zach Gelb Show.

We'll do so right now with Larry Holder, who covers the NFL for the athletic. Larry, always great to have you on. How you been? I'm doing fine. How are you?

I'm doing fantastic. I keep on seeing Jon Gruden pop up and I guess he's helping out the Saints. What's the role there? What can you tell us about Jon Gruden? It's not super long term with that, but I think what Dennis Allen figured is that he coached Derek Carr. The Saints run a variation, pretty similar offense to what Jon used to run.

Sean Payton ran that and P. Carmichael is basically running a very similar offense. I think it's more or less to figure out what works with Derek Carr, let the Saints communicate that. If anyone was going to know Derek Carr outside of that building coaching-wise, it would be Jon Gruden. So Dennis Allen now entering his second season as the head coach of the Saints. I think nationally we all look at him as a coach that's on the hot seat. When you look at it locally, where's the confidence of the Saints fan in their head football coach heading into the season?

It certainly took a dip. It's the first losing season that the Saints have had since 2016 and people are wondering where's the offense. Was Dennis Allen, is he the same guy that floundered with the Raiders all of a sudden as a head coach even though he was highly respected as a defensive coordinator in New Orleans and within the fan base?

But is he meant to be a head coach? I think this is a pretty critical year. I would say if the Saints totally go in the tank that Dennis Allen could be in trouble.

I think his seat isn't as hot as maybe people want it to be. The point though is the Saints are a pretty veteran-laden team. They're trying to win now every year. There's a reason why they signed someone like Derek Carr and they have a lot of veterans on the team. They're trying to keep this ball rolling with some guys like Demario Davis and Cam Jordan in their latter years of their careers.

They're trying to hang on to see if Michael Thomas can get back anywhere near his status before he was injured in the last couple of years. I do think there's pressure on him to turn this around. They've gotten accustomed to winning for the years with Sean Payton even through some losing seasons with Payton. Payton won a heck of a lot more than he lost. That's become more of the expectation for the Saints now. Dennis definitely needs to change this thing in a hurry because the expectation level of this franchise has changed over the years.

Let's get to the next down. Larry Holder here with us. Covers the NFL for the athletic. I look at Derek Carr as a good quarterback, not a very good quarterback, not a great quarterback. Anytime you kind of think he's about to be a top 10 quarterback, he takes a few steps back. Your view of Derek Carr entering this season is what, Larry? I think at best he is a top 15 quarterback. If the Saints had top 15 quarterbacks play last year, they could have won a division. In that sense, this is an upgrade of where they were. Do I think that Derek Carr can play better than what he did last year with the Raiders and elevate his play this year with the Saints?

I think that certainly can happen. He does bring stability to the Saints. He's a guy who's known for his accuracy. The Saints' passing game, when it's right, obviously that's under Drew Brees. He's known for being quick strike accuracy, timing, and I think Derek Carr brings that to the table. To me, it shows that the Saints kind of had to do what they had to do at quarterback.

Again, win-down mode. They weren't ready to just throw it into the hands of a rookie. They wanted a veteran guy to try to win now. I would say as of now, he's probably a top 15 guy, but can he elevate to top 12?

Maybe so. I definitely think that he's solid, but he's not great. One move I really like that they made this offseason, and it looks even better now with the Alvin Kamara three-game suspension, is bringing in Jamal Williams. I know he's a joy to cover, but this guy on the field is one heck of a football player as he showed last year.

I'd say that's definitely one of the sneakier good moves within the NFL. First off, the Saints' run game hasn't been what it's been. When the Saints have been very good, they've been able to run the football effectively. Even if you take away the three-game suspension of Alvin Kamara, you still needed a 1A. Alvin Kamara has the primary running back.

His numbers have dipped. You want him to be more versatile, and Jamal Williams can really bring that thunder to some lightning with Alvin Kamara. When the Saints were at their best last few years, Kamara and Mark Ingram were pro bowl backs together. I think the Saints want to replicate that. Even just around the goal line. The Saints were having to use Peyton Hill as their goal line running back as a quarterback by default. Jamal Williams, we know he can punch it in from short distance.

He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year. Also, as you bring up the suspension, it gives them a primary back. Saints can trust those three games. That early part of the schedule is winnable. So the Saints need to take advantage of that by getting Williams. It kind of shores up the loss of Kamara temporarily.

Let's get to the next down. Larry Holder here with us. Covers the NFL for the athletic. I love Chris Olave, and we know what you could expect out of him for this upcoming season, and I would imagine his numbers would get even better when you bring in someone like Derek Carr, who's a solid quarterback like we were talking about. But it's the pieces at the wide receiving position after Chris Olave. Michael Thomas used to be one of the better wide receivers in the NFL. We've barely seen him last three years because of the injuries. Is there anything we could expect out of Michael Thomas for this upcoming season, or is it just hold your breath and hope this guy can stay healthy?

It's definitely I need to see it to believe it and hold your breath to see if he's healthy. But he's been full go throughout training camp. At times he looks like the Michael Thomas of old.

At times he hasn't. So I think that's trying to get him back acclimated. But I do think that he's as determined probably as ever because A, he was one of the people who helped recruit Derek Carter to New Orleans.

So he's committed B, he's in on a one year deal, had to take a lesser deal to stay put. And this is kind of a make or break year for him. And so, you know, if Michael Thomas can be 85 percent of what he was, that helps out the offense and opens things up for Chris Olave to be really that that stud receiver that you saw flashes of it last year. You know, a big production, but and Olave is a guy who can do everything. So if Michael Thomas can be kind of that intermediate guy, a guy you can hit on a slant and really be, you know, make contested catches, it can open things up for Olave to be a deep thread or and do and do kind of basically everything.

So, yeah, that and the faith really need it. I mean, you can't have just Olave kind of floating out there on his own. Too many teams are going to key in on that. Switching gears to the defense, we know what they did last year as a top five unit in the NFL. In 2023, the defense looked like what this year, Larry Holder? If they can stay healthy, I think they can play still that way.

You know, you know, they really turned it on at the even at the end of the season. You know, you talk about top five, they were like top two or three defense using some advanced metrics. And, you know, the Saints and this is where the Saints kind of struggling on defense. You know, the Saints added a couple of veterans at defensive tackle, Kalyn Saunders and Nathan Shepard, and they're both pretty good against the run. And, you know, they're going to be curious to see who is the primary defensive end alongside Tim Jordan to replace Marcus Davenport, who basically will go down as a first round bus.

But, you know, the Mario Davis still there. You get Marshawn Lattimore back. That secondary has viable pieces.

I think they're four deep. Like, they have four corners who can start the NFL. They got a veteran's safeties with Tyron Matthew and Marcus May.

Dennis Allen can certainly call a good defense. So, you know, if the Saints defense can be, look, even top 10 and Derek Carr is not used to playing alongside a good defense, you know, that will benefit the offense as well. So, look, I expect the Saints defense to be one of the better units in the NFL once again. Let's get to the final down.

Talking to Larry Holder of the Athletic. Will the Saints win the division this year? I think they will. They're certainly the favorite quarterback play. They certainly present the best of the four quarterbacks. Defensively, you look and they could be a top 10 defense.

So, they definitely have the pieces to do that. And, you know, as soon as they acquired Derek Carr, they became the overwhelming favorite. Now, that said, you know, how much further can the Saints go once they win the division in the playoffs?

That remains to be seen. And that probably, in my eyes, a top five team in the NFC as in, like, fifth. But, look, win the division, get in, see what happens. But, yeah, so I think the Saints will win the division in the NFC cell. If the Saints don't win the division, who's the team, then, in the NFC South that you go, okay, I'll pick them to win the NFC South?

I would go the Falcons. I really think that they've done some improvements on their defense, bringing in Ryan Nielsen, former Saints coach. They've added some pieces to the puzzle over there, like Jesse Bates. I know David Onyemata. And, look, adding Bijan Robinson, I think they're going to try to run the football a ton, maybe not put so much pressure on Desmond Ritter, who doesn't have too many starts still in the NFL.

So, yeah, if there's a team that I think that will challenge the Saints the most, I think it will be the Falcons. Good deal. Larry Holder from The Athletic. We appreciate the time. Thank you. Thanks, Zach.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-24 23:10:33 / 2023-08-24 23:15:34 / 5

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