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New Orleans Saints Bye Time On Road To NFC Playoffs
Written by  // Friday, 18 November 2011 09:44 //

darren_sharper_smChances that the Saints (7-3) will win the division are 76 per cent while the Falcons, last season's division champs, chances of winning the division fell to 15 per cent with last Sunday's overtime loss to the Saints. The Saints will play the Falcons again on Monday Night Football on Dec. 26 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and I can see the Saints locking up the NFC South title with a win.


We all know that the Saints are an up-and-down team this season, but their record is 7-3  and their position on top of the division 1 1/2-game lead is where they wanted to be entering their bye week. The Falcons are are fading and the Saints and their Who Dat Nation have their eyes on a bye in the playoffs.

The Saints are an elite team at home, winning all four games by a combined score of 159-69. They blew out  the Colts, whipped the Bears, downed a good Texans team, and dominated the Bucs at home.

They are not an elite team on tour, having lost to the Packers, Rams and Bucs on the road.

The Saints have four of their last six games at home: Giants, Lions, Falcons and Panthers. They'll play the Titans and Vikings on the road. No other team has a better home field advantage than the  Saints right now.

The Saints offensive line allowed Drew Brees to be sacked six times by the Rams. For the past two weeks, they didn't surrender a a sack. When Brees has time there isn't a quarterback in the league more accurate than Brees. His receivers gain more yards after the catch than any quarterback. Brees spreads his throws around the receivers until he settles on a "hot" one in single coverage.

Jack-of-all trades Darren Sproles' space skills have improved the Saints on screen and timing throws. They could use more plays to the outside. Robert Meachen reappeared last Sunday against the Bucs with a 33-yard touchdown reception. Devery Henderson has vanished lately.

Brees has another go- to- guy with Marques Colston in tight end Jimmy Graham, who  has  become the most dynamic tight end in the league. He's second in the league with 62  catches for 873 yards and six touchdowns. Sproles is third in the leage with 60 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns. Sproles is the only player in the NFL this season who has scored as a receiver, rusher and  returner. He's been quite an upgade on Reggie Bush.

With a committee of running backs in Mark Ingram (340 yards), Pierre Thomas (340), Sproles (348) and Chris Ivory (85) the Saints have a diverse backfield. Sproles is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

The Saints have two of the best guards but only average tackles in the NFL

The Saints are a passing team and win games by outscoring their opponents, yet they need to get better. Throw out the Colts game, and the Saints have averaged 24.5 points-per-game since Week 4. That's not the way if you want to continue to win games.

The Saints defense is 29th in turnovers and three of their 10 turnovers were against the Colts. The Saints defense doesn't have a lot of talent and the defenses they are using don't present enough problems for the opposition.

Will Smith is having a good season, but the pass rush is below average.

Free agent pickups Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin have been average at best and rookie Cameron Jordan is leaning and getting better.  Jonathan Vilma was having a subpar season because he was playing on a bum knee, but he had arthroscopic surgery and will return when's he is ready. The Saints are again last in the league in yards-per-carry allowed.

The secondary has talent in Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins but they haven't found a big-play guy to replace Darren Sharper. The guys they have now are asked to do too much with all the blitzes Gregg Williams calls.

Coach Sean Payton has said the 2011 Saints are a better team than the 2009 bunch that won the Super Bowl and as long as Brees is their leader defenses will have too many looks and things for defenses to handle.

The Saints are a playoff team and they are playing for a home field advantage in a domed stadium. Odds are they will get it.

 


Eight Saints currently rank in the top-five of their respective position in the NFL Fan Pro Bowl vote, the league announced on Wednesday.

QB Drew Brees, FB Jed Collins, G Jahri Evans, TEJimmy Graham, S Roman Harper, S Malcolm Jenkins, KJohn Kasay and RB/KR Darren Sproles are currently listed in the top-5 of their respective position.

Brees ranks No. 7 overall in the Fan Vote with 396,436 votes. Brees is No. 2 among NFC quarterbacks behind the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (589,801).

Graham and Harper both rank No. 1 at their position.

Collins, Evans and Sproles each rank fourth in their positional group while Jenkins and Kasay are listed at No. 5 at their positions. 
 
2012 Pro Bowl voting will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going to NFL.com/ProBowl through Monday, December 19.  

Balloting will conclude on Monday, December 19 following the conclusion of Monday Night Football (Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers, ESPN, 8:30 pm (ET).  The teams will be announced at 7:00 pm (ET) Tuesday, December 27 on a special NFL Total Access 2012 Pro Bowl Selection Show on NFL Network. 

The AFC and NFC All-Star squads are based on the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters that represent the American Football Conference and National Football Conference in the Pro Bowl. NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 21-22. 

The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its all-star teams. It was the first professional sports league to offer online all-star voting in 1995. 

The 2012 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 29, 2012 and televised live on NBC at 7:00 pm (ET) from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Fans may purchase tickets starting later this month at NFL.com/ProBowl.

Listed below are the Pro Bowl fan vote totals that involve Saints players as of Nov. 16:

Overall Player Vote

Pos.

Player

Team

Votes

QB

Aaron Rodgers

Packers

589,801

QB

Tom Brady

Patriots

537,780

WR

Calvin Johnson

Lions

487,547

RB

Adrian Peterson

Vikings

469,117

WR

Wes Welker

Patriots

430,945

WR

Greg Jennings

Packers

399,521

QB

Drew Brees

Saints

396,436

RB

Fred Jackson

Bills

384,771

WR

Mike Wallace

Steelers

377,615

RB

Matt Forte

Bears

348,880

NFC Quarterbacks

Player

Team

Votes

Aaron Rodgers

Packers

589,801

Drew Brees

Saints

396,436

Cam Newton

Panthers

275,025

Matthew Stafford

Lions

274,016

Michael Vick

Eagles

148,052

 NFC Fullbacks

Player

Team

Votes

John Kuhn

Packers

104,024

Earnest Graham

Buccaneers

82,343

Bruce Miller

49ers

30,103

Jed Collins

Saints

27,864

Tyler Clutts

Bears

26,109

NFL Tight Ends

Player

Team

Saints

Jimmy Graham

Saints

279,674

Jermichael Finley

Packers

147,184

Tony Gonzalez

Falcons

138,378

Jason Witten

Cowboys

131,714

Vernon Davis

49ers

70,317

NFC Guards

Player

Team

Votes

T.J. Lang

Packers

120,249

Josh Sitton

Packers

98,969

Steve Hutchinson

Vikings

86,436

Jahri Evans

Saints

86,189

Mike Iupati

49ers

84,542

NFC Strong Safeties

Player

Team

Votes

Roman Harper

Saints

49,042

Charlie Peprah

Packers

45,825

Kam Chancellor

Seahawks

38,307

Amari Spievey

Lions

33,283

Kurt Coleman

Eagles

28,474

NFC Free Safeties

Player

Team

Votes

Morgan Burnett

Packers

95,342

Antrel Rolle

Giants

32,769

Dashon Goldson

49ers

23,775

Thomas DeCoud

Falcons

20,864

Malcolm Jenkins

Saints

18,560

NFC Kickers

Player

Team

Votes

Mason Crosby

Packers

81,306

David Akers

49ers

50,694

Dan Bailey

Cowboys

38,271

Jason Hanson

Lions

38,233

John Kasay

Saints

25,872

NFC Kick Returners

Player

Team

Votes

Devin Hester

Bears

101,932

Ted Ginn

49ers

49,919

Randall Cobb

Packers

42,865

Darren Sproles

Saints

28,600

Percy Harvin

 


Here are some news conference summaries from Thursday—Drew Brees and Malcolm Jenkins:

What are your thoughts on the timing of your bye week this season?

“I think it’s a good spot. You are going ten games straight and for us to be first in the division we’re right where we want to be. We still have a couple more tough games to finish out. It will be a good week for us to get healthy and get rested up then come back and get to work for the next six weeks.

What are you doing for the bye week? Since it’s been such a long season and such a grind do you try to get away from it all?

“I am kind of workaholic. I am still in town and I will be here till Friday. I will hang around and I am still watching some film on the Giants. I will get up to Ohio State this weekend to check out their game against Penn State. It’s still a crucial part of the season. It’s not the time to take completely off. We have to continue to get better so that process continues through the bye week. It may not be as intense but I will check out some film and see what’s going on.”

We have talked before about how far back you guys stand from the line of scrimmage and you guys missed a couple tackles against Atlanta. Does that mess you up that you have to cover so much ground?

“No, there is reason for us to play back there we are not just doing it out of habit. I think it plays well for what our defense does. Usually if, the ball gets to me then we are not doing something the right way up front. Those are tackles I have to make.

“There are times when they put me down in the box and I get to move around a little bit it’s all about our defensive scheme and usually when I am making those tackles, those aren’t the tackles I am supposed to be making but it is what it is.”

Roman Harper played an outstanding game against the Falcons. Obviously the dropped interception looked like it might haunt you guys and that’s exactly the type of things you guys have been talking about all year ‘need to make the play when you have the opportunity.’ Have you guys had a chance to meet on that since Atlanta?

 

“No, we have only met once since (Falcons game) it’s a reoccurring thing. It has been an emphasis. There really is nothing else we can do. There is nothing else to talk about. It is something we literally talk about every day and work on every day. It’s just as simple as making the play. If we catch that the game is over but at the same time we are still going to do what we need to do to win.

“The difference in us catching the ball is going to take us from being a good defense to a suffocating, dominant defense. When we can make those plays, that is when we will really separate ourselves and be the defense that we want to be. Right now, we are good. We are doing enough to win games. We complement our offense but when we want to be a dominant defense we will take advantage of all those opportunities.”


Drew Brees said he's not concerned about the Saints inconsistent running game because he knows the team can run the ball at a conference call with the media on Wednesday. The quarterback said the bye week came at a good time because he is able to "get away, give his mind a rest, and recharge himself."

 

After the last Tampa Bay game, you were pleased with how balanced the offense was with the passing and running game. That wasn’t there with Atlanta. Is that something you are worried about in terms of consistency going forward?

 

“I am not worried about it because I know we can do it. We have shown at least in a few games this year that we have been as upwards as 180 and 190 yards plus rushing. I know we can do it. It’s just a matter of being able to execute it on a consistent basis. I also understand where there are some games you get into and for whatever reason one phase of the offense is looking better than the other. Or, the defense that you are going up against is determined to stop one or the other and that opens up opportunities for the other.

 

“I think we got into a situation in the Atlanta game where we able to throw the ball pretty effectively and we stuck with that. That served us well. As we look long term for the second half of the season, the running game is definitely something we want to be able to hone in on and make sure we can execute on a consistent basis.”

 

Did you get the feeling that the Falcons made it an emphasis to slow down RB Darren Sproles?

 

“I wouldn’t’ say that necessarily. For whatever reason, maybe some of the opportunities for Sproles weren’t there that have been in previous games. It is not like we were trying to force the ball to him or anything like that. The times I did throw it to him there were a lot of guys around. I wouldn’t say it was anything they were doing that was taking him away or they had a specific plan to take him away. I think it just happen to be one of those games where it worked out like that.”

 

Are you surprised to be back in the conversation to potentially break Dan Marinos’ record for most passing yards in a season like you were in 2008?

 

“I feel very different this year than I did back in 2008 in regards to this Marino thing. I think back in ’08, maybe because it was the first time that any of us had really been close to that record in a long time. As I recall, Kurt Warner was on pace at one point. Back in ’08, it seemed like every week it was a topic of discussion. That was the first time I had been a part of anything like that. For me, I tried not to make it stressful but it was hard not to think about it because people would always talk about it especially when we got down to the final two games where we had to average almost 380 (yards) a game in order to get to the record and we almost did it. Maybe because I have been through that before, I am really not thinking about it or letting it creep into my mind all that often.

 

“I am just so focused on winning games and doing whatever it takes to win the game. Even this game against Atlanta, when somebody said I had thrown for 322 yards I was shocked. I didn’t feel like it was that kind of a game. It didn’t feel to me like a game that we were throwing it a lot and weren’t running it a lot but when you look at the stat book at the end of the game that is the way it turned out.

 

“For me, I haven’t really thought about the 300 yards games or the necessary to do that or anything like that. I just think about doing whatever it takes to win. I think the way this season started, there were like six guys on pace to break Marino’s record after the first four or five games. It seemed like this one of those crazy years where teams are throwing it a lot. I think as the year goes on situations changes. Some people stay on pace and others don’t. I really haven’t given it a lot of thought other doing whatever it takes to win.”

 

At the start of this season, with your want for the offense to be balanced, would you have thought you could be successful throwing at that rate?

 

“After throwing for 5,069 yards back in ’08, I never thought we would get close to that again. I remember how lopsided we were that year in throwing the football as compared to running. I just thought if we really want to play to our potential and be the type of offense that we really want to be then we definitely need to be more balanced. So, there just won’t be opportunities to throw close to that many yards again because you think about all things that have to happen in order for that number to be where it is at.

 

“I think we have run the ball very effectively at times this season. I would argue that if you look at our yardage totals for this year, I don’t how they compare to years past, but I think they are quite a bit more. It seems like we are putting up a lot of yards. Yards are great but you want points and there are other stats that are more important.

 

“Yards mean you are doing something right. You are possessing the ball, spreading it around and moving it down the field. You are probably getting a lot of scoring opportunities which we are. I know we lead the league in times in the redzone in redzone touchdowns. We are doing something right but we set the ball pretty high for ourselves so we look to try to be really good in every phase. Did I think that I would be on pace for that Marino record again? No, I didn’t. Maybe that is another reason why I am not thinking about it because it was never really a focus of mine.   

 

Is there a part of you that would love to have that record?

 

“Sure. Any competitive person, when you get close to things like that you think ‘man, that would be cool’ within the framework of us doing it the right way. It’s not like we are going with the sole purpose to break records. I think we have broken a lot of records as a team and individually over the last six years. When you are winning and breaking those records, it makes it even sweeter. You can really enjoy them. Would I love to have that record? Yes, because it’s more than just me. It’s the team. It’s every guy that caught a pass or blocked or played defense or special teams. It was part of this team. That was a record that we can all share in. That every coach can share in and everybody in the organization. It’s more than just one specific player who might have their name on the record. It’s everybody. I think that is pretty cool when everybody can share in that. Like I said before especially when you are winning. If you can go rolling into the playoffs and collect a few records on the way. It’s fun to talk about and records are meant to be broken so why not.”

 

Can you talk about where the team is heading into this six-game stretch?

 

“Nothing is easy. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. I think the bye week is coming at a perfect time especially when you look at two weeks ago when we were coming off that tough loss at St. Louis. We were 5-3 and the division race is tight. We have two divisional games in a row with Tampa at home and then at Atlanta. Just knowing what a huge challenge that was going to be. Then finding a way to win those games when maybe we weren’t at our best and we were banged up in some areas yet we found a way to win. We put ourselves at the top of the division with six weeks left in the regular season. Now in the bye week you take a deep breath, get away from it a little bit, recharge the battery and get some guys healthy. Then, you come back focused and ready to make that late season push. This is still the time when we need to separate ourselves from the rest of the bunch.” 

 

Will you simulate a game this weekend like you have in years past?

 

“I think I have evolved with kids and responsibilities. I definitely think it’s healthy to get away and give your mind a rest. You get away but not too far away. I am still playing parts of that Atlanta game over in my mind. I am anticipating what the Giants will be looking like. I will be watching games this Sunday. I can’t help myself. I will be getting some workouts in. Staying in it but I definitely think physically, mentally, emotionally, physiologically  you do need a little bit of an opportunity to relax, get away and recharge. It is a grind to stay at that level of focus for that amount of time. It is good to have that little break in the middle where you can recharge.”

 

Do you still feel like your best football is ahead of you?

 

“I do feel that way. My goal and what I strive for and beat myself up over is I want to get a little better every year. The statistics might not show that but deep down in my heart there areas where I want to know that I got better. If I can look in the mirror and say that then I feel like I am making progress and I am on the right track. I feel like I have been able to do that every year. This year I feel like I am on my way to accomplishing those things that I set out to accomplish.

 

All that within the framework that every year you want an opportunity to make a run at it and know you got a chance to be one of the elite teams and I am excited for us as a team. I feel like we have that type of team. We still have a long way to go but I feel like we are on track.

 

What are your thoughts on the team being 0-11 on coin flips this season?

 

“It’s kind of become a joke because it’s kind of ridiculous at this point (laughter). If you really want to get down to the nitty and gritty of it - we have played six road games and four games. One of those road games went to overtime. So we have called seven coin tosses and the other team has called four. We miss all of ours and they got all of theirs. I don’t know. It’s pretty weird. You are always prepared for either. If we get the toss we are going to take the ball. Otherwise, defense goes out there and I kind of like getting the ball to start the third quarter. To be honest with you, since it’s 50-50 and there is really nothing you can do. It’s not like you have any control over what happens there.”

Trivia quiz: The Saints have had six Heisman Trophy winners play for them. How many can you name?...LSU coach Les Miles o the advice he gets from Tigers boosters about his quarterbacks: "Their observations are sound and solid to them. And, frankly we don't care. At some point we're going to make the best call we can what we see fit for the opportunity for our team to win.  They are very entitled to their opinions, but those opinions have little effect  in the decisions that are made for our program."...Many thought Georgia coach Mike Richt would be gone after he went 0-2 at the start of the season, but his Bulldogs have won eight straight and are in the driver's seat to win the SEC East...Trivia answer: Earl Campbell, George Rogers, Danny Wuerfful, Rickey Williams, Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram...Thought for the day: "I'm not completely useless...I can be used as a bad example."...SOME hither, others yon: Eli Manning and his Giants are 6-3 and solidly in control of the NFC East with just seven games remaining in the regular season. They play the desperate Eagles this Sunday then face the Saints on the following Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They will not need a lot of motivation to play either team...Eli's dad Archie is co-chairman of the search committee to find the next Ole Miss coach, and the Rebels boosters want his brother to be the next coach there. Peyton is out this season after neck surgery and has been helping his Colts by coaching from the sideline. "Tell them my record as a Colts assistant coach is 0-11."...


Shaq O'Neal's new book "Shaq Uncut" came out Tuesday. and he recently sat down with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. In addition to showing off his 76,000 square-foot home in Orlando, that includes a 20,000 square foot basketball court,the former LSU star  discussed his book and his 2009 divorce from Shaunue O'Neal. Shaq explained why he was a respected cheater.l "The guys that learn to keep those inscriptions in the dark usually keep all parties happy," said O'Neal...

by Ed Staton

 

Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  

 

Website: www.louisianasportstalk.com

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