Saturday, 10 December 2011 22:30

Expect close New Orleans, Nashville Game, But Saints Should Win

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titansThe Saints (9-3) will be shooting for their third straight 10-win  season against a hungry bunch of Titans (7-5) on a rugged turf at Nashville at noon on Sunday.

If the Saints are going to lose another game in the regular season, this is the one.  The Titans are 9-1 at home against NFC teams. The Saints could clinch the NFC South division title if the Falcons lose to the Panthers on Sunday and can clinch a playoff spot if the Lions or Bears lose.

Drew Brees will be throwing to three of the most sure-handed receivers in the NFC South, according to ESPN Stats & Information and blogger Pat Yasinskas. Lance Moore leads the division with 41 catches and only one drop while being targeted 58 times. That's a 97.6 catch rate. Marques Colston was fourth with a 96.2 catch rate. Robert Meachem was seventh at 94.1.

Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said he will stop Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston by applying physical reminders from the safeties with help from the linebackers.

Gray said he'll have his safeties helping the linebackers in coverage. "The thing is the safety has got to come down and hit the receiver and help the linebacker out," said Gray. "The biggest thing in this league is you've got to put fear in guys' hearts from throwing  the ball over the middle.

"And if that means getting a letter from the commissioner on Monday, that means getting a letter from the commissioner. This is not a basketball game. It's a football game, so the ball doesn't go down the middle on our field."

Brees will play in his 150th NFL game on Sunday. He needs 89 passing yards against the Titans to pass Peyton Manning for the second most in NFL history after 150 career games Manning passed for 39,146 yards in his first 150 games.  Brees has 39,076 in 149 games. Dan Marino owns the record with 39,498.

The Saints will be playing in colder weather (40s degrees) in Nashville after two weeks in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This is the Saints' final outdoors game of the season.

Titans running back Chris Johnson has returned to form and has rushed for 343 yards in the last three games.

Mark Ingram (turf toe) has been declared out this week and will be replaced by power runner Chris Ivory.

I believe Brees and his offense will outscore the Titans and their 3 1/2 points, but this looks like a field goal game to most of the handicappers.

Prediction: The Saints will cover the 3 1/2. Final: 31-24.

NFL picks: Ravens -16 1/2 over Colts; Texans +3 over Bengals; Packers -11 over Raiders (lock); Chiefs +10 1/2 over Jets; Lions -10 over Vikings;
Dolphins -3 over Eagles; Panthers +3 over Falcons; Bucs -2 over Jaguars; 49ers -3 1/2 over Cardinals; Broncos - 3 1/2 over Bears; Chargers -7 (lock) over Bills; Giants +3 1/2 over Cowboys; and Seahawks -6 1/2 over Rams. Last week 10-4.

Saints coach Sean Payton said "A strong running game provides more teeth in your-action pass," at his media briefing after Friday's practice.

The coach also declared running back Mark Ingram (turf toe), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) and Turk McBride (ankle) out of Sunday's game.

Payton's comments:

Opening Statement:Turk McBride (left ankle) did not practice, Mark Ingram (right toe) did not practice, Jonathan Casillas (right knee) did not practice, Scott Shanle, Sedrick Ellis (left hamstring) was limited, and Jon Vilma (left knee) was full.  Today was mostly third down like all Thursdays.  We went outside.”

Do you feel like you haven’t been outside in a while?
“It’s been a while.  I don’t know how long.  I thought the work we got was good.  I think the temperatures were similar to what we’re going to see on Sunday.”

Was that what you were aiming to do with practicing outside today?
“Just to create that (type of) environment.  We’ll try to do the same tomorrow.”

Are you going to try to do that Saturday in Tennessee at their stadium?
“We are going to go to Tennessee and do it.”

How much will you practice in Tennessee?
“It’s more of a half an hour walk-through and just kind of getting used to the field conditions and really the turf there.”

Are you not worried about getting out of your routine for Saturday?
“We’ve done this before.  I would say this has been something we’ve done at least half a dozen times.  In fact, in ’09 it became a pretty standard routine for us with quite a few places where we just ended up having what we would have here Saturday morning and flying out at 1:00pm, flying out earlier and having it at the stadium we were going to.  I would say it’s probably part of ‘Plan B’ in regards to a second routine.”

Do you ever feel like the Saints don’t received enough credit for being enough of a physical football team?
“I think it comes down to winning and losing.  Certainly that was an important element of what we were able to accomplish a couple of years ago.  I think it’s been an emphasis for us certainly this year in regards to how we want to play.  We’ve had some good road wins really.  Cincinnati last year was a physical game on the road, but I think you try not to as best you can to allow that.  I think the points of emphasis we make each week within the framework that we’re playing and the conditions we’re playing in, we pay close attention to.  There are some games that kind of unfold in a certain way that dictate you run or throw more, or defend run or defend pass more.  We just have to be ready to adapt and handle that.”

Did the preseason game against the Titans help you out at all?
“I think from a standpoint of personnel, it allows you to see a team up close and personal and recognize some of the strengths and weaknesses.  To me, it seems like that was two years ago.  Every once in a while, you have a preseason game that you repeat and play that team again in the regular season.  It seems to happen every other or every third year.  I do think that, probably more than anything else, helps you with personnel and your evaluation of certain players.  Our scouts do a lot in the preseason when they’re looking at a team that comes in during the preseason because we’re looking at rosters and who’s cut.  I think from that element, it does.”

When you said it’s a point of emphasis a minute ago, did you mean to be more physical?
“Just in regards to running the football.  I was using the running game as that example.  We point out week-to-week it’s one of the most important elements to winning and losing is winning that battle and understanding the importance of playing very physical football.  It’s the very nature of the game.  It’s necessary in order to win.  Regardless of the type of offense or defense you have, that element has to exist if you’re winning.  It will be an important element in this week’s game.”

Did you feel different last year going into your games compared to this year with the running game?
“I think there’s more teeth in your play-action pass.  There’s one element to being able to control a game sometimes and that’s being able to rush the football.  It’s harder to do when you want to control a certain tempo or how you want to play in the second half.  It’s an important element we think (is) to winning.  Those totals each week might vary, but the ability to be two-dimensional as opposed to one-dimensional I believe is important.  That doesn’t mean there are weeks where there are a lot more throws or more runs, but I think that it’s an important element to what you do to defenses and what they have to do (to you).  You hear a lot of the times defenses talk about making an offense one-dimensional and I understand that.  It’s important that we don’t allow that to happen.”

You’re not saying you want to get 150 yards every game running the ball, but you want to run efficiently?
“Yes, it’s interesting how these things tie together.  You want to be able to operate with efficiency on (both) first and second down.  The one thing we’ve done this year as well is we’ve picked and chosen opportunities to run the ball on third down, not necessarily third and one, probably more this year than we have in a while where that too can help your conversion rate and third down efficiency. But I think those early downs of staying ahead of the chains and putting yourself in manageable third down situations, there are some games where your third down attempts are low and you had a very productive game offensively and that means generally on first and second downs you were getting first downs.  I think it all fits together and that’s who we want to be when we look at our goals and make up our offense with our personnel.”

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams

Media Availability

Friday, December 9, 2011

Are you going to go to the Sugar Bowl game to watch Virginia Tech?

“I’ll be there.  We’re hoping we’ll have a bye, but you don’t know.  What we’re doing is going to come first.  I’ll find my way to get to the game.”

What are your thoughts on Matt Hasselbeck?

“He’s a friend until we play.  I think he’s as good as any veteran quarterback we play with understanding the game.  He plays with a lot of instincts, which when you do that you take coaching out of it.  The really good players take the robotic coaching out of it because they can play the game.  Drew (Brees) does that so well.  (Tom) Brady does that well.  A guy that’s played as long as Matt takes a lot of the things that you try to trick up and he can figure those things out.  It doesn’t take him very long.  He’s played the game for a long time because he’s smart and he’s productive.  We have our work cut out for us.”

Does that Seattle game still sit in the back of your mind?

“I’m sure if you talked to any of our guys throughout the course of the week, they’ll tell you I’ve been on them hard.  He’s in a little different system now.  He still controls it there.  I know a lot of those guys up there, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in that building.  It’s been 11 years since I’ve been in that organization.  Six of those coaches played for me and three other ones coached with me and one other one I hired and was with me with the Redskins.  There’s familiarity there.  Once you get inside the white lines, the players play the game.  That’s why it’s fun really with the guys we have here is that good coaches understand that you don’t take away player instincts.  As we continue to grow here, the more instinctive our players play here makes me look like a better coach.  You don’t want to fill their heads with so many things.  I tell them all the time I don’t want to coach robots.  This is not a video game.  There’s human error, human element, and everything in the game.  You guys have to be able to make decisions on the fly and on the run.  Our guys are growing in that way and hopefully they grew a lot from that game last year.”

Can you talk a little about Chris Johnson?

“He picked a nice month to start finding his stride.  Not only just him, but also the guys around him.  You have to be so sound that he’s one of those few backs that can take it the distance against you.  You make a mistake similar to some of the other guys we’ve played, you can have two guys at the point of attack on block, and he shimmies and shakes their ankles off on a move and it doesn’t matter how many players are there.  We’re going to have to swarm him and do a good job with that.  You pick your poison when you’re putting more people to stop him and less people on stopping the pass.  There are all those situational things you have to do, but he’s very talented.  He didn’t get all that money unless he’s talented, and he’s very talented.”

Is your run defense also having its best month?

“We’re improving each week without all the early stuff and early preparation.  We’re improving in those things.  With the multitude of packages we’ve played, we’ve kept guys healthy that way.  Like I spoke earlier in the year, one of the things was that we have a couple of older players in certain positions we try to not have and not play as much early in the year so they can play in the month of December.  They’re playing pretty well.”

by Ed Staton

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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. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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