Tuesday, 07 December 2010 16:37

New Orleans Saints: Rams Payton, Ivory, Thomas, Reggie Bush

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Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday that Pierre Thomas should play against St. Louis on Sunday, that Chris Ivory will get more snaps when his blocking improves, and that pass protection was weak early in the win over the Bengals.

Payton met with the media on Monday and discussed the win over the Bengals, his shrinking injury report and his upcoming game with the improving Rams, who are now tied for the NFC West lead.

“From an injury standpoint, there was really not anything significant. Julius Jones tweaked his ankle but was able to return to the game" said Payton. " Over-all, we fared pretty well coming out of that contest. After looking at the tape, we’ll meet here and there are a number of things that we’ll have to work on to clean up.


"Most glaringly the penalties and it wasn’t just in one area. I think we can play better in the kicking game with our field position and our coverage units. Certainly we’d like to get off the field defensively with some long-yardage situations. Offensively we only converted one third down and I thought we were inconsistent protecting the quarterback – especially early on; we were better in the second half. Anyway, those are all things we’ll have clean up and we’ll get started this week with our preparations for St. Louis.”


Are the penalties something that becomes a snowball effect during a game?


“Overall we pride ourselves on being a team that is not heavily penalized.. We haven’t been the last four years. There are yards there. When you look at 100 yards, those yards add up and really add up to points if you study it. When you look at field position and you equate hidden yardage to field position – there’s a formula to do that, if you look at where you’re starting with the football and where they’re starting and then take the penalty yards and the differential between the Bengals and the Saints, then you can clearly point out to your players that these are things that have value, and that’s what we’ll do. I don’t think we look at the game and say that there were a bunch of calls that shouldn’t have been made; I thought the officials did a good job in officiating the game yesterday. We have to be better in that area.”{sidebar id=4}


Jahri Evans has earned the reputation of being one of the better guards in the NFL and yet he’s one of the most penalized for holding calls this year. What do you make of that?


“You study closely and oftentimes it happens that the finish of plays, after the initial contact is made and then there is some type of disengagement by the defender, you have to look at that technique. He has gotten good push at times; over the course of the season you could look at a couple of them, but I think you just have to look at it and see if you can refine it.”


Since you haven’t been heavily penalized in the past, do you see that as something that will be easily correctable?


“I hope so. But I think it would be a mistake to take it for granted. When it comes on a big play where you get off the field and all of a sudden you’re back on for a 1st-and-10, or it comes on an offensive play where you have a pretty significant gain and now all of a sudden you’re 1st-and-20. Those things can stop or continue drives and they did yesterday. That’s something that I think we can eliminate quickly.”


You have been giving up more plays and points defensively lately. Have teams found some things that they’re taking advantage of?


“We have played better offensive teams, in regards to the skill positions. When you look at Cincinnati, we knew going in that they had some weapons. Their young tight end is playing well for them and made some plays yesterday. The receivers are guys with experience and they’ve had success. I think Dallas, to some degree, has some of those threats. That being said, I know that defensively we have a high bar and a high expectation of what we want to accomplish, and most significantly it’s winning each game and how we go about doing that.. It’s probably a combination of a number of things.”


How close was Pierre Thomas to being able to play yesterday?


“I think he was close. For him, it’s a gradual process. The only concern with Pierre is that it’s a little different from Reggie Bush’s injury in that he’s probably more prone to a setback if he’s out there too soon than getting through the nuances of a broken leg that has healed and yet you’re still working through the muscle strength and development. {source}I would expect this week for him to practice, take more reps and be ready to play{/source}. Yet we want to make sure that we’re not just deciding that today on a Monday but that we’re paying attention to how practice is going. But he was encouraged and I was encouraged with the workweek. It was probably the first good full week that he’s had where he has taken reps both on offense, worked on scout team and done a number of things. So I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to get him into the lineup this week.”


Has Chris Ivory played himself into getting the lion’s share of the carries even when Pierre Thomas is full healthy?


“Chris has done a number of good things and I don’t want to affect his snap count at all in regards to his carries. We’ll be smart about who’s up and then having the plan that we think is best for our team, but certainly has earned the reps that he’s getting now and the touches that he’s getting now. He’s a different type of runner than either Pierre or Reggie or Julius. He runs hard; I thought he ran well yesterday. We had a ball out one time which was concerning, but he played better yesterday than he had.”


Did you have a chance to watch the Atlanta-Tampa Bay game yesterday?


“We saw really the first quarter-and-a-half. Mickey (Loomis) and some other guys have that Verizon Red Zone and by the time we got on the plane and were getting ready to take off, it was close to halftime and then you land and you get the results and see the highlights. That was about it.”


Were you anxious to find out the result when the plane landed?


“Like anybody else, you pay attention to your division. Certainly this late in the year, you know you don’t have any control over it and still you look at all the NFC teams and how they’re doing. I said earlier this morning on a radio show that the East has a couple of teams making a push now in Philadelphia and New York and you look at the North and there are two teams pushing hard with Green Bay and Chicago. Forget the West for a second, knowing that you’ll have a winner come out of there and they’re battling, but in the South you’ve had three teams so yesterday’s game was important because it involved two of those teams in Tampa and Atlanta. It’s a race and you just keep battling and you really worry about what you can control, and that’s playing well the next week and your preparation. I think that method has served us well and you go from there.”


How much tougher is it coming from a Wild Card spot in the playoffs where you’d have to play three games to reach the Super Bowl?


“I don’t want to speculate or go through all of the potentials. The good news is that we still have 25 percent of the season left; we have four games and a month of football. It would be very easy for you to just look statistically and make the comparisons as to seeds and success rate. It’s just a statistical analysis of studying since the playoffs have been in place the way they are. I haven’t researched that but I’m sure that would be easy to find out.”


But would not having home field advantage be a big factor?


“I think the home field is a big advantage for a lot of teams and the home field for a team that plays inside can be significant because of the noise. We have that in the fan base that we have so clearly we value that and appreciate the challenges that teams have coming in here to play in this venue.”


If you had to play outside, does the fact that your running game is improving help you?


“Again, you’re getting into these hypotheticals and with four weeks left I don’t want to get into the ‘if thens’.”


You’re 5-1 on the road this season and were 7-1 on the road last season. Can you put a finger on why this team is so successful away from home?


“The obvious reason would be that we’re playing better football. I think we’re a better team and because of that, you would hope that your win totals – both at home and on the road – would be better. We struggled when we first got here with AFC teams and we’ve gotten better of late. We probably didn’t play as well on the road as we would have liked and I think we’ve been better with that. Part of that is that we’re a better team now than we were when we weren’t winning as consistently on the road.”


Could you discuss Jimmy Graham and Chris Ivory and how they’re understanding the offense better now and how they’re blocking?


“They’re both gaining experience and getting reps. As a young player – especially a first-year player, there’s a lot being thrown at them and they’re much more acclimated to what they’re doing now. The repetition aspect of what we all do or learn is critical in the development of players so when you continue to repeat and repeat and they begin to play and not have to think so much about the assignments, I think it helps to accelerate their chances of success. But both of those guys are guys that are helping us now. With Jimmy, when you look at his snap count in regards to football reps, it’s so much more behind everyone else’s because this is really year two of him playing. For Chris, it’s getting accustomed to the reads and the runs. Then with the second part of your question, the biggest challenge oftentimes for running backs is the protections and that’s an area that he continues to work on and needs to work on and as he can do that, we’ll expand his role accordingly.”


In regards to Pierre Thomas, how much do you work to simulate what he’s going to get in a game in terms to contact in practices?


“Last week we were able to do that a little; the week before it was a little more challenging and we didn’t give him a lot of work – in fact he didn’t practice before the Dallas game. But we were in pads last week and on Wednesday we had some full-go periods and so that’s helpful. That’s the challenge when you’re out so long, getting back into that game shape.”


Did the weather have a factor in him not playing at Cincinnati?


“No, it didn’t. We really just tried to look at where we felt like he was at and with as close as he was we just didn’t want a setback. But I don’t think it was weather-related; in fact, I know it wasn’t. It was more of just where he was and where we were at and the feeling that we could get one more weekend in and get him ready now this week and we were able to do that.”


Does the quality of depth at that position allow you to do that?


“It has helped. That’s a position where you just can’t have enough good players. Ladell (Betts) has played an important role for us; Julius Jones has played an important role and Chris Ivory coming in here as a rookie. All of those guys have factored in. When you look at last year’s lineups, there were times when Lynell (Hamilton) played a bigger role and Mike Bell. Those guys all got nicked up at some point during the season and that has happened to us this year as well. So it’s important to have depth there.”


How fine of a line is it with the officiating when there is an offside call late in the game and the offensive lineman also jumps in the process?


“If it’s not a lot, the line judge might just rule it as an offensive penalty. It’s a good question. It was enough to where Carl (Nicks) was smart and reacted. Again, the mindset is there’s not a lot to lose here. We were in a position where five yards wasn’t going to (significantly) change the field goal. We weren’t going to go from a 42-yard to a 47-yard field goal. We couldn’t call a second back-to-back timeout. We knew the play was going to result in a penalty on somebody. It was going to be on us for delay of game or Cincinnati or potentially us for moving early, but I think you only have that flexibility when you’re in that close (range).”


Would you have been surprised if they had called false start on your team?


“Based on the film, I would have been surprised based on what happened and what took place in the game. That would have been the wrong call. They made the right call. That was clear. Again, you go in with the idea that you are willing to take a five-yard delay of game (penalty) when you send that out there. You understand that and then you just go from there.”


Did Carl have his eyes closed and do the Jedi thing?


“No. His eyes were open.”


While you have to be impressed of the ability of the team to come back in the fourth quarter the last two games, is there anything particular that you saw that maybe let teams get back in there?


“Cincinnati converted some key third downs. We had the penalty that extended a drive on fourth down, our punt return unit. We weren’t able to convert third downs. It’s interesting in our league and you guys know this covering it as much as you can do that 14 points can go just like that if you’re three and out and they score. All of a sudden they get the ball again. So, it wasn’t like last week in Dallas where there was a series of events and turnovers specifically an interception and a fumbled punt that led to the game (tightening). This just happened in the second half where we were making plays and eventually weren’t.. We made a few but not enough and credit Cincinnati. They played better than they had. Offensively they made some plays in the passing game and converted some key plays. A fourth and 12 they convert. That’s a big play. I was pleased early on. We were able to hold them to field goals. I thought that was significant. The penalty we got on our first field goal where we go from punting the ball to kicking a field goal was significant if you later look at it. I thought the drive late in the first half with a minute left in the half, we get a penalty. We’re backed up. All of a sudden there is holding on a screen pass to Jimmy Graham and then we get the big play and we get a field goal at the end of the half. We can look at all those. It wouldn’t get as much attention as some of the other calls in that game, as in the second quarter and first quarter, but they were equally as important. The pleasing aspect is despite penalties, despite turnover, despite third down (struggles), despite these things we’re talking about, we were able to get the win. It’s a lot easier to come in after a win and clean these things up. I think we’re smart enough as a team to recognize and not fool ourselves to recognize those are some things we’ll have to improve on.”


Are you getting a real body of work in the two minute offense?


“We’re experiencing in that offense in that you’re looking at the guys that are on the field a lot of the same players were on the field a year ago and have been for years. It starts with that the quarterback shows that he will consistently execute in those situations. They have confidence that they’re going to move the football and understand the situation of if you’re moving it for a field goal or moving it for a touchdown or if you’re going to midstream adjust if you get a big gain. Your initial thoughts are field goal, then you look at touchdown because all of a sudden Jimmy Graham has a big play. It shifts.. You’re just being flexible that way but that is an area statistically not only this year that has been pretty solid in so many of the games, at the end of halfs, the end of games, somebody either defending or on two minute.”


How do you beat people deep so often in those situations, especially with Robert Meachem for two straight weeks?


“Meachem’s was in two minute a week ago. I don’t know that yesterday with three and a half, four minutes left. We were in a heavy personnel (grouping). We ran the ball twice with Chris (Ivory). We weren’t in a two-minute mode. We felt that we had all three timeouts and really a ton of time. We just wanted to execute what would be a part of our normal gameplan and after we had run the ball twice we called up a shot play, which was to Meachem and we actually got kind of a half safety look. He crossed his face and got across the field. In Meachem’s catches yesterday, those came a little more in base offense, whereas in Dallas that was a two-minute drill at the line of scrimmage at the time of that call.”


With Sam Bradford and the Rams passing game, it doesn’t seem like they have a lot of receivers that jump out at you, but have his lack of turnovers allowed them to win games?


“He’s very accurate. The ball comes out of his hands very quick. When you evaluate the college quarterback you never know how the transition goes and how quickly it can happen. In his case, I think he’s transitioned very fast and he’s very comfortable clearly with the little tape we’ve seen, but when you watch him. When he’s blitzed and he knows he’s one short in protection, the ball comes out. He’s very poised. I think he has a live arm. Just in the scouting and evaluation, I think everyone clearly felt that he was the top quarterback in the draft and he’s not disappointed anyone. He’s playing with a lot of poise. They’ve improved defensively considerably and in all aspects they’re having a good season. It starts obviously with him. He’s given them some continuity at that position and some consistent play. His decision-making and all those things have happened very fast for a player at his position.”


Are you still okay with Garrett Hartley’s kickoffs?


“I was just going back looking. You had the wind yesterday. You had two quarters each with and without. It was a crosswind really towards the Bengals locker room and I just felt we could have done more. I understand when we’re into the wind, covering and then return. They had a couple of short kicks. Heath (Evans) did a good job of fielding those and we ended up getting those a little bit past the 30 and the 40. But the two kicks yesterday that we’ll work on with Garrett; When you’re in a pooch kick or squib a kick, you want it to be a lot harder and further down the field. At the end of the half you had one that resulted in the bigger return than we would have liked and then of course the location on the one that goes out of bounds…those are automatically at midfield. We’ll keep working Garrett and working his location. We do have Thomas (Morstead) that can do that as well, but I think more than anything it’s just improving the coverage aspect of it.”


Is it kind of like having a child, knowing he has the potential, but having to be patient sometimes?


“The key is how are we doing with the field goal operation and the snap hold and the kick has been good. That’s the first and that’s not to diminish the importance of a kickoff, but we’re doing well there and so it’s a little bit of everything. It’s getting used to kicking a colder ball rather than a warmer ball. There are differences there. That being said, you want the best for all these guys. You want them to improve and continue to grow and so this will be another good week for us to improve.”


Don Meredith, who died  the other day in Santa Fe, N.M. was one of the first celebrity athletes, a prototype for a role that has since become a standard in the pop culture. He had battled emphysema in recent years and suffered a minor  stroke in 2004. Because of his failing health, he was unable to attend the Cowboys' 2009 inaugural game in Cowboys Stadium. He was 72.  He was the Cowboys' first star quarterback, playing there from 1960-68. He was all Southern charm, folksy humor, and good-ol-boy charisma. He never became the TV and movie star he seemed destined to become, but he made do, did what was available. He was part of the classic Monday night triumvirate with Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford -- where Dandy Don made famous his classic bit of singing Willie Nelson's "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over" when some turning point play seemed to decide a game's outcome. He starred in some.mostly forgettable, made for TV movies, and guest-starred on a procession of TV series through the 70s, most notably a recurring role as Det. Bert Jameson on Police Story. But his most successful role was as himself, Dandy Don, the slow-talking, but quick-witted country boy from Mount Vernon, Tex. who became a big-city success story, and in so doing helped paved the way for the generations of athletic celebrities who followed him. As his wife, Susan,  said, "We lost a good one."



Buddy D Gras
(The following chapter is an excerpt reprinted with permission from a new book  "Black and Gold Party Gras." The 176-page, 675-photo book is a commemorative keepsake  and is a rollicking salute to the Super Bowl Saints and the  spirit of their devoted fans, known collectively as the Who Dat Nation. For information contact www.BlackandGoldPartyGras.com).

If there ever was a proxy for the hopes and frustrations of Saints fans, it was none other than Bernard Saverio Diliberto. affectionately known as Buddy D. Over a 50--plus year career as a sportswriter and broadcaster, he became a beloved cult icon -- "the sports heartbeat of of the city." as his friend, former The Times-Picayune columnist Angus Lind once wrote.

Famous for his mangled pronunciations, barbed commentaries and banter with fans calling into his talk show on WWL Radio, Buddy D was as passionate about the Saints as he was exasperated by their foibles and inadequacies. He once said, "When you get to heaven after you die, tell St. Peter you're a Saints fan. He'll say, 'C'mon in, I don't care what else you've done, you suffered enough.'"

On his radio show, when half-cocked callers would get excited about the possibility of the Saints making the playoffs, and maybe even somehow punching a ticket to the Big Dance, Buddy D would laugh at their naivete -- only a "squirrel" could believe in such a thing. He vowed that if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl, he'd make a spectacle of himself by parading down the street in a dress.

Fans despaired of ever seeing the dress dream come true -- the idea became a long-running joke -- and Buddy D passed away suddenly in January, 2005. Five years later, after the unthinkable happened -- hell froze over when the Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings and set their sights on Super Bowl XLIV in Miami -- Buddy D's former colleagues at WWL came up with the idea of a men-in-drag tribute parade. What better way to honor the :ultimate Saints fan" and his famous dress pledge?

Announced a few days prior, the folks at WWL thought it would be a fun little parade. But it turned into a wild-and-crazy happening.

Leading the way was Buddy D's successor at WWL,former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, who'd made a few Super Bowl dress promises of his own. Now here he was fetchingly got up in a gold sequined mini length muunuu and flouncy black slip, pleated an trimmed with lace. His blonde wig had Swiss braid and pigtails, topped off with a tiny tiara.

WWL news director David Cohen reported live from the parade route. "A lot of people told us, as we were passing by: 'This is the best parade ever. Best parade ever,' ever I asked, 'Better than a superkrewe during Mardi Gras?' And they said, 'Oh, it's just so emotional, because it's all the Who Dats together showing such unity. '"

"If this is any bit of what it's going to be like next Sunday when the Saints win he Super Bowl," Cohen noted "holy cow."

The revelry, Hebert told sportswriter Hank Gola of the New York Daily News, "would eclipse anything this city's ever seen." Mardi Gras would turn into a "month-long party," he added. "Lent isn't going to  slow it down. Who Dat Nation would say, 'No, God understand the circumstances. We didn't think this would happen.'"

Bourbon Street was packed for for the dress parade, though not with tourists. One caller to WWL dubbed the occasion "Buddy D Gras." Hebert, who broadcast live from the Oceana Grill after the parade, responded by saying "Let me tell you right now" I'm rolling down the street in the parade, and no matter where we turned the sun was shining on the Who Dat Nation. I was looking up at the sun and saying, 'Thank God for the  New Orleans Saints. "

"No where in America this happens. No where!," Hebert declared.

Indeed. A police car leading a parade of men in drag (with beers in hand and rolling coolers full of more cold ones) as they strutted and shimmied through the Central Business District, hamming it up for onlookers every step of the  way -- with cigars, decorated parasols, hairy legs and all.

For Bobby Hebert, being a member of the Who Dat Nation is not so much fan identity as it is a lifestyle -- consuming passion that expresses New Orleans' renowned culture of revelry, theatricality and masquerade. He should know from his perch as sports talker on WWL Radio, the former Saints quarterback and native of Lafourche Parish, in Louisiana Cajun country, popularized by the term "Who Dat Nation," and is often referred to as the tribe's founding father. Flamboyant, outspoken and unabashedly demonstrative, he exemplifies it exuberant, extroverted spirit.

Hebert's daughter, Cammy Lynn,who resides in Manhattan, created his dress especially for the parade, It so happened that she was launching a new fashion line called Show Me Your Mumu, in partnership with designer and style commentator Cologne Schmidt. In an interview with Gola,she described the flashy one for her dad as the "Mu Dat Nation Mumu."  She was hoping he'd wear fishnet leggings. "That would really complete the look," she told Gola.

Alas, dad opted for a black-and-gold garter.

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.  


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