Thursday, 09 December 2010 15:33

New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams Playing For Playoffs

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Summary: The New Orleans Saints are hosting the much-improved St. Louis Rams in the Superdome and the playoffs are on the line. Expect Reggie Bush to play more and Pierre Thomas to return to action after an injury. 

Once upon a time not long ago, the Saints training complex were where all football dreams were alive. That was last season. The dreams are still there.

The Saints trail the Falcons by a game and have four games remaining against teams with playoffs hopes. The Falcons have a much better chance of winning out, playing free-falling Carolina twice.

So, the Saints are playing them one game at a time. Repeating as NFC champs?  Shhhhhhhhhhh. It's one game at a time headquarters for, well, one game at a time.

Coach Sean Payton is crafting a special mindset. He won't allow his players to peak over the horizon. He won't let them flip ahead a few pages to see what fascinating plot twists might lie ahead.

 Sunday's opponent in the Superdome is St. Louis the St. Louis Rams, 6-6 and in first place in the NFC West.

A year ago, when the Rams were on their way to being the worst team in the NFL, they took the Saints down to the wire in a thrilling 28-23 loss at St. Louis, piling up 434 total yards of offense. Can a decidedly better 2010 version of the Rams raise it up another notch against the streaking Saints?

The Rams defeated the Broncos and the Cardinals the past two weeks. "At that point, we were winless on the road," said running back Steve Jackson. "So far us to win two games on the road back-to-back, it shows that this team responds to challenge.

"We have another big game, and it's going to be rowdier in New Orleans. We have to get ready for this.  As games approach, and each and every week as we continue to be successful, games are going to get bigger. And I think this team is starting to understand that. We've just got to continue to execute and play together."

The Saints said on Wednesday that running back Pierre Thomas will play and running back Julius Jones will be available. The Saints placed running back Ladell Betts on injured reserve and signed linebacker Kawika Mitchell. They also signed running back Chris Taylor for the practice squad and released quarterback Sean Canfield from the practice squad.

"Kawika is a player that has a lot of experience and will give us depth and we'll see as we move forward if we can work him into some of our packages," said Payton

Will the Saints run more screens with Thomas back?

"He's patient from a timing aspect," said Payton. "A lot of the screen game is timing and he has a pretty good feel for that clock in his head to see what looks to be the protection and then slide out. That's something that he does very well from a timing standpoint and understanding how to get to that landmark because it varies."

Reggie Bush saw more playing time last Sunday.

"It was more snaps and he had more opportunities than in the game prior and we just continue to look at those," said Payton. "Sometimes within the passing game, a route may or may not go to him, but I thought he handled the runs pretty well. A lot of it is how the game is unfolding as well. He's running close to 100 per cent now, so as we package the offense, we'll package it knowing that."

How does Payton determine the number of snaps a running back will get?

"You pay attention to the game as a coach and there are a number of plays where any number of those guys would be in and then there are some specifics that are targets for this running back -- whether it's Chris Ivory, Julius, Pierre or Reggie. It would depend on the plays, but it's not as rigid as you might think. If a guy is going and playing well, there are times where you'll leave a back in there and we've done that, and there  are other plays where we'll make substitutions."

With a win this week, the Saints will have consecutive 10-win seasons.

"Our goals are set higher than that," said the coach. "I don't mean to diminish the importance of winning seasons or double-digit winning seasons or any of those things, but that when you have a chance to  experience success, it's something that you look to duplicate that again and again. I don't know that a lot of attention has been paid to that."

Last season the Saints were the feel-good story of the NFL. The Saints have gotten less national publicity than any defending Super Bowl champion I can remember.

"Week to week there are a lot of teams at the top of the AFC and the NFC and its competitive," said Payton. "If we're under radar, that's not a bad spot to be in. It's a spot that just means that you may not have received the national exposure. A lot of it is week to week though and a lot of it is based on the national games. We saw Philadelphia play against Washington a few weeks ago and that was an impressive win. We saw New England play on Monday night against the Jets and that was an impressive win. When you play in those games, much like a year ago when we had a few of those prime time games, that can put attention to a specific team. But really, all of that is unimportant. What's most important is just putting yourself in a position week in and week out to be in a position to win and the other stuff kind of takes care of itself."

SOME hither, others yon: With four weeks left in the regular season, four teams can clinch playoff berths in Week 14. According to the league, the Falcons, Patriots, Jets and Steelers can secure seats in the postseason table. The Falcons are in with a win and a Giants loss to the Vikings and an Eagles loss to the Cowboys, or a win and a Giants loss and a Packers loss to the Lions, or a Falcons tie and a Giants loss and an Eagles loss and a Packers loss and a Buccaneers loss or tie to the Redskins. The Falcons, Steelers and Pats can clinch via even more complex scenarios that I chose not to articulate...Less than two years after he was released from prison, Michael Vick's reputation has recovered to such a great extent that he might be the most popular player in the NFL. The league revealed on Wednesday that the Eagles quarterback has 729,838 fan votes for the Pro Bowl, which puts him in first place among all players in the entire league, He charged ahead of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who was in first place among all players,  but has fallen to Vick, 38,692 votes back  Fans can vote for their favorites on Pro Bowlers will be announced later this month...

The Bears have signed former LSU offensive lineman Herman Johnson off the Cardinals practice squad and gave him a two-year contract.  While he has been considered a guard for most of his career, the Bears plan to work the 360-pounder at right tackle. "I'm ready to get the ball rolling," said Johnson. "I want to be able to get myself a chance. If they want me to play right tackle, that's where I'll be. It just didn't work out in Arizona. I had a good time out there, but this is a fresh start." The 6-foot-7, 360-pounder was 15 pounds, 14 ounces when he was born, making him  the largest baby ever born in Louisiana. Because he was on the Cardinals practice squad, the Bears will have to keep him on the 53-man roster for a minimum of three games...The Bucs have placed former Saints center Jeff Faine on  IR...

Before he had shoulder surgery last season, Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford got a call from Drew Brees.  Brees had gone through a similar operation after tearing the labrom in his right (throwing shoulder) in the last game of the 2005 season when he was with the Chargers.

"I just asked him what the rehab process was like," said Bradford. "He was awesome. He answered every question I asked. Very helpful."

Bradford has taken every snap this season for the 6-6 Rams.

"I remember the first time I went down to Birmingham and visited with Dr. (James) Andrews, he told me that Drew's injury was 10 times worse than mine," said Bradford. "He told me that there were people that were very skeptical that he would be able to come back and even throw a football.

"Look at what he has done since the injury? I would say he has done all right. Knowing that Drew came back from such a severe shoulder injury and knowing that mine wasn't nearly as bad as his, gave me a lot of confidence going into the surgery. It let me know afterward that going through the rehab I would be fine.

"One of the main things I got from talking to Drew was the rehab process was extremely important. As soon as I was able to rehab, I knew it was something I needed to give my full attention to.

"I couldn't take it lightly. I needed to give 100 per cent in rehab and that was the key part."

Are the Rams ready to play in a loud Superdome?

"Yeah, it's definitely something that we have prepared for," said Bradford. "A lot of the guys on this team have played in New Orleans and several of our coaches have. They have talked to me. We know it's going to be loud and communication is going to be difficult. It's something we are trying to prepare for this week."

The Super Bowl Saints were 13-3 last season and few of us realize they could achieve the same record this season. One reason for the Saints record this season is wide receiver Marques Colston, whose lack of notoriety is in large part due to his quiet nature. He has 71 catches, a total that not only is tied for fourth in the NFL and he's already surpassed his output from last season (70 receptions). He's pushing toward his career-best mark (98 catches in 2007). He's a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. Saints coach Sean Payton said he's making a point to put pressure on defenses with Colston moving to different receiver positions they haven't used before. In the Saints' diverse offense, there typically is a different player who stands out each week. "It's hard to predict," said Payton. "One game Robert Meachem will go over 100 yards, the next game Lance Moore will go over 100. The last half of the games we've played, Marques' numbers have really jumped." Colston said the Saints aren't looking past the Rams, a hungry team that could either buckle under the intimidation of playing in the Superdome or give the Saints a heck of a good game because they're on a roll as well.


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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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