Rolling Hot! Nothing better that getting on a roll! Walk-up to the table, no one expects anything from you, most even discount you has “just another player”. You roll, then it is back to back! Three in a row and the doubters are still loud. Four in a row and those playing with you from the start begin to believe this could be for real. Five in a row and people observing from the back of the room start peeking. Six in a row and the crowd builds around you. Seven in a row and you are getting all of the attention. The easiest thing to do now is fall in love with the compliments. Begin to believe you are ‘just that good”. You relax, you maintain the status quo, you just play out the run.
Not in today’s NFC and not this year’s New Orleans Saints!
Moving from a pre-season pick to be near the bottom of the pack, strengthening those predictions with an all too familiar 0 and 2 start, very few devoted fans could have foreseen the run this team has been on. They have become one of the stories of the season, the affable underdog does good. It could be very easy to fall in love with the press clippings, begin to believe that all is well. Coach stills a line from his mentor, Parcels, and keeps warning the team “don’t eat the cheese”. This team with a great mix of experienced coaches, strong veteran leadership, and anxious young players, is working hard to keep this team humble and hungry.
Leading by example, Payton kept looking for the team weakness and it was very apparent. The special teams performance has been weak and inconsistent. Seeing that even with a solid win streak in play, the team has not been able to separate from the NFC pack. While stubborn at times, Payton has proven that he can learn from mistakes. Remember 2010 when after going 11-5, we limped into Seattle for the play-offs with Julius Jones starting only his 2nd game of the year was our leading rusher? Payton has stressed running back depth and was a significant reason for the AP experiment earlier this season. 2016 watched the Saints lose 4 games by 3 points or less, with poor field goal performance being key in each of those losses. Coach made a change and brought in a special team’s consultant. In 2017, Coach identifies the weakness in special teams play, realizes that a single mistake in a tight race can be season impacting. Even riding the roll, Coach brings in an experienced special teams guru Michael Westoff, to tighten the execution. Brilliant move by Payton. Not only is he seeing an area that has under-performed and has a high up-side. He also sees a part of the game that could simply be the difference in the one key game with Carolina and two key games with Atlanta. The message it sends is loud and clear…”we are not riding our success! We will make necessary changes”! What a great way to demonstrate, we are not satisfied with 7, let’s work hard and make it 8!
Patrick Lencioni of The Table Group, recent book, The Ideal Team Player, identified the three key characteristics of the best team players. 1) Humble 2) Hungry 3) Smart (people). I find it interesting to see these traits showing up on this year’s Saints team. Youth has given them desire, hunger, and swagger (Hungry). Leadership has kept them within themselves, holding self-responsible and focusing on one game at a time (Humble). People Smart is all about making good decisions and showing good judgement. This team is demonstrating a locker room of wise and guarded statements and minimal distractions (Smart). This year is turning into something special!
Keys to the game:
Controlling Cousins: Probably the best pure drop back quarterback the team has faced this season. Cousins continues to get little respect from the league or his own team. He has skills! Let’s not forget that on November 15, 2015, he had a career high 4 td passes against the Saints and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Our improved secondary must not fall victim to their #7 ranking. Given time, Mr. Cousins can light you up.
Turning Brees Loose: If we are not careful we will fall in love with our balanced offense and lose our edge. The best way to scare and confuse the next three opponents (Rams, Panthers, Falcons), is to give them a dose of Brees. Don’t let any of them key on the Saints rush offense. This Saints offensive line has show resilience and strength. I would like to see the offense out early and aggressive. Run the score, then rock!
Special teams: I think of the Redskins and I think of special plays! Remember Meachem’s stripped interception for a touchdown (2009)? This week I hope to see the impact of the special teams focus. No more lazy, missed extra points! How nice would it be to see us catch a punt, return a punt?
Prediction: If there is one team that frustrates my Saints it is the Redskins. The two teams have played each other 5 times in the Payton/Brees era, the Redskins have won 4. I remember when rookie Robert Griffin III, lit up the scoreboard in 2012, putting up 40 on our Saints. The one win against the Redskins came during the same game as the Meachem strip. It has taken a miracle to beat the Redskins, not this year…… Saints 37… Redskins 23!
Movie Moment: Remember The Longest Yard, the Burt Reynolds edition? “Split right, all curl, on 1!! So Bogdanksi is allowed to rush and Crewe throws his pass directly into Bogdanski’s “nether region” as called by the game announcer. I know it would never happen, but if it could be real – today is the day. You see, the two critical moments that have led to thrice concurrent 7 and 9 seasons were 1) Bountygate lost draft picks 2) JG extension. At the time the Saints were trying their wins to filling needs at the expense of quality character and locker room leadership. We all know the results, a little payback would be nice…..just sayn”.