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NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - INSIDE SLANT
The New Orleans Saints think they have a couple of ways to change their bad luck on the road, where they dropped five of six games since early October, going into the postseason.
When the Saints clinched their playoff berth last Sunday with a 42-17 blowout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the players had already figured out what they will do to hopefully turn things around.
The Saints (11-5) know that they'll have to take care of the ball, which has been a problem for them on the road, when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) in an NFC wild-card game Saturday night in Lincoln Financial Field.
While it's no joking matter, the Saints were ready when the questions about their 3-5 road record came. They say changing their warm-up suits, the color of their sports drink and the choice of Drew Brees' favorite meal the night before the game will do it.
They were only kidding, of course.
The road problems cost the Saints a chance to earn a top-two seed and a first-round bye as well as at least one game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where they were 8-0 this season for the second time in three years.
They know it's going to take a concerted effort on both sides of the football, especially when it comes to an offense that has committed 10 turnovers in their last five road losses.
Four of those giveaways contributed to early 17-0 deficits in Seattle and St. Louis, which resulted in 34-7 and 27-16 losses, respectively.
So hanging on to the football and keeping it out of the hands of Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense is more important than what they where or what they eat and drink.
Saints coach Sean Payton said that offense will be the most difficult part of the road trip because it's hard to simulate in practice.
"The pace is extremely, extremely fast, and so we will have our work cut out for us this week with just trying to replicate or get the same look as our scout team offense," said Payton, who's 0-3 in road playoff games since taking over in 2006.
"There is a lot of variety," he said of Kelly's offense. "You have to defend the whole field. They can attack you down the field."
SERIES HISTORY: 29th all-time meeting. The Eagles lead in the regular season, 15-11, and the two teams have split two post-season matchups. The Eagles topped the Saints 36-20 in a wild-card game after the 1992 season and the Saints claimed a 27-24 victory in a 2009 divisional playoff en route to a win in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints won, 28-13, in their most recent meeting on Nov. 5, 2012 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Saints had four players with 70 or more receptions this season, which is the first time that's happened in NFL history.
Tight end Jimmy Graham had a team-leading 86 receptions, while running back Pierre Thomas had a career-high 77 catches. Wideout Marques Colston and running back Darren Sproles rounded out the foursome with 75 and 71 grabs, respectively.
That group accounted for 309 of Drew Brees' 446 completions and 3,275 of the team's 5,162 gross passing yards.
--While everyone knows that the Saints rely on their productive offense heavily, their defense has been a huge surprise this season.
That side of the ball, under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, had a hand in their 11-5 record by finishing fourth in total yards allowed, points allowed and sacks.
They also allowed just 105 points after halftime -- 46 in the third period and 59 in the fourth -- in their 16 games and will try to keep it going in the playoffs.
Their 105 total was second in the league to the 101 second-half points surrendered by the Seattle Seahawks, who led the NFL in scoring defense and fewest yards allowed.
--The Saints' defense, which allowed an NFL single-season record 7,042 total yards in 2012 (440.1 yards per game), completed last week the best turnaround since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Under Ryan, the Saints finished the regular season allowing 4,891 yards -- 2,151 fewer than in 2012 -- which averages out to 305.7 yards per game, which ranked fourth in the league.
The 134.4 yards per game improvement surpasses the 97.9 yards per game improvement between 1997 and 1998 by the Oakland Raiders.
"There is an ownership to it now," Saints coach Sean Payton said in crediting Ryan and the players. "Players are believing what they are doing and feel good about what they are doing. ... That confidence becomes contagious."
--Payton will return to the area he grew up in, before his family moved to the Chicago suburbs, when the Saints play a wild-card playoff game Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It's also where Payton got his first job as an NFL assistant coach, working on the Eagles' staff in 1997 and '98 before moving on to the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, and finally, the Saints.
"I have family, friends, a lot of different people back there that I am familiar with," Payton said. "To have a chance to begin an NFL career there was exciting. It seems like so long ago.
"We had a ton of very good football coaches during the two years I was there," he added. "A lot of those coaches have gone on to have great careers."
--The Saints completed the regular season with 11 wins, marking the fourth year in a row that Payton has recorded double-digit wins.
They won 13 games in 2009 and '11, the year before he was suspended for the entire season following the bounty scandal, and had 11 wins in both 2010 and this season as well.
It was the fifth double-digit win season for Payton in seven seasons. The Saints had only five in the first 39 years of the franchise's existence before his arrival in 2006.
Counting a 4-2 playoff record, Payton is 52-18 record in his last four seasons from 2009-11 and 2013 for a winning percentage of .743.
--According to Bovada Las Vegas, the Saints are the ninth choice out of 12 playoff teams to win Super Bowl XLVIII at 22 to 1.
Denver and Seattle are the co-favorites (11-4), followed by San Francisco (7-1), New England (9-1), Carolina (10-1), Green Bay (14-1), and Cincinnati and Philadelphia (16-1).
BY THE NUMBERS: 6-8 -- All-time postseason record for the Saints in nine previous appearances, but Sean Payton is 5-3 since he arrived in 2006.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's all right there in front of us. There's no one that scares us. There's no one place that we know we can't go to and win." -- Saints QB Drew Brees, on going on the road and trying to make a deep run in the playoffs.
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
OFFICIAL FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
OUT: RB Pierre Thomas (chest).
QUESTIONABLE: LB Keyunta Dawson (calf).
PROBABLE: S Rafael Bush (ankle).
OUT: Julian Vandervelde (back)
QUESTIONABLE: Earl Wolff (knee)
PROBABLE: Colt Anderson (knee), WR Jason Avant (shoulder), CB Brandon Boykin (hip), LB Mychal Kendricks (knee).
--LB Kyle Knox, who has spent most of the season on the Saints' practice squad, was signed to the active roster Wednesday.
--S Eric Frampton, who was signed on Dec. 18 and played in just two games, was released Wednesday.
--LB Kenny Knox, who has spent most of the season on the Saints' practice squad, was signed to the active roster.
--DB Eddie Whitley was signed to take the practice squad spot vacated by Kenny Knox.
--RB Pierre Thomas didn't practice again Thursday because of a chest injury that he sustained Sunday and his availability for Saturday's playoff game is unknown.
--S Rafael Bush, who played last week after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain, worked on a limited basis Thursday after being held out Wednesday and likely will play against the Eagles.
While cold weather might not bother the Saints, wind could be another story as it pertains to the passing game in the matchup with the Eagles. While conventional wisdom tells the NFL's second-ranked passing team to throw the ball against the 32nd-ranked pass defense, they may want to try and run it first to help soften up a front seven that gives up just 104.4 rushing yards per game. Still, the Saints will want to try to do what they do best considering the Eagles allow 289.8 passing yards per game. On defense, the key to slowing down the Eagles' up-tempo style will be to control the league's most productive rushing attack and get off the field in a timely manner as the Eagles convert just 39.0 percent of their third-down opportunities. Doing a good job on NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy will go a long way to doing that.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints front seven vs. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy -- The Saints ranked 19th against the run in giving up 111.6 yards per game, but did a decent job on a lot of the NFL's top backs. But the challenge will be different this week as McCoy led the league with 1,607 yards -- 268 more than runner-up Matt Forte -- and averaged 5.1 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns. So they'll certainly have their hands full in trying to keep him reasonably in check.
--Saints CBs Keenan Lewis and Corey White vs. Eagles QB Nick Foles -- The Saints' front seven and secondary have worked hand-in-hand in helping the defense rank second against the pass and have allowed just 194.1 yards per game. Whether using a three- or four-man rush, the Saints have applied consistent pressure and have 49 sacks -- some of which were caused because of the secondary's excellent coverage. Foles has been sacked 28 times and Eagles quarterbacks have gone down 46 times, which is a good sign for the Saints.
Saints QB Drew Brees vs. Eagles CB Brandon Boykin -- The Eagles have allowed 289.8 yards per game to rank last in the league, but at the same time, Brees has to be wary of the secondary. Brees threw only 12 interceptions in 650 attempts, but Boykin has six picks this season -- the last of which sealed their victory against the Dallas Cowboys last week and clinched the playoff berth.