Should Saints fans believe what Sean Payton says about injuries?
Q: I know I'm paranoid, but do you believe Payton's statement that Tracy Porter only has a strained MCL and should return in 4-6 weeks? Or is this more misdirection and subterfuge from our head coach? And to what do you attribute the team's shoddy play over the past few weeks? Has this team peaked too early? Is it overrated? Or are these ugly games merely bumps on a long road to the Super Bowl? Rico Recard, New Orleans. A: I - nor anyone else - should believe anything Payton says about injuries. The track record of subterfuge and misinformation is long and well-documented. The league has not figured out a way around this silly cat-and-mouse game so it continues among a certain number of teams, especially those with ties to Bill Parcells' coaching tree. It's a philosophy. I don't agree with it, but that's their prerogative. As I've pointed out before, Payton is not the first nor will he be the last head coach to play the game. As far as Porter is concerned, I assume the report is accurate because if Porter had damaged his ACL he likely would have required surgery and the Saints have announced he would not require a procedure. The initial on-field diagnosis for Porter was a potential ACL injury. Fortunately for Porter and the Saints, the magnetic resonance imaging test revealed otherwise. That's good news for them because Porter is a key player in their defense. If he can return for the playoffs it'll be a huge boost to their chances. But you are wise to be skeptical. Remember, the track record. Lance Moore's bruised shin turned into a sprained ankle. Darnell Dinkins' injury went from an ankle to a foot to fractured bone. Kendrick Clancy's mystery knee injury landed him on IR. As far as the past few weeks are concerned, I don't think it's anything to be worried about. The Saints are missing some key playmakers on defense and they've struggled a little bit to stop the run. But they faced three of the best backs in the NFL in consecutive weeks in Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams and Steven Jackson. And I think it's human nature to lose your edge at some point during a 16-game season. The Saints haven't played their best in recent weeks but they're still playing winning. That's the sign of a good team - not an overrated one.
Q: My question concerns a comparison of the unbeatens: Besides the Pats, have the Saints and Colts (or will they) share any common opponents during the regular season this year? Gregory S. Marsiglia, New Orleans.
A: The Saints and Colts have played two common opponents: Miami and St. Louis. The Saints beat the Dolphins 46-34 in Miami in Week 7. The Colts beat them 27-23 in Miami in Week 2. The Saints beat the Rams last week 28-23 in St. Louis. The Colts beat them 42-7 in Week 7. The Colts still have two other common opponents left on the schedule: the New York Jets and Buffalo in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. The Saints, of course, beat the Jets 24-10 in Week 4 and the Bills 27-7 in Week 3.
Q: "Finish" has has been the theme on Airline Drive since spring. So why does Sean Payton continue to go out of character with these conservative play calls at the end of the game? He's tried it in three or four games and it hasn't worked yet. Run, run, run, punt. And again, we leave it to the defense to protect a lead instead of trying to finish the job on offense with a death blow. Why not stick with the offensive strategies that have put points on the board? He plays to win for 57 minutes, why change that at the end? Kevin, Memphis.
A: I'm a big believer in being aggressive, Kevin, but there is a time and a place for everything. You don't hit at the blackjack table when you're sitting on 20 and you don't start passing the ball willy-nilly when you're protecting a five-point lead with 4 minutes left in the game. The object at that point is to expire the clock. Scoring is not a concern. Simultaneously, you must weigh the risk-reward options of every play. Payton tried to be aggressive a few years ago, ran the Superdome Special and the Saints didn't execute the exchanges, lost a fumble and ultimately the game. Lesson learned: There's a fine line between being aggressive and being over-aggressive. Payton mentioned this week that he needs to evaluate his play-calling at the end of games. I think what he means is not becoming too predictable: run, run, pass, punt. Short, high-percentage passes off play-action are very effective at that point in the game, especially if you run them on early downs. I think you'll see him do a little more to keep defenses off-balance at the end of game while also playing it safe. Hey, it's easy to second-guess when you're not the play caller. No one was questioning Payton's work at the end of the Lions and Bills games when the Saints were able to run the ball effectively and end the game.
Q: Do highly successful or unsuccessful teams have to deal with their coaches becoming complacent? Secondly, how much do teams' expect their game plans to change over the course of a season and how do coaches approach this throughout the year? Gabriel B., Grambling, La.
A: It's human nature to get complacent. Coaches are no more immune to it than players. Exhibit A: Florida State football. Bobby Bowden drive the program to the top of college football in the 90s. They finished in the final top 5 an amazing 14 consecutive years. Now they are the fourth best program in the state of Florida. I think it's fair to say Bowden got complacent, leading to a long gradual decline. I saw the same thing happen at my alma mater, Louisville, in basketball under Denny Crum. The greatest challenge is not reaching the top but staying there. Game plans are constantly changing in the NFL. Payton talks about how he and his staff self-scout their team weekly to make sure they aren't becoming too predictable. Game plans are tailored to the upcoming opponent. So what works one week might not be effective the next week, depending on personnel - yours and theirs. For example, the Saints obviously respected the Rams secondary last week and felt their biggest mismatches were with their backs and tight ends against the St. Louis linebackers in pass coverage. That explains why Drew Brees attempted to complete 16 of his 25 pass attempts to tight ends and running backs and only nine to wide receivers. This week at Tampa, the number could be inverted, depending on the game plan.
Q: Two questions, completely different subject matters: How does the playoff tiebreaker work with regard to common opponents? Do teams not get penalized for meeting the same opponent twice? On another note, how is the team dealing with Hargrove? He has a history of substance abuse and was a gamble, which, from all accounts, is going well for Hargrove and the team, and I'm sure everyone wishes him the best. However, does the team just assume he'll be fine? Do they have a therapist for him? Do they assign a veteran player to be his guardian? Do the coaches keep a close watch on him? Or is he treated as an adult, and do the coaches just take a risk that he's straightened his life out? Dan Collarini, New Orleans.
A: The common opponent tie-breaker is determined simply on winning percentage. The only criteria is there must be a minimum of four games to qualify. Hargrove has the support of the organization and the NFL. He doesn't need a guardian. He needs professional help and he has plenty of it. He sees a therapist and attends AA meetings weekly. His agent and brother are constantly in touch. Teammates, coaches and members of the personnel department constantly reach out to him. Trust me, he's far from alone in his battle.
Q: The Dolphins, Falcons and Panthers have drawn a definite blueprint to shoot down this high flying offense: Pressure, pressure and pressure. Middle blitzes through the A gap will cause the Saints pass offense to come crippling down. I predict that every team from here on out will throw everything they have at Drew through the middle of our offensive line; it will be a feast or famine for every defense. I know we will overcome most of these blitzes but I'm concerned about Drew's health; as he goes, so goes the Saints. Your thoughts? A second question: Why Payton doesn't have Reggie throw a couple of halfback passes on his sweep plays? We know that as soon as the defense sees Reggie with the ball outside the tackles, everyone converges from all angles. Jack, Picayune, Miss.
A: Jack, teams are definitely attacking the Saints with pressure but I'm not sure the weak spot is the A gap. In fact, most teams have come after the Saints on the left side of their protection because tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Carl Nicks are relatively inexperienced at their positions. Bushrod has played relatively well but he's been vulnerable to bull rushes. Teams also have successfully blitzed the Saints and challenged their running backs in pass protection. Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell are competitive as they come but they give up a lot of size in one-on-one matchups against blitzing linebackers and safeties. Not sure your A gap theory is accurate. As far as the halfback option pass, I'm sure its in Payton's vast repertoire but I would guess Pierre Thomas would get the first crack at throwing it. For the record, Payton has called two halfback/receiver passes in his Saints tenure, one by Bush in 2006 and one by Lance Moore last season. Both were intercepted. Maybe that's why you haven't seen the play called lately.
Re: Should Saints fans believe what Sean Payton says about injuries?
Maybe Peyton doesn't know if his players are healthy. He's been given so many misdiagnosed injuries that he may not know himself. Also, as far as the subterfuge goes Payton is from the Bill Parcells tree, and sees no need of informing his opponents what his weaknesses are until the league requires it on Thursday. I'm a huge fan of "the tuna" and I buy into what he says 100%, so does Payton.
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