Damage Control Week 13: New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons
Compared to the NFL baseline of seven days rest between games, assuming no Monday or Thursday night games, the best competitive advantage comes during the bye week for a team with 13-15 days of rest, says Advanced NFL Stats, LLC. Why, because teams tend to get healthier during the break. "Teams coming off a bye play better on both sides of the ball, and getting healthier seems to be -- at least in part- the mechanism for that improvement."
The Saints had their rest at week 6, while their Thursday night opponent, the Falcons, had their bye in week 7. So which team has the "rest advantage," based on only three actual days of active rest? I say active rest, because both teams must practice and that requires work.
On first blush, the advantage would tilt to the Falcons, since the Saints must travel to Atlanta on Wednesday evening to play Thursday night. However, last Sunday, the Falcons, were on the road in week 12 against Tampa Bay in a close fought, physical win, while the Saints played at home against the 49ers and suffered a very physical loss. By the way, the Saints sat down four players due to injuries going into the 49ers game, while the Falcons going in the Tampa Bay game, had 11 noted injuries but only sat down one player.
Statistically, "home advantage vs. coming off the road bodes well for the shortest rest possible," says Advanced NFL Stats. It also appears, based on common sense, that road teams "woefully underperform on short rest."
I guess there is something to be said about sleeping in your own bed vs. a hotel bed, when getting ready to play in the NFL or any other travel sport.
With such a short time between games for the Saints and Falcons, their respective damage control from last Sunday's games is very important.
According to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune media reports, "the 49ers manhandled the Saints' offensive line and sacked (Drew) Brees five times." The Saints also were without Marques Colston temporarily, after he suffered a head injury in the second half. The same situation occurred to wide receiver Lance Moore. Both players "jogged to the locker room" for concussion tests, which proved negative, permitting them to return to the Saints' losing effort against the 49ers. Not to be outdone, New Orleans safety Isa Abdul-Quddus also suffered a head injury, while trying to make a tackle. And, third-string right tackle Bryce Harris, making his first NFL start, was also knocked out with a leg injury.
Interim coach Joe Vitt had this comment regarding preparations for the upcoming game against Atlanta, "we've got to give our players the proper amount of time to rest and heal up. It's a challenge for our players and the coaches on a short week."
Needless to say Tylenol, Advil, ice, and bandages were in demand as recovery techniques postgame in the Saints' locker room last Sunday.
Over in Tampa Bay where the Falcons won a close contest with a 24-23 victory over the Bucs, the battle was also quite physical in nature. Keep in mind, while only one injured Falcon player was out for the game, 10 players must have played hurt, based on last Thursday's injury report.
This fact, along with the Saints being up against the wall as to any last hope for a playoff spot, makes the game Thursday in Atlanta one where I would expect to see numerous players on both sides playing hurt, occasional fights breaking out, and a few players carted off the field. If you want to see a knock-down, drag-out fight then do not miss the Thursday Night Fights in Atlanta.
Having been in the performance enhancement business for 30-plus years, I certainly have encountered the need to implement effective athlete recovery strategies to accelerate recovery in all professional sports. The good news is that the NFL players are not fighters, who must not only use the physical contact of sparring (head and body shots) as practice, but also gym work that most NFL players would tire out just watching. So let's help the Saints with some "press box" advice on just how to recover and win.
The first place to start is what goes into your mouth before, during and after athletic competition in the form of food, beverages, and permissible nutritional supplements.
Based on an NFL player's size, which can range from a 165-185-pound cornerback with a low fat to lean ratio to a large, usually obese interior lineman weighing in at more than 300 pounds with a high fat to lean ratio, the daily caloric requirement, including both practice and game participation, can be in the range of 4,500-7,000 calories per day during the season. The more muscle mass the more calories required to keep the engine running. I turned to my own licensed dietitian, Jodie Mulheisen, who is certified in sports nutrition, for her thoughts how to spread out those calories and nutrients. According to Muhleisen, "in order to obtain enough calories and nutrients, it will require the player to go above and beyond just the basic meals. The use of sport drinks with additional protein, carbohydrates, and calories which are available to the athletes by each team, will be essential to aid in the recovery process."
Muhleisen went on to stress the recovery process needs to start within two hours post game and practice to obtain a big jump on accelerating the ability to replenish needed nutrients and fluids lost during the athletic contest. "The ability to repair the muscle tissue damaged from a contact sport, such as football, will require, among other nutrients, a protein intake above that of the average person," according to Muhleisen.
Here is the link to my Performance Fuel Guide, which will give you and/or your young athlete strategic fueling guidelines for the pregame meal, a first, second and third choice food selections for proteins, fat and carbohydrates. Plus, the Guide will also educate you on the difference between sports and recovery drinks, proper hydration guidelines, along with vitamin and mineral requirements, and more.
And speaking of recovery, here is what Drew Brees was quoted as saying after the 49ers game: "Hopefully, everybody can wake up tomorrow and not feel as sore as maybe they do now." Unfortunately, Brees is referring to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which usually occurs between 48-72 hours after the traumatic event - just about the time that the Saints are ready to travel to Atlanta.
So, let's help Drew and the Boys with some advice on recovering from those bumps and bruises doled out each week in the NFL. I turned to one of the physical therapists for my program, Amelia Embley, for advice. "There are several treatment options postgame to accelerate recovery and decrease soreness for athletes with limited amount of time between games, " Embley said. Immediately following the game the athlete should perform some light stretching along with low intensity activities like riding an exercise bike. Embley notes, "cold water immersion or whole body cryotherapy or ice baths both appear to maintain performance and decrease subjective reports of soreness. And do not underestimate sleep to improve recovery rates."
So now for this week's walking wounded reports on the Falcons and Saints and the implications as to who wins. On Monday, the Falcons did not practice two players, while eight players were limited in practice.
Over on the Saints' side, six players did not practice and two were limited. Of note, right tackle Zach Strief was one of the ones limited in practice. He commented afterward that he felt better than he had before the injury, and that he was moving in the right direction.
His counterpart at the third team tackle Bryce Harris is now on injured reserve with a broken bone in his lower right leg.
Tuesday brought some interesting changes as to how many players did and did not practice. The Falcons held three players out, while eight were limited. The Saints did not practice six, one of which was the second team offensive tackle Charles Brown (knee), and only two were limited.
At this point, both teams need a win. The Falcons want payback for the loss to the Saints in New Orleans and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Saints are in survival mode and become most dangerous with plenty of gambles to be taken. Medically, I am quite sure the anti-inflammatory medicine Toradol I referenced several weeks ago in my column will be the 12th man for each team.
At this point, it is not about the best team winning. Rather, it will be all about who can handle the most pain and discomfort and put that aside and find the path to victory.
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