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How Saints CB Eli Apple settles into a groove, and why he plays better in the second half

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Old 01-10-2019, 01:21 PM   #1
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Old 01-10-2019, 01:23 PM   #2
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Re: How Saints CB Eli Apple settles into a groove, and why he plays better in the second half

BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Jan 10, 2019 - 10:39 am

You need to know what you can get away with each week to play cornerback effectively.

One week’s green light can turn yellow the next. There is a feeling process that takes place each week, and even with extensive scouting of the official’s tendencies, it can sometimes be hard to figure out where the lines get drawn. That’s why it takes some cornerbacks a little time to settle in each week.

Eli Apple is one of those players. Statistically, the New Orleans cornerback has been steady, allowing a similar number of receptions and yards in each quarter of every game he’s played since landing with the Saints ahead of a Week 8 meeting with the Vikings. His play and ability to help settle secondary are one of the reasons the Saints claimed the NFC’s top seed.

But he’s typically playing better in the second half than he is during the first, and that's because it takes him a little while to get comfortable with how the game is being called.

“You want to get physical, and you want to set the tone, sometimes with the refs it’s different,” Apple said. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot of calls, that's known. I feel like the more I get to know how the game is going -- it obviously helps every DB out there to know how physical you can play. It’s just finding the balance and getting into the flow of the game.

"It’s just how I’ve always been. Finding out what type of game it is and playing to that.”

Despite joining the Saints midway through the season, Apple still led the team with eight accepted penalties. No other player had more than six. But the funny thing is, seven of his infractions came during the first half. Once the second half arrives, Apple getting flagged is borderline shocking.

Still, even though he has his process, and one that works very well for him once he knows where to draw the line, Apple hates being flagged early in games. He knows he needs to avoid infractions, and that is a point of emphasis for him and the rest of the Saints each week.

“This past game (against Carolina) we had a lot calls on third down, and those are big,” Apple, who was called for pass interference on third-and-8 against the Panthers, said. “You turn those into first downs, that’s demoralizing for us. You never want to be in that position negatively affecting the team.”

Apple and the other defensive backs never go into a game blind. Each week, coach Sean Payton presents a scouting report detailing how often a crew calls penalties and which ones they frequently flag.

The report creates a baseline for the players that allows them to enter the game with a set of expectations of how things might play out, but sometimes things do not always go as expected.

“Some games with refs that don’t call it as much you can be more aggressive in the coverage,” cornerback P.J. Williams said. “You see a ref that calls it a lot; you got to make sure you aren’t doing too much.”

So, for instance, if Payton were to give a report on Carl Cheffers, who is serving as the referee of this week’s game, he might point out that his crew threw 16 flags per game, which is about the league average. He might also point out that his crew only called defensive pass interference nine times this season.

Those tendencies bode well for the defense. The problem is, the league mixes officiating crews during the playoffs, so it is almost impossible to gauge how the game might be called ahead of time since these people will see how the other ones look in stripes for the first time on Sunday.

“We’ll profile the referee, but there is obviously a side note, asterisks to that because the crews are different,” Payton said. “It’s hard to go chart each official’s calls during the year, the back judge, side judge, that type of thing.”

Without having those tendencies to follow, it will be hard to find that line before the game. It will take some time, but once Apple locates it there is little chance he will cross it again.

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Old 01-10-2019, 01:36 PM   #3
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Re: How Saints CB Eli Apple settles into a groove, and why he plays better in the second half

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