METAIRIE — The Saints will take a three-phased approach to preparing for their divisional playoff game, which will be played at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 in the Superdome.
The players will have four days off beginning today. Then the team will follow a training camp-like schedule when it returns to practice and focuses on itself Saturday and Sunday. Then next Tuesday, after the opponent has been determined, a normal game-week routine will kick in.
The earliest New Orleans could know its opponent would be late Saturday night. If Philadelphia defeats Dallas on Saturday night, the Eagles would guarantee themselves a trip to the Superdome. If the Cowboys prevail, the Saints opponent would be the winner of the Green Bay-Arizona game, which kicks off at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s different than a bye week in the regular season when you know who you’re playing,” coach Sean Payton said Monday at his weekly news conference. “When it’s one of three teams, you can begin statistical breakdowns on all three of those teams and get through the busy work that has to get done on those teams through the weekends.”
Payton said the Saints devoted some of their practice time last week to working their offense against their defense, something they will resume over the weekend.
“There will be meetings, walk-throughs, back on the field for a full practice,” Payton said. “It’ll be more of an ‘O’ (offense) versus ‘D’ (defense) emphasis, which is like a training camp practice where it’s competitive rather than carded because you don’t know really who you’re playing. There might be some things that we tinker with to get us ready for a certain game.”
The Saints tinkered with a few things in their 23-10 loss at Carolina on Sunday, including using running back Lynell Hamilton out of the “wildcat” formation.
“We had a few different schemes in there,” Payton said. “We snapped the ball to a running back and there were a few things we tinkered with that we’ll look at in the postseason.”
Payton said the coaching staff will have a short break early this week before returning for a day and a half to put together the plan for the weekend practices and begin preliminary game-plan work.
He said the main thing for the players to do is to get rest during their down time. Injured players will continue to rehab and receive treatment. Others are free to travel if they choose.
“I really don’t encourage or talk about what I think they should do with their time away other than just making sure they’re getting rest,” Payton said. “I think people will want to handle it differently. Some will travel, some won’t.
“The key is having trust in players and I think our team has real good leadership and understands how we have to approach this week and getting rest and having some time away and then being ready to come back with a focus when they get back in the building. I think they’ll handle that well.”
When it comes time to play, the Saints will be the healthiest they’ve been since early in the season as every player on the active roster is likely to be available.
Payton said he thinks running back Pierre Thomas, who missed Sunday’s game with a rib injury, will be back. Thomas said he expects to play despite three broken ribs. He said he played with two broken ribs against the Bears as a rookie in 2007.
“I just have to sit back and can’t do too much movement,” Thomas said. “My ribs weren’t as severe as it was my rookie year. My rookie year, you could see a big crack in them. These three, you see partial cracks. Maybe one of them is almost fully and two are half cracks.
“You don’t want to irritate it so they don’t want me doing too much. The two I had my rookie year, I couldn’t really do anything but sit back and relax. I’m moving around now; haven’t gotten a chance to run yet, just been on a bike getting some cardio workout in.”
Thomas said he’ll wear protection, likely a flak jacket, over the ribs during the game.
“You’re out there running hard, you’re out there breathing, you’re getting hit,” he said. “It’s going to bother you at some times. It’s like if you hurt your toe or something. Something is going to bother you. You feel it. It’s going to irritate you a little bit.
“You’re probably not going to focus on what you have to do out there on the field. You’re going to focus more on your injury than anything because it bothers you. But to me, I find a way to block it out. I find a way, don’t think about the injury and go out and play the game. If I get hurt, at that point in time, I suck up the pain, deal with it and go back out in the huddle. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, just sucking up the pain.”
Despite the three-game slump at the end of the season, I have high hopes for the Saints in the playoffs! It's good to see some key guys coming off injured reserve and I'm looking forward to seeing Pierre Thomas with the ball in his hands again.
Speaking of Pierre Thomas... he recently autographed some awesome lithographs by artist Michael Hunt (see top of this post) which are being sold in limited quantities. Go check it out and many other fine LSU, Saints, Fleur De Lis, and Mardi Gras artwork at Hunt Studio.
Have Faith! Geaux Saints!!!