So Happy Together
The Saints' offense is getting overlooked in the team's 2013 revival, as most focus on Rob Ryan and the defense. But the reunited pairing leading a revitalized attack, the symbiotic coach and quarterback, are having just as much of an impact
“I don’t think it will ever go away. Just that little chip. It’s not anger or resentment or anything like that. But it’s a little chip.”
—Drew Brees, New Orleans quarterback, on the leftover feeling from the Saints’ bounty suspensions of 2012.
There’s another game this weekend. Happens before nightfall in Denver, and should be over an hour before Peyton Manning tries to elude Tamba Hali in the Colorado chill. It’s Colin Kaepernick’s third start in the Superdome in the last 51 weeks. He beat the Saints there last November, lost to the Ravens there in the Super Bowl and now faces a really different New Orleans team there Sunday afternoon.
So much is at stake in this game. The Saints, 7-2, need to win to hold off the hard-charging 6-3 Panthers; Carolina and New Orleans play twice in December. San Francisco, 6-3, is in danger of fading away in the NFC West race. The Niners already trail Seattle by two games, and a loss this week would likely relegate them to the fifth or sixth playoff seed at best.
To me, the key players in this game are Sean Payton and Drew Brees, and I want to write a little about them today. Last week against Dallas, I saw the Saints look like carbon copies of their 2009 Super Bowl selves, or their similarly explosive 2011 selves on offense, maybe even better because the running game has come to life. (That may be because of the major hits Dallas’ interior has taken in recent weeks. We’ll see Sunday.) But check out how Brees has fared over the past three seasons, keeping in mind the middle season was the one minus Payton for his bounty-related suspension:
|Year||Completion %||Yards Per Attempt||Passer Rating|
Obviously, Payton’s impact on Brees’ game is significant. You can see the conversations they have on the sidelines during games—the respect, the exchange of important information. Brees is better with him, and the quarterback thinks it’s for subtle reasons.
“Great attention to detail,” Brees told me this week. “Something I’ve noticed this year: Sean has always been a great teacher, a great communicator, a great storyteller, a great motivator. I think it’s one of his great strengths, communicating a message to the team in just the right time and in just the right way. But I’d say this year, more than ever, Sean makes sure nothing goes unsaid or undone. If there’s a message, or something happens during practice … And it might not be football-related. It might just be about life or something like that. He’ll just break into a story or an anecdote in the middle of a team meeting. He’s just feeling like, I’ve got this group of men, and even though they’re adults, they’re grown up and they have their own families and their own lives and this and that, that there are these words of wisdom that I want to impart on them. He has a way to captivate the whole room and get you locked in, and you leave feeling like you’ve gained some wisdom that day. You were made a better person that day for having heard that message. So I’d say he’s certainly making sure that nothing is going undone or unsaid, and if there’s a problem, we’re going to fix it.”
Rob Ryan and his attacking defense has helped, obviously. But you get the feeling the Brees-Payton reunion has been the real spark in New Orleans. Clearly they’re going to have play better on the road (they scored just 47 points in losses at the Patriots and Jets, and Brees is quick to point out they’re just 2-2 in their last four games). It’s why this game is so important—falling another game behind Seattle in the home-field race would be damaging. Brees and his mentor understand.
“He’s been my coach for eight years, so obviously we have a great rapport,” Brees said on The MMQB Podcast with Peter King this week (which you can listen to below). “We spend so much time during the week in communication about our game plan, about our personnel, about the defense we’re going up against—how we’re going to attack it, where our matchups are, what he’s thinking in different situations in regards to play-calling. It makes gameday a lot of fun, when you can anticipate what calls are coming in or what he’s thinking and that kind of thing. That’s when you know you’re clicking. But Coach Payton has been a great teacher and mentor for me, ever since I’ve been here. So of course, I would miss him in his absence last year … But I think, honestly, the biggest difference between last year and this year is last year we couldn’t catch a break. This year, we’ve been able to catch a few breaks and we’re just executing better. We’re playing better, on both sides of the ball.”
The Niners, 31-21 winners in the Dome last November, will test that on Sunday.
Listen to the podcast, featuring Brees:
About Last Night …
Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 27. Stating The Obvious Dept.: The Colts are going to pay for whatever the heck goes wrong with them early in games. They’ve trailed by 18, 38 and 14 in their last three outings, and Andrew Luck has saved them from losses twice out of the three. He won’t save them that many times in January. I would recommend on the mini-bye weekend that Chuck Pagano and friends work on that maddening little habit.