“You have a choice where you can be 7-9 which is a losing record or you can be 8-8 which is .500 so, there’s choices and consequences,” said assistant head coach Joe Vitt following practice on Wednesday. “There’s not anyone in our building happy with 8-8. I’ll never be happy with 8-8, but the other choice we have is to be 7-9. That’s a losing record.
That speaks volumes for ourselves too. That speaks volumes of who we are and what we are. I said before we are what we are. We had good practice today, the intent was there, and we were focused. It’s real encouraging.”
Losses to the 49ers, Falcons and Giants all but eliminated the Saints from playoff contention weeks ago, Minnesota’s win back on Sunday was the mathematical nail in the 2012 season’s coffin. Still, the Saints have played the last two weeks in a manner that makes Who Dats everywhere prideful considering the playoffs were really out of reach.
“It just makes you want to go out and play your absolute best and really feel good about our team, the way we were able to finish and the future despite not meeting some of the goals that we had for this season,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees says of the team’s mindset during the final weeks of the season. “We did kind of realign those a few weeks back and I think that gives you something to feel good about, achieving those goals that you kind of re-established for yourself a few weeks back and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Carolina won the first meeting of the season 35-28 thanks in part to the play of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The second year player threw for 253 yards and rushed for 71 yards throwing and rushing for a touchdown.
You play a guy like Cam Newton, you’re defending six eligible receivers, not five. When he’s in the gun, he can fake a ball, run out on the perimeter and they can throw it back to him,” says Vitt of the challenges Newton presents.
“There’s a lot of things that they do that you see just twice a year. The naked off the zone read, option off the zone read and then they’re going to come with an unbalanced package, an attack all over package and the pistol package. It’s challenging. You spend extra time. Your players have to look at extra film. It’s a challenge. They run the offense through Cam Newton. He has world class athleticism. He can beat you with his legs quicker than anything, but he’s got a strong arm and can find the open receiver. He’s a tall guy that can see the field and has great vision.”
The Panthers pass defense is eight overall in the NFL giving up 212.7 yards per game and 15th overall against the run giving up 113.2 yards per game. A big reason is the play of defensive ends Greg Hard and Charles Johnson. Hardy has 11 sacks on the season while Johnson has 10.5.
“Just like last week, it’s rare to have two defensive ends that have ten-plus sacks in this league,” says Brees. “The Cowboys had it and now the Panthers have it so it’s back-to-back weeks where you’re facing a very formidable pass rush. Really, they get it with their front four. They don’t need to bring a lot of pressure in order to get it. At least that’s what we’ve seen on film. Especially the last five weeks, they’ve really done a great job of getting after the opposing quarterbacks with a lot of sacks, a lot of pressures and causing havoc in that backfield. And they’re both young players, (Greg) Hardy and (Charles) Johnson, and obviously the interior guys as well. They move them around at times and they’re just very productive, very effective.”
Four Saints players did not practice on Wednesday. Fullback Jed Collins (knee), running back Pierre Thomas (knee), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (knee), and cornerback Jabari Gree (concussion). Running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and tight end Jimmy Graham (wrist / finger) were listed on the report but fully participated.
PRO BOWL SELECTIONS
Two Saints were honored by being selected to the Pro Bowl that will be played on January 27. Guard Jahri Evans and punter Thomas Morestead. It is the fourth straight selection for Evans while for Morestead it is his first ever selection.
Evans, who has started all 111 games since entering the lineup in 2006, now ranks second in terms of selections to Hall of Fame tackle William Roaf’s seven.
Morestead leads the NFL in both gross (50.5) and net (44.4) punting average and his kickoffs have been pretty good. 42 have been touchbacks tied for third in the NFC and sixth in the NFL.