New Orleans Saints defense hopes to keep Peyton Manning on run
Posted on Jan 29, 2010 in Local Issues, Sports
After doing their best to knock Kurt Warner and Brett Favre into early retirements in the past two weeks, the New Orleans Saints defense has earned a reputation as the big, bad bully heading into Super Bowl XLIV.
brett_favre6.jpgChris Granger/The Times-PicayuneThe New Orleans Saints were penalized 15 yards after Anthony Hargrove lifted Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the air and drove him into the turf after a throw.But they know it won’t be as easy to disrupt Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who makes quick decisions and quick throws and avoids pressure as well as he does everything else.
“He’s the least frequently sacked quarterback in the league, and has been, and does a great job of that, ” Saints Coach Sean Payton said of the four-time NFL MVP, who was sacked only 10 times in the regular season and a combined four times in playoff victories over Baltimore and the New York Jets — two of the most menacing defenses in the NFL.
“The clock in his head and his decisiveness and where he wants to go, those are things that are part of what makes him a great player, ” Payton said. “So those are certainly challenges. With the way he gets rid of the football, if you look at his sack totals, it’s tough.”
Manning gets a lot of attention for all of his theatrics before the ball is snapped — when he’s diagnosing defensive alignments, identifying personnel and schemes, and adjusting the offensive play-calls as a result.
But he does just as much dissecting in those first one or two seconds after the snap, often firing the ball after three-step drops before the pressure can get to him.
“You know, I don’t think we can affect him psychologically, ” Saints safety Darren Sharper admitted, when asked if he thinks Manning might be flinching after watching game tape of the Saints’ defenders knocking Warner and Favre around. “He has seen it all. He has been hit before. He played against tough defenses his first two games. He knows what’s going to be coming.
“You know we’re going to try to get after him, but he has ways to try to avoid that. . . . That’s why he’s been sacked probably the least amount in the last eight to 10 years.”
That doesn’t mean the Saints will go easy on Manning, though, or sit back in coverage. As safety Roman Harper said, being aggressive and flying to the football is “the only way we play around here and our best chance of winning.”
They know the best way to disrupt any Hall of Fame quarterback is to make him as uncomfortable as possible — which means knocking him around even after he releases the ball, ideally with legal hits, and piling on as many shoves, swats, pokes and bumps as they can throughout the game.
That’s what they did against Warner and Favre. Both limped off the field at some point after particularly vicious hits.
Among defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ favorite sayings are “kill the head, and the body will die, ” and “hit the quarterback, and the entire offense feels it.”
“It’s not always sacks, ” Harper said. “Sometimes it’s hits on the quarterback, and sometimes a little push or something, anything to throw off his timing. You just can’t let him sit back there. The quarterbacks in this league are too good. Especially the quarterbacks we’ve played the last two weeks, some of the best, Hall of Fame guys.”
“We always try to make it a nice physical experience . . . or a not-so-nice physical experience, ” Sharper said. “A lot of times you wear on someone physically and mentally, it affects them toward the end. Subconsciously you might say that you’re not thinking about the hits, but your body is feeling it.
“Brett can attest to that. He’s probably the toughest quarterback to ever play this game. Peyton’s tough, but I don’t know if he’s as tough as Brett physically.”
Favre was actually sacked only once, but he was hit about 20 times in one form or another by the Saints, and some of them were brutal. The Saints drew two flags for unnecessary roughness, one when end Bobby McCray plowed into him after a handoff, and one when tackle Anthony Hargrove lifted him in the air and drove him into the turf after a throw.
The Saints probably could have drawn another flag on the most effective hit of the day, when McCray hit Favre low and tackle Remi Ayodele hit him high. The hit resulted in an interception by linebacker Jonathan Vilma and an ankle injury that limited Favre for the rest of the way.
Some have even suggested the Saints played a little dirty against Favre, in particular, but the Saints have made no apologies, saying they’re just trying to be the most physical team in a violent game.
“Rough him up? No, there’s no such thing as roughing up, ” defensive end Will Smith said when asked if that was the Saints’ intention last week. “This is the NFL, everybody gets hit. After the game, everybody has black and blue somewhere. You just don’t hear about it as much as when the quarterbacks do. . . . Kickers get hit, too. They probably have a lot of bruises on their foot.”
Harper, who played quarterback in high school, said, “I’ve taken a couple of hits myself, so I don’t feel sorry for anybody. It is a violent game, and you understand that. And sometimes you’ve got to be able to get up and bounce back. And I think both those guys (Favre and Warner) did a really good job of that.”
McCray, in particular, has earned a reputation as a hitman in the past two weeks. He laid a hellacious block on Warner after he caught the quarterback off guard on an interception, and Warner temporarily left the game with a chest injury.
McCray said he was just playing within the defense, though, and, “Our strategy is just to try to make plays and be effective any way we can, which is batting the ball or getting hits on the quarterback or getting in his face. Because everything runs through him, no matter what team it is.”
Having played in Jacksonville for four years before coming to New Orleans in 2008, McCray has as much respect as anyone for Manning, his former NFC South nemesis.
“He’s a genius, ” said McCray, who has one career sack in eight games against the Colts. “He’s one of the difficult guys to get to because he’s so smart and brilliant and the way he runs his schemes. But you know, we got to the quarterback last week. We’ve just got to figure out a way to see how we can get to him.
“It won’t be easy . . . but that’s why they made it to the Super Bowl.”
Mike Triplett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3405.