The New Orleans Saints returned to practice on Tuesday combining what they would normally do in two separate practices into one work out.
“We worked our first and second down package today and third down. Tomorrow we will move on to short-yardage, goal line and red zone,” Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Tuesday afternoon. The team is following the same schedule they used when they played at Dallas on Thanksgiving two seasons ago. “We’ve been through this before. We took good notes from the first time that we played this game on Thanksgiving day and we’re using the same formula as if Sean (Payton) would be here.”
Going around the Saints locker room on Tuesday, the team remembers their 31-27 win over the Dirty Birds as a game that was earned the hard way. “They’re a tough team. They’re very talented,” says Saints defensive end Will Smith. “They have great receivers. A hall of fame tight end and their quarterback is playing at a high level. Their defense is playing very well and they’re winning the close games. Every week the last couple of weeks they’ve had tough games but they’re a strong enough team to pull it out. We know it’s going to be a challenge going into Atlanta beating those guys after beating them the first time. “
“They got a ton of play-makers on offense and a good defense so we have to bring our ‘A’ game and be disciplined and play efficient football defensive wise,” says Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
“They’re just a good team that gets it done. They get it done on offense, defense and special teams,” says left tackle Jermon Bushron. “It’s going to take another hard fought team win for us to do what we got to do. It’s going to be a fight. As long as we can play as a team and execute the way we know how to execute we’ll just see how it all shakes out at the end of the game.”
“It came down to crucial plays at the end of the game,” Jenkins remembers. “They fought and we fought. We had some momentum swings and then the momentum switched back to them and then you have a crazy battle for it, a tug of war battle for it at the end. That’s just typical Saints and Falcons. Every game I’ve been in is normally close and comes down to the last drive or last kick and we expect it to be nothing different.”
Jenkins also recalls how difficult it was to cover Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzales in the first meeting. It’s something it seems the whole secondary recalls vividly. How can you forget really as Gonzales caught 11 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
“Tony Gonzales making a lot of plays even in the redzone even if you have great coverage on him,” Saints safety Roman Harper said without hesitation when asked when stood out from this season’s first meeting. “We got to try and find ways to limit this guy. We took away the receivers pretty decently last time but then Tony had success. So we got to try and figure out what’s the plan of attack. We need to play some better overages, mix some things up and then we really need to pressure Matt Ryan too.”
Five Saints did not practice on Tuesday. Right tackle Charles Brown (knee), defensive end Junior Galette (ankle), safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (concussion), defensive tackle Tom Johnson and wide receiver Courtney Roby (shoulder/ankle).
Johnson was not listed on Monday in the team’s injury report.
Right tackle Zach Strief (groin) practiced on a limited basis as the team hopes he continues to recover fast enough to be able to play Thursday. The Saints are extremely thin at right tackle as the two players that have had to fill in for Strief have been lost to injury including Bryce Harris who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Harris suffered a broken bone in his leg Sunday against San Francisco.
The need for Strief to return isn’t lost on him who is itching to get back on the field. “There are a lot of components in deciding to go back and as a player you say forget it there’s got to be some way to scrap that, join up and play with it,” Strief said following practice on Tuesday. “Obviously as a teammate you don’t want to miss especially when you've had other injuries at the position and especially when you can’t lose any more games and you feel like you can help the team. There’s definitely more pressure and I feel like at this point I’ve done everything that I can to get myself in the position to play as soon as possible and we’ll see how things react and respond this week but I feel better no w than I ever have in the last couple of weeks.
Tight end David Thomas (knee) practiced on a limited basis as did cornerback Corey White (knee).