Duncan

There was a time not long ago when the New Orleans Saints were known in NFL circles by the most dreaded of monikers: a finesse team.

They played home games in the climate-controlled Superdome and featured a pass-happy offense led by Drew Brees. Their head coach, Sean Payton, had the reputation of a trickster, a guy who’d rather fool you with a crafty play than bully you in the trenches.

They were as soft as Charmin on offense and couldn’t stop anyone on defense. The only thing missing were their sissy black shirts.

Those days, though, are over.

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The Saints are the NFL's best in the red zone. That's not by accident.>

The Saints are the NFL's best in the red zone. That's not by accident."> The Saints are the NFL's best in the red zone. That's not by accident.

Every week, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton makes his way over to quarterback Jameis Winston to let him know he’s been cooking up somethi…

The Saints of today are one of the most physical teams in the NFL, a bunch of black-and-gold brutes who prefer to win slugfests rather than shootouts. Physically and philosophically, they more closely resemble the legendary Dome Patrol Saints than any of Payton’s early squads in New Orleans.

These Saints are built to win games like the one they will play Monday night in Seattle, where a "bomb cyclone" is scheduled to hit the area over the weekend and produce hurricanelike winds and rain, along with temperatures in the low 50s. Lumen Field should be a slippery slog, the perfect track for the Saints’ power, ground-based offense and brutish defensive front 7 to thrive.

The fact Vegas sharpies have made the Saints 5-point favorites at such a place against such an opponent in such potentially ugly conditions is notable. No way that happens five or 10 years ago.

“That’s football weather,” Saints quarterback Jameis Winston said. “We know that we win in the trenches. Coach (Payton) preaches that, dominating the line of scrimmage. That’s how we win each game.”

Payton has long tailored his attack to the personnel at hand. And for the past few seasons, the strength of his teams has been along the line scrimmage, where the Saints feature a bevy of high draft picks on both sides of the ball.

The Saints’ physicality manifests itself most conspicuously in the ground game. The Saints are ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing offense and are second in rushing defense. Their ability to run the ball effectively between the tackles has been a key factor in their top-ranked red-zone and goal-to-go offenses. Conversely, their ability to stuff opposing rushing attacks and render opponents one dimensional has been critical in their red-zone and goal-to-go defenses, which are both ranked No. 1 in the league.

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Can Saints take advantage against struggling Seahawks defense? A look at how the teams match up>

Can Saints take advantage against struggling Seahawks defense? A look at how the teams match up"> Can Saints take advantage against struggling Seahawks defense? A look at how the teams match up

The New Orleans Saints are back in action this week after having an early bye week and will be on the road in Seattle to face the Seahawks on …

“We preach it,” second-year tight end Adam Trautman said when asked about the Saints’ physicality. “That's just the nature of how we're built, top to bottom, at every position."

Philosophically, Saints officials firmly believe that gifted, athletic big men are more difficult to find than perimeter players. Personnel director Jeff Ireland targets big, physical linemen with the long arms needed to gain leverage at the point of attack. Players who fit that prototype don’t last long in the NFL draft. Consequently, the Saints have selected an offensive or defensive lineman in the first round of the past seven drafts. As many as five of them could start against the Seahawks. Not included in that group is defensive end Cam Jordan, who was picked in the first round of the 2011 draft.

“When I was over there in the (Tampa) Bay, we knew the New Orleans Saints were a gritty football team," Winston said.

A sound defense and running game always will travel, as the football saying goes. There's a reason the Saints are an NFL-best 23-5 on the road since 2018.

“Teams now will run all this spread (offense), and it's a lot more of a gunslinger approach, but when it comes down to it, football games will always be won by the more physical team," Trautman said. "It's a mindset. When you walk on the field, you give off the, 'We're going to kick your butt' kind of thing. It puts the fear of God in people. People don't like lining up against our offensive line. I dare you to find someone that does."

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Add Payton Turner to the list of injured Saints>

Add Payton Turner to the list of injured Saints"> Add Payton Turner to the list of injured Saints

Even as the New Orleans Saints are starting to round into shape with the anticipated return of several injured players, the potentially bad news

Veteran Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has noticed the transformation in New Orleans. His Seattle teams won three of their four meetings against Payton’s Saints from 2010-14. The Saints have won the last two since, including a 33-27 upset two years ago in Seattle.

“How they play now is a little different (than) with the career quarterback (Brees) leaving the program,” Carroll said. “Their style is a little different because it’s tailored to their players that they have, but they have a chance to have a really good team again, and they know it. Sean (Payton) gets it. He doesn’t try to do something he can’t do.”

The projected weather conditions, Carroll said, could make the game “a little nasty.” Normally, wet, cold, windy conditions would mean a big advantage for the Seahawks. But not this year. Not with these Saints.

“A little nasty” is just the way the black-and-gold brutes like it.


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Source : https://www.nola.com/sports/jeff_duncan/article_d57f01b2-3402-11ec-bc7e-9b1c72df0887.html

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