It’s not a risk that lightly is weighed, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said.
Percentages of success and failure are factored in, ramifications are measured, and a few scoops of gut feeling are intertwined. That’s how, in the first quarter of two of the past four games, the Saints have arrived at the decision to go for it on fourth down.
Yes, each attempt naturally occurred in the opponent’s territory – fourth-and-1 at Buffalo’s 30-yard line with 7:05 left in the first quarter on Nov. 12 at New Era Field, and fourth-and-goal from the Carolina 2 less than five minutes into the game, with 10:21 left in the first, on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But each gamble was an opportunity to set a tone for the Saints (9-3), and each did exactly that.
The conversion in Buffalo, a 25-yard run by Mark Ingram II up the middle, helped lay the foundation for a 48-carry, 298-yard, six-touchdown rushing day in a 47-10 win.
The conversion against Carolina culminated a Saints’ muscle-flex. Alvin Kamara’s power sweep, a two-on-four development in which he and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui took on four Panthers defenders – Hooman provided a kick-out block against cornerback James Bradberry at the goal line, Kamara ran through linebacker Shaq Thompson at the 1, and forced his way into the end zone before linebacker Luke Kuechly could arrive in time to wrap him up – ignited a 31-21 victory that gave the Saints the season sweep over Carolina and strengthened their hold on first place in the NFC South Division.
“I think early in a game, there’s two thoughts that go into it,” Payton said Monday morning in a teleconference with local media. “Do we feel like the percentages of scoring, along with the percentages of what happens with Carolina having the football at the 1(-yard line), 1-and-a-half, 2 coming out – and you start putting those numbers together – what’s the risk assessment?
“Part of it is setting a tone, though. It’s not every time we do that, we’ve done it a handful of times, I can think back over the years. Early drive, first drive, fourth-and-goal at the 1, you want to finish the correct way. You hope you’re able to score and if not, you put them on the 1-yard line or 2-yard line and then you try to take advantage of that field position on the next possession.”
The calls are a confidence boost to the offense.
“When your coach shows faith in you like that, you definitely want to execute to make him right,” Ingram said. “That confidence makes you definitely want to come through for him.
“We have an expectation to be great. There’ll be times when Coach will be aggressive and there’ll be times when he won’t be. When he’s aggressive, we have to be able to be aggressive with him, be able to overcome whatever the situation is, be able to execute, get a first down, get the touchdown – whatever the situation may present. We have to be able to stand and execute.”
*MR. SACRIFICE: *Receiver Brandon Coleman said he was pounding the turf after Ingram’s 72-yard run concluded Sunday out of frustration. Coleman felt that if he hadn’t tripped and fallen while blocking downfield, Ingram wouldn’t have tripped over him and would have been able to score (Ingram scored on the drive two plays later, on a 3-yard run). “I love Brandon Coleman for that,” Payton said. “I love his passion.
“When you start running the ball like we’ve been able to run the ball, I don’t care what team you are, you have to block the perimeter. There has to be receivers with that mind-set. If you don’t have it, you don’t have the same success. Brandon, one of the great traits he has is, he’ll block, he’ll go run and make a play above his head, he’ll do whatever it takes for us to win. He’s well-respected by our players for that, and certainly respected by me.”
*A LOT TO LIKE: *Payton said that quarterback Taysom Hill injected the same spark into his special team roles Sunday as he has into his role as a quarterback. Hill had been the No. 3 quarterback, and inactive on game day, the first 11 games. But in part due to injuries and his due to his athleticism, Hill was covering kicks and on the punt return team, as a rusher, against Carolina. He contributed to a strong day by the Saints on special teams.
“I think there’s a personality he has that brings a little energy,” Payton said. “I felt it in our kicking game yesterday. We had two game-changing plays – the muffed punt (by Carolina punter Michael Palardy), that’s a turnover at midfield, and then we had the caused fumble (by Chris Banjo). And then we have a punt return for a touchdown, (but) we’re blocking in the back and that was a good call. But I like it. I like it.”
*EARLY SCOUTING: *Payton hadn’t had enough time to see all the film on Atlanta by the time he conducted his teleconference, but he had some impressions on the Falcons offense and defense.
Defensively, he said, “They can run. They’re fast, they’re fast at all the positions. I think they rush the passer very well and if you get into the third down, a lot of the things that we saw happen in Seattle with the pass rush, with the rotation of guys coming in and off the field but they’re fast, the problems come in those longer yardage situations.”
Regarding the Falcons offense and, specifically, Saints defensive backs versus Atlanta’s receivers, he said: “It’s an extremely difficult (matchup). When you look at (Falcons receivers Mohamed) Sanu and (Taylor) Gabriel and the tight ends there, this is a team that’s just built differently and is very explosive outside. We’re going to have to be on point.”