The reward for earning a bye week for the New Orleans Saints will be a week of introspection.
With no singular opponent to lock on for their NFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the top-seeded Saints (13-3) instead will turned their attention to themselves.
“The focus is improving ourselves,” Coach Sean Payton said Monday. “It’s not at all – anything to do (with) – opponent-driven. With the way we played yesterday (a 33-14 loss to Carolina in the regular-season finale), some of the things that we’ve done offensively recently, our focus is going to be strictly on Saints and the fundamentals and the techniques that we need to improve on.
“They’re all specific to pad level, tackling, blocking. They’re all specific to the fundamentals of our game. We’ve got a lot of things that we’ve got to improve on and this week gives us a chance to do that.”
The offensive dip to which Payton referred likely was the fact that New Orleans scored 14 points or less in three of its final five regular-season games. Sunday’s offensive performance did not include appearances by quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, receiver Ted Ginn Jr., left tackle Terron Armstead or right guard Larry Warford, who were inactive.
Payton said he was pleased with the performance of No. 2 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (14 of 22 for 118 yards and a touchdown, with an interception). But the players also know that a return to basics will be helpful.
“It’s a luxury to be in this position, to have a first-round bye, to have an extra week so we can polish up on some techniques,” said offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, who started six games during the regular season. “And to get back to fundamentals.
“We practice and we get a gameplan and we get a scouting report every week, and, ‘I’ve got to find a way to block this dude, I’ve got to find a way to move this double team, I’ve got different assignments that I need to do.’ But when you go back to training camp, it’s different how you rep things, how you rep your technique.”
That said, the Saints understand and appreciate the position they earned.
“We’ve got to really embrace this opportunity that we have and understand that it’s very hard to get in this position,” said Bushrod, one of three Saints on the roster – along with Brees and punter Thomas Morstead – to have been members of the 2009 Super Bowl team. “This is one of the goals that, as a team, we talked about – being in this position, winning the division, being the 1 seed so we can get some much-needed rest. We knew before the season started that we were going to need rest, and need to get the 1 seed.
“We’re here, we’re doing it and you’ve got to really focus. You’ve got to really focus and take your preparation to the next level and eliminate distractions, whether it’s turning the TV off or getting off the phone or going to bed early. We’ve got to find a way to give ourselves, individually, an extra edge.
“We’ve just got to do whatever we need to do to win a game. To win one game. And then figure out what we’re going to do to win the next game, and so on. You’re going to fight, claw and do whatever you need to do physically, mentally and emotionally to be ready to play this game.”
Monday, that entailed breaking down Sunday’s game before moving ahead.
“I think getting in there, watching that tape, the one thing you learn in this business is it’s not as bad as you think it is, and sometimes it’s not as good as you think it is,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “To be able to watch the tape, see that there are things there that are very fixable, things that can be corrected, you get excited about that because you know you’ve got a week to work with just worrying about yourself.
“Get back to the basics, get back to fundamentals, technique – the things that got us to these 13 wins. We’ll grind it out this week and we’ll go from there.”