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New Orleans Saints work to ensure penalties don't impede progress

'We've got to get that fixed now. We've got to think about it like there is no later'

New Orleans Saints coaches and staff photos from week 13 on Thanksgiving Night 2019 between the Saints and Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
New Orleans Saints coaches and staff photos from week 13 on Thanksgiving Night 2019 between the Saints and Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

New Orleans Saints players are courteous enough not to give you a side-eye, but they know.

By now they probably have heard about it enough, been admonished about it enough, reviewed film about it enough, to know that enough has to be enough with the penalties.

So far, the NFC South-champion Saints, 10-2 entering Sunday's game against San Francisco (10-2) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, haven't experienced an affect that has been so adverse as to lead to a loss.

But that doesn't provide much consolation, as it comes with the understanding that the schedule and opponents will become less forgiving in the final four games of the regular season and into the playoffs.

"I think the key is taking into consideration the film that you're watching," Coach Sean Payton said. "Who the culprits are, is it repeated behavior, can we correct it, or is it something that was a one-time deal. A lot of it is dependent on the specific fouls."

For New Orleans, there have been more than enough specifics to consider.

Beginning with the first game against Atlanta on Nov. 10, the Saints have had a four-game run of infractions that likely will rival any quarter-stretch of games since Payton became head coach in 2006.

Twelve penalties accepted, for 90 yards, in that 26-9 loss. Nine accepted, for 76 yards, the next week against Tampa Bay in a 34-17 victory. Twelve more accepted, for 123 yards, in a 34-31 win against Carolina. Then another nine accepted, for 121 yards, in a 26-18 win over Atlanta in the rematch on Thanksgiving night.

The four-game stretch of 42 penalties accepted for 410 yards feed heavily into the overall tally of 95 for 820, with four regular-season games remaining. Currently, New Orleans is the eighth-most penalized team in the league.

Last year, when the Saints finished the regular season 13-3, they totaled 94 penalties for 939 yards. Then, they were the eighth-least penalized team in the NFL.

Whether it has been holding (offensive or defensive), pass interference, hands to the face or pre-snap movement, the Saints know they often have impeded their own progress.

"We're not naïve to the fact that over the last four weeks or whatever it is, we're the worst penalized team in the league, or close to it," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "So for us, it's about controlling what we can control, whether it be technique, fundamentals, where we're putting our hands on people, how we're hitting people, when we're hitting them. Those things, we can control.

"But sometimes, there's going to be a call here or there, that's just the way the game goes. Sometimes it's the cost of doing business.

"But we're going to control what we can control, get those penalty numbers down because that can come back to bite us in crunch-time situations in games where there is no tomorrow. Where there is no, 'OK, we'll fix it next week.' We've got to get that fixed now. Essentially, for us, with where we're trying to go, we've got to think about it like there is no later. There is no tomorrow to fix it."

Sunday would appear to be an advantageous time to do it. The 49ers are tied with the Saints and Seahawks for the best record in the NFC. San Francisco already has lost a head-to-head with Seattle, the Saints won their head-to-head with the Seahawks, but New Orleans owns the top seed in the conference via the tiebreak and has control.

"Honestly, I feel like there's been a number of things that we've got to clean up and improve on and we're going to have to as the competition increases and the stakes increase," Payton said. "The better teams are going to be able to execute more consistently in those situations.

"This will be a good test this weekend. These guys (San Francisco), I'm telling you, when you watch this team play – defensively and offensively and in the kicking game – they're as balanced a team and a team that plays that plays extremely well in all three phases. And that's why they're sitting with the record they have."

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