Travel trouble won't be an excuse for 'focused' Saints

jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 5, 2013 

The NFL is often called a no-excuses business, so don’t look for any from the New Orleans Saints about dealing with a short week.

After facing a delayed cross-country flight following a Monday night game, New Orleans coach Sean Payton said the late start “ended up really not being a big issue.”

A cracked windshield on the team plane kept the Saints grounded in Seattle after their 34-7 loss to the Seahawks, and the team didn’t get home until mid-afternoon on Tuesday.

“(We have) a real good advance (scouting) crew,” Payton said on a teleconference on Thursday. “I think the hardest thing was coming off a tough loss like that and then having that wait-around time. We were able to find hotels, get some sleep and then travel the next day.

“I think all things considered it worked out as best it could.”

Payton gave his team Tuesday and Wednesday off to allow the players to get treatment following the game. Usually teams begin practicing for their next opponent on Wednesday, but the Saints began practice Thursday.

“(Friday) will be a Thursday schedule and we’ll practice a little bit (more) on Saturday than we normally would,” Payton said.

Running back Pierre Thomas sounded confident the Saints would be prepared. He pointed to the Week 12 Thursday night game against Atlanta in which the Saints had four days to prepare and eventually won 17-13.

“Coach (Payton) is going to be smart on how we go through practice this week,” Thomas said. “We’re going to be ready for Carolina. We’re going to be focused. We’re putting together a great game plan.”

Ryan factor: The Panthers had their way with the Saints defense last year, posting 79 points, 993 yards of total offense and 51 first downs in their two wins.

That was before Rob Ryan took over as defensive coordinator for New Orleans. Ryan replaced Steve Spagnuolo this offseason and has taken a Saints defense that was statistically the worst in NFL history in 2012 and turned it into the eighth-best in the league this year.

“There were a lot of things about last season that players, coaches want to move on from and move past,” Payton said. “I credit them for anxiously getting started in the spring and offseason. I think Rob and his staff on defense have done a good job of really giving his players a plan they can really sink their teeth into, that fits their skillsets. His personality is contagious. He’s got a lot of passion for the sport and I think his players feed off that.”

The Panthers have studied game film from this year, and not as much from last year’s meetings. But coach Ron Rivera said his staff also looked at last year’s Dallas game.

Carolina lost to the Cowboys 19-14 at home in Week 7. Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Dallas, which held the Panthers to 85 rushing yards and created two turnovers in the win.

“This defense is different,” Rivera said. “What Rob does is a little more, I don’t want to say dynamic, but it most certainly is different from what they were last year. They were more of a 4-man front. Rob mixes it up. … He’s going to shift and move his guys around. He’s going to blitz. He’s going to be different and we’ve got to be on our Ps and Qs as far as that’s concerned.”

Injury update: Despite Jonathan Stewart missing his second straight practice, Rivera reiterated he’s not concerned for the running back’s availability come Sunday night.

Stewart carried 14 times for 39 yards last week against Tampa Bay, when DeAngelo Williams sat out with a bruised thigh.

“He had a good day working with the trainers and the strength and conditioning people, so I’m fine with that,” Rivera said. “It was his first real exposure with DeAngelo being down and he carried a pretty physical load. We just got to manage it.”

Rivera said he expects Stewart to practice Friday.

Also sitting out of practice Thursday was linebacker Jordan Senn (hamstring) and guard Chris Scott (knee), though Rivera said he was encouraged by what he saw from Scott on the sideline.

Tight end Ben Hartsock (knee), defensive end Charles Johnson (knee), fullback Mike Tolbert (knee) and Williams were limited. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, tackle Jordan Gross and guard Travelle Wharton all returned to practice Thursday after having the day off Wednesday.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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