Thursday, October 10, 2013
Leftovers on Patriots-Saints trail
By Mike Reiss
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the New England Patriots kicked off preparations for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, there was an overflowing media crowd at Gillette Stadium.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady held news conferences, and later in the day, Saints coach Sean Payton and running back Pierre Thomas conducted conference calls with Patriots reporters. Meanwhile, Belichick and defensive end Rob Ninkovich held conference calls with Saints reporters.
In the Patriots' locker room, players drawing large media crowds included running back LeGarrette Blount, receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard and safety Steve Gregory.
Here are some leftovers:
Mutual respect between coaches: Payton revisited how he first got to know Belichick when both were coaching at the 2006 Pro Bowl, and how they have the common link of having worked as assistants under Hall of Famer Bill Parcells. Of Belichick, Payton said, "He has been someone certainly that I look up to."
Ninkovich one who got away from the Saints: It's easy to forget now, given that he's emerged as a core member of the Patriots' defense, but Ninkovich entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Saints in 2006. Payton has brought up Ninkovich's name in the past when speaking of draft picks who got away (the Patriots signed him in 2009). Ninkovich's wife, Paige, is from Gretna, La. "She's not a fan of the cold weather," said Ninkovich, who last month signed an extension with the Patriots through 2016.
Drawing a link between Saints RBs and Bills RBs: When asked if the dual threat of Saints running backs Thomas and Darren Sproles as pass-catchers and rushers, and if that makes them unique compared to other teams, Ninkovich said it's similar to facing the Bills and the duo of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. "So we have some experience with guys that can catch and run," he said.
Talib and man coverage: Payton and the Saints are familiar with Talib from his time in the NFC South with Tampa Bay. Payton said one of the biggest differences with Talib in New England is the amount of man coverage he's playing compared to his time in Tampa. "He is playing at an elite level right now," Payton said.
Considering Talib on Graham: One option for the Patriots to consider is having Talib match up against tight end Jimmy Graham, similar to what he did Sept. 22 against Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson and Oct. 6 against Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Talib said he's covered tight ends in the past, but that was mainly because the tight end lined up outside (he mentioned Tony Gonzalez, in particular). Talib stressed that it's the entire Saints offense, more than just Graham, that is so lethal. Specific to Graham, he said: "He's so tough because of what he is -- 6-7, 250, 260, and he has ball skills out of this world. That's the main thing that makes him so tough."
Payton's take on Brady: While Brady's statistics are down compared to his usually high standards, Payton doesn't see signs of decline. "When you take the pieces away in just [a] year, that's a transition that's difficult," he said in reference to the team's changes at receiver. "But you see everything you've seen prior -- arm strength, will to win, competitive drive, all those things."
Belichick on coin-toss decisions: The Patriots won their first coin toss of the season last Sunday, and to the surprise of many, they elected to receive the opening kickoff. Prior to that point, they had mostly been a team that defers the choice to the second half. "It's not etched in stone," Belichick explained of the team's decision-making process. "It's a unique decision. We don't have one set standard." Belichick said two primary factors are weather (e.g., wind in New England is often a consideration that leads to deferring) and if the opposition is a fast- or slow-starting team.