New Orleans Saints: patrick peterson

Key matchup: Peterson vs. Morstead?

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
3:29
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are well aware of the threat they’ll face every time they punt the ball to Arizona Cardinals dynamic returner Patrick Peterson on Sunday. But the Saints will counter with one of the league’s most underrated weapons -- punter Thomas Morstead.

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Peterson
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“(Peterson) is explosive, so we need to have a game plan in special teams devoted just to punt coverage. Fortunately, Thomas is one of the better punters in this league, and he understands distance, hang time and location are critical,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who described the field position advantage the Saints have been getting from their punts so far this season as “tremendous.”

Six of Morstead’s seven punts this year have been downed inside the 20-yard line, with no touchbacks and a total of 21 return yards.

Last week, Tampa Bay had a total of zero return yards on four punts, all of which were downed inside the 20. One of them was downed at the 6-yard line and one at the 4-yard line (thanks to a great effort by gunner Corey White).

“I just finished talking about special teams,” Payton said after Thursday’s practice. “If you can net a punt 49 yards, that essentially is no different than a defense holding an offense to a three-and-out, field-position wise. All of those yards are ‘hidden yards’ in a game. They all add up, too. … And I think hidden yardage this week will be really important, especially as it pertains to a returner like Peterson.”

Morstead, who was named one of the Saints’ team captains for the first time this year, has cemented his place as one of the NFL’s top punters in recent years. He made his first Pro Bowl last season while falling just short of the league record for net punting average (finishing at 43.2 net yards per kick). And this season, he has picked up right where he left off -- even after having offseason knee surgery.

Morstead knows his role will be as critical as ever this week against Peterson, who set a NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns in a rookie in 2011 (though he hasn’t scored on one since).

“That’s the punter’s job as the first extension of the defense,” Morstead said. “Specifically regarding Patrick Peterson, he’s a way that they can win the game. So it’s our punt team’s job to make sure that he’s not a factor in that way.”

The Saints’ kickoff return coverage has been less consistent in recent years. But Morstead’s booming leg is a big asset in that department as well. Ten of his 11 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks so far this year. Two years ago, when the Saints offense was lighting up scoreboards at a historic rate, Morstead set the NFL record with 68 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Geez. What does Jimmy Graham have to do to get noticed? The New Orleans Saints' star tight end had a career-best performance in Sunday’s 16-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with 10 catches, 179 yards and a touchdown. But it wasn’t enough to earn him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors (thanks to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 480-yard, four-touchdown performance).

Worse yet, Graham’s performance barely captured the attention of his own quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Brian BlancoSaints tight end Jimmy Graham punctuates his 56-yard touchdown catch in Tampa.
Drew Brees said Wednesday that he’s so used to such efforts from Graham at this point that he didn’t even realize the numbers his go-to guy was racking up Sunday.

“Walking away from it, had you asked me, ‘Hey, what do you think Jimmy’s numbers were today?’ I wouldn’t have thought it was that much. But I guess looking back on it, you start adding it up and you’re like, ‘OK,’” Brees said. “So I guess my point is, not that you have this expectation level, but you are just used to seeing a lot of those plays being made. It’s not like taking him for granted. But I think we all just expect that if we are not putting up 400-plus yards as an offense, score 30-plus points, running the ball well, throwing the ball well, hitting some big plays, doing these things … when those things don’t happen is when you notice.

“When they’re happening, it’s just like, ‘This is what we do.’”

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Our Wednesday conference call with new Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was one of the more entertaining chats with the opposing coach that I can remember. He’s clearly got a dynamic personality and a sharp sense of humor.

Arians shared a great story about current Cardinals and former LSU super-athlete Patrick Peterson. He insisted that Peterson taught himself how to play golf in a simulator in his basement, then went out and shot a 75 to win some money off of Arians.

Arians also said Peterson passionately helped sell the Cardinals on drafting his friend and former college teammate Tyrann Mathieu. But Arians didn’t need much convincing.

“I don’t give a crap about height, weight and speed. He’s just a heck of a football player,” Arians said of Mathieu. “I don’t know any college player that dominated on defense like he did over the years.”

When asked about the Saints’ uncharacteristically low-scoring offense this year, Arians said, “I think’s that smoke and mirrors. That offense is always high-octane.”

And Arians said he warned his players about the atmosphere they’ll be stepping into inside New Orleans’ raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday.

“It’s very unique. It’s Halloween every night in the dome when you play there. The fans are just fantastic,” Arians said. “You have to match that energy because Sean (Payton) has done a great job over the years as a play-caller and leading the league or close to leading the league in scoring on the first drive. We have to match that energy and don’t be surprised by it.”

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For more on Peterson and Mathieu, check out this story on their close bond by The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Terrance Harris or this piece on Peterson’s athletic prowess by the Advocate’s Sheldon Mickles.

And for more on the Cardinals in general this week, make sure you keep tabs on Arizona's NFL Nation team page. Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and I teamed up for this week’s edition of Double Coverage to preview Sunday’s game. Look for that later this afternoon.

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Thought it was interesting to see that former Saints receivers coach and current Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson singled out Saints tailback Mark Ingram for not punching the ball into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 last Sunday at Tampa Bay (per WWLTV.com). Clearly Ingram is starting to lose the benefit of the doubt from a number of onlookers -- a topic I discussed in great detail on Wednesday.

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