Jim Harbaugh unaware of 'agreement'

Updated: January 10, 2012, 5:22 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jim Harbaugh didn't call Sean Payton in August before the San Francisco 49ers played the New Orleans Saints, unaware of the "gentleman's agreement" between NFL coaches to talk before preseason games to agree on strategy. Of course, now that he is aware of it, Harbaugh still wouldn't make the call.

Much was made after the game about a report from a Saints radio broadcaster indicating that New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams went against convention by implementing a heavy blitz package in the teams' first preseason game; Williams reportedly was upset that Harbaugh did not call Payton beforehand to discuss how the teams would approach the exhibition.

Payton denied the report Tuesday when asked about it on a conference call.

"There's no bad blood. The report is absolutely crazy," Payton said. "The idea that I was offended was nuts. I don't think I've ever turned to him (Williams) and said: 'Let's bring a blitz now.' Just the idea of a mysterious phone call we were waiting for is crazy. It was a bogus report then and it's crazy we're talking about it."

There were few signs of the remarkable turnaround Harbaugh has engineered in San Francisco in that 24-3 loss at the Superdome -- the 49ers were completely overwhelmed by New Orleans' heavy blitz package. Now the teams will meet again Saturday, this time at Candlestick Park for a berth in the NFC Championship Game.

Harbaugh said he even asked his brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, about whether checking in with another head coach before a preseason meeting was proper protocol.

"He wasn't aware of all that," Jim Harbaugh said. "And even if there was, we wouldn't do it, anyway. We ask no quarter, we get no quarter. That's how we approach things."

While many of the 49ers players expressed surprise toward the unusual strategy for a preseason game, Goodwin knew it was coming after seeing Williams up close while playing the previous five seasons with the Saints.

"First practice in training camp, Gregg blitzes. It wasn't a surprise for me. That's what he likes to do," Goodwin said. "One thing about this league is you have to learn from your mistakes. Fortunately for us, at that time it was a preseason game, a game that didn't count against us. Hopefully, we've learned from some of those mistakes and can apply them in the future."

Left tackle Joe Staley took exception to the Saints' tactics. New Orleans blitzed 18 times in the first half that August night.

"We kind of come to the sidelines and we're like, 'They're blitzing every play. We have a week-and-a-half of the offense in right now.' So we weren't expecting that, no," he said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 49ers will need to handle the blitz better this week. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team sent five or more pass rushers on a higher percentage of their opponents' dropbacks this season than the Saints, who sent extra pressure on 51.1 percent of dropbacks, the only team in the league over 50 percent.

Against extra pressure, the Saints allowed a 49.1 completion percentage, the sixth-lowest mark in the league. They also had 24 sacks in those situations, tied with the Texans for the most in the league.

However, the Saints did allow 14 30-yard completions when sending extra pressure this season, tied with the Cowboys for the most in the league.

The Niners did well most of the season against pressure, with quarterback Alex Smith going 91 for 153 for 1,116 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception and a 96.7 passer rating. But they allowed 21 sacks, including 13 in the final six games.

But the Saints are different from most blitzing teams. They have 15 players who have been credited with sacks this season, led by safety Roman Harper's 7½, making it difficult sometimes to know from where the pressure is coming.

"Their blitz schemes are a little bit different because they bring a lot more DBs, secondary guys instead of linebackers," Staley said. "We have to do a great job just identifying and preparing all week."

Information from ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press was used in this report.