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Saints get down and dirty in win
“Run it, run it, run a play. Stay out here."
Those were the words, give or take a few of George Carlin's seven, the Detroit Lions defensive linemen were hurtling across the line of scrimmage as New Orleans lined up to go for it on 4th-and-inches from their own 38 and leading by a field goal with 6:26 to play in the third quarter Saturday. The whole thing felt insane, a ploy to draw Detroit offside that would ultimately be abandoned.
The talking was fierce.
"You got what you wanted. Be careful what you wish for," Saints left guard Carl Nicks recounted, although I fear he cleaned the conversation up for my benefit.
And in this moment, we were given a glimpse into why New Orleans ultimately rolled Detroit 45-28 in the NFC wild-card game and why it will be given a chance by most to go to San Francisco and beat the 49ers next weekend.
They are the big, sweaty, pleasantly plump guys that make up New Orleans' offensive line and are behind all of the cool things they do.
This group is why Saints coach Sean Payton feels so comfortable, bordering on cocky, going for it on fourth down. Twice. This group is why Saints running back Pierre Thomas looks so beastly when, actually, in person, I am taller than him when wearing my Prada boots. This group is why Brees has time to go downfield to any and all of his receivers, why he remained almost clean Saturday while doing so. This group is why Suh and missing persons jokes were clogging Twitter. This group is ultimately why, when you play New Orleans, you had better score more than 28, or you are put-a-fork-in-them done.
"We played a good front. We felt coming in one of the strengths of Detroit was that front four, and they gave us some fits too in the first half," Payton said. "As the game wore on, we began to win more of those battles. To your point, I think it is true. That battle up front is the deciding factor."
I admit offensive linemen fascinate me, mostly because I cannot fathom why anybody would volunteer for this position. As I stood talking to Saints right guard Jahri Evans, I could not help looking at his knee. It looked like somebody had run a cheese grater over it, which I noted to no avail.
Him: "It's just a scratch."
Me: "It looks awful."
Him: "It's fine."
This is how you know you are an offensive linemen; you get used to being in some sort of pain or disrepair at all times. Legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells had a name for these guys. He called them junk butts. And he loved them.
And Payton, for all of his lower guts and wide-open play calling, is incredibly bright. He learned from everybody he coached with and under in the NFL. And whether he learned this from Parcells or it was merely confirmed during their time together in Dallas, Payton loves junk butts, too. You can tell by the way they play that Payton emphasizes old-school fundamental blocking and appreciates when it is well done. He knows they make what he likes to do possible.
The Saints excelled Saturday in every single stat for which offensive linemen get little credit but help to generate.
Rushing yards? Led by Thomas' 66, New Orleans ended up with 167.
Passing yards? Brees had 466 including touchdowns of 41 and 56 yards.
Sacks? Brees went down twice.
The Suh factor? A non-factor. He was Ndamukong Who? You had to go eight deep on the defensive stat sheet to see his name with its sad little three assists and half-sack by it. It is obvious to say that the Lions had been expecting a little bit more from him. We all had, and New Orleans did a good job of limiting his impact.
And as the Saints go to San Francisco to take on another nasty defense with a good run-stopping front, it will once again fall on the junk butts to handle the ugly work in the trenches so all of the pretty stuff can get on highlight shows. They were already talking about it after the game, Nicks sitting at his locker talking about what is needed to beat the 49ers; and how the Saints offense kind of, sort of, sometimes resembles a video game; and how they must have made Brees in a lab somewhere because he is perfect.
The dude is hilariously funny, so much so that if he played anything except offensive line you could see him being a household name.
The one thing the Saints line sucks at is pub. I spent half of my time Saturday trying to convince them of the necessity of a nickname, or at least a mantra.
Washington had The Hogs. Denver had its whole no-talking thing.
John Madden made a whole generation of linemen famous with his grunting and boom-bam-pow and diagrams. And now when you play Madden the video game, the line is the thing you mostly ignore except to possibly run behind the right guy (you know who that is not by name but because his stats say he dominates). This feels wrong to me.
"We'll work on it," Nicks said, "and when we get one we'll let you know."
My only suggestion is to build off the whole shutting-down-Suh thing. You get the feeling this will be blueprint stuff for teams playing the Lions next season.
"We gave up a sack or two and Suh got one," Nicks said.
Actually he only got a half.
"A half? Oh," Nicks said. "Against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL in my opinion, can't be mad at that right?"
Not at all.
You appreciate it for all of the other cool things it allows New Orleans to do.