After another home win, Saints seek road success

With their latest double-digit triumph over a playoff contender,

the New Orleans Saints left little doubt about how tough they are

to beat in the Superdome.

Unfortunately for them, the next two of their remaining three

games are on the road, where their results have been mixed, and

playoff seeding is on the line.

”We like to be able to take the show on the road, but

definitely playing in the dome is an advantage,” Saints center

Brian de la Puente said Monday. ”We know that. Teams know that

coming in here that it’s a difficult place to play. There’s unique

things that present themselves when you’re on the road and that’s

part of it.”

The Saints, who are 7-0 at home and 3-3 outside New Orleans,

will travel to St. Louis on Sunday. The week after, they visit

Carolina, which fell one game behind the Saints in the NFC South

race after New Orleans dominated their meeting in the Superdome on

Sunday night, 31-13.

New Orleans doesn’t expect either game to be easy. The Rams

(5-8) have struggled this season but are 3-3 at home, where they

were one of only three clubs to beat the Saints in the 2011 regular

season.

The Panthers, meanwhile, will be trying to chase down the Saints

for the NFC South title and redeem themselves for their lopsided

loss in New Orleans.

Asked what his message will be to his players during this

pivotal stretch, coach Sean Payton referred vaguely to ”the

details of fundamentally improving,” and ”working on all the

little things that help you win.”

If there are specific areas where the coach wants his team to

improve in terms of preparing for road games, Payton was in no mood

on Monday to discuss it, responding, ”Nothing in particular.”

The past two games against fellow playoff contenders have

provided a sharp contrast in regards to how New Orleans has

functioned at home versus on the road this season. The Saints went

to Seattle hoping to take over the top spot in the NFC, only to

lose 34-7. During that game, Payton noticed what the Seahawks did

in their stadium to keep the fans engaged or project amplified

music at the visitor’s sideline (during moments when NFL rules

allow that). Those measures make it generally more difficult for

visiting teams to communicate.

Payton gave thought to those things as the Saints returned home

against a Panthers squad riding an eight-game winning streak.

”When you go somewhere and you take Seattle, for example, you

have a tough loss … but you notice other things than just

football,” Payton said. ”The environment is extremely difficult

to play in and there are a lot of things that have been well

thought out. Your mind starts racing in regards to improving your

home-field advantage.”

The Saints’ defense has thrived on well-timed crowd noise in the

Superdome. New Orleans’ offense seems to benefit even more from

being at home. The crowd lowers the volume for quarterback Drew

Brees, making communication easier. In addition, playing indoors,

on a familiar artificial surface and under familiar lighting, seems

to aid in the execution of the Saints’ precision passing game.

”It helps them as far as their speed and their timing,”

Carolina coach Ron Rivera noted Sunday night. ”The things that

they do here, they do very well.”

New Orleans is averaging 32.9 points at home and only 18.8

points on the road. Five of the Saints’ seven home wins have come

by double digits, including three by four or more touchdowns.

Playoff hopefuls Dallas and Arizona both have lost by 24 or more

points in the dome.

The Saints’ three road victories came by margins of eight, four

and two points.

”It’s not so much about being on the road that really causes

problems,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. ”It’s the fact that

when we don’t have success early, how guys respond and things like

that.

”When we come out and we play fast, we get off to good starts

offensively, defensively, that’s when we’re at our best,” Harper

continued. ”We’ve got try to find a way, no matter where we’re at

location-wise, to come out of the locker room and start fast.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org