Inside slant: New Orleans Week 10 preview

Need the inside scoop on the Buccaneers' NFC South rivals? Look no further than the "Inside Slant." Every Thursday Bucsblitz.com offers a preview of the weekend's games for the rest of the division. Go inside New Orleans' preparations for Sunday's game, including key matchups, game analysis and injuries.

Despite winning their last four games, the Saints knew coach Sean Payton wouldn't let them forget that they lost their first four games of the season -- three of them by 17 points or more.

So minutes after a 41-24 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, running back Reggie Bush talked about how he and his teammates had to avoid being fed the media hype that often comes with a winning streak.

"Coach told us, 'Don't eat the cheese,'" a grinning Bush said. "You know what happens when you eat too much cheese. You get sick, especially if you're lactose intolerant."

The message is supposed to be that you can't reach for the cheese because it's usually attached to a mousetrap. That trap could be set by the winless St. Louis Rams (0-8), who come to the Superdome on Sunday.

You can bet that Payton has made it perfectly clear that the Saints (4-4) haven't done anything yet. And he will continue to do so leading up to a game the surging Saints can't afford to lose after climbing back into the NFC South race.

"We can't worry about what people are saying about us," defensive end Will Smith said. "We're still a .500 team. We're not 6-2 or 8-0. We're 4-4. We're not a dominant team."

You could hardly tell in watching the Saints play the last four weeks. They've put their offense in high gear and have scored 122 points in their four-game win streak after scoring 51 in the first four outings. They've outscored the four opponents by 13.8 points a game and are averaging 413.5 yards a game.

But don't bother telling any of that to Payton. The last thing he wants to do is toss bouquets to a team that's just average -- if you go strictly by the standings in the daily paper.

Which is exactly why he's warning his players to stay the course and not get carried away, particularly when they are getting ready to dive into a second-half schedule that includes one game against a team that currently has a winning record -- 5-4 Tampa Bay.

When asked about the schedule, Payton didn't reach for the cheese. The next two games are against St. Louis and Houston, who are a combined 4-13 this season, but they'd just as soon be 13-4 as far as he's concerned.

"I'm not worried about the rest of the schedule," Payton said. "I'm only worried about St. Louis."

SERIES HISTORY

67th meeting. Rams lead the series, 39-27, with the teams splitting their last 10 matchups dating to the start of the 1998 season. The Rams have taken three straight in the Superdome, including a 34-21 win on Dec. 17, 2001, in their last game as NFC West rivals. They've also met once in the postseason, with the Saints winning 31-28 in an NFC wild-card matchup in 2000.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Saints went back to work Wednesday without RB Reggie Bush, who was held out of practice with a bruised left knee.

Bush rode a stationary bike during the portion of practice open to the media after participating in a light walkthrough before practice. He received ice treatment and was to be re-evaluated before practice Thursday.

After practice, Bush said he expects to be ready for Sunday's game with the St. Louis Rams. He said he got a "little banged up" in Sunday's 41-24 win over Jacksonville when a defender twisted his leg while making a tackle.

Bush said the knee got sore late Sunday night, but there was no swelling.

"There's nothing broken, nothing torn or anything like that," he said. "It's just a normal everyday football injury you go through. It was precautionary to get ready for the game this weekend. It's nothing that kept me out of the game or anything like that."

--QB Drew Brees said he threw his arms in the air in support of K Olindo Mare on Sunday as fans booed when Mare trotted onto the field and missed a 52-yard field goal just before halftime against the Jags.

Fans were frustrated because Mare, who is just 6-for-12 this season, had missed a 43-yard attempt seconds earlier. Brees said he simply was urging fans to be more supportive of Mare.

"I was saying, 'Support him,'" Brees said Wednesday. "We all have rough times, and the guy's had some rough times. So support him. You know, cheer for him.

"If you want him to make the kick, then make him feel good about it. Don't make him feel like everybody's booing him and, 'If I miss, they're going to boo even louder.' Support the guy, that's what I was saying."

--The surging Saints will be going after their fifth consecutive win -- which would equal the fourth-longest winning streak in club history -- when they face the winless Rams in the Superdome on Sunday.

With their victory over the Jaguars last week, the Saints gave Sean Payton his first four-game winning streak as a head coach. The Saints haven't won five straight since 2000, when rookie coach Jim Haslett guided his team to victories in Weeks 5 through 10.

Coincidentally, Haslett, who led the Saints to the NFC West title in 2000, will be back in the Superdome on Sunday as the defensive coordinator for the Rams. Haslett, who coached the Saints from 2000-05, was fired after a 3-13 season and was hired by Rams coach Scott Linehan.

--The Saints will get a test in trying to extend another streak -- holding the opposing team to less than 100 yards rushing -- for an eighth straight week against the Rams and Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson.

The Saints matched the club record set in 1991 last week when they held Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in check and limited the Jacksonville Jaguars to 88 rushing yards last Sunday.

BY THE NUMBERS

32 -- First downs recorded by the Saints in a 41-24 win last Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars, tying the club record set in 1982 season and matched in 2005.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"It's made us tougher mentally, and now we're in a position where we are hardened a bit. We have been tested and we fought through it. Now it's time to make that jump." -- Saints QB Drew Brees on losing the first four games and winning the last four.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Saints could get C Jeff Faine back for Sunday's game with the St. Louis Rams after he missed the last 2 1/2 games with a strained left pectoral muscle.

Faine returned to practice Wednesday and took all the repetitions, taking over from backup Jonathan Goodwin. A six-year veteran, Goodwin was steady in helping the Saints to two wins in Faine's absence.

But Faine is regarded as the key to a solid offensive line that allowed just 18 sacks in the first 15 games last season and a league-low five in eight games so far this year.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--C Jeff Faine, who has missed the last 2 1/2 games with a strained left pectoral muscle, returned to practice Wednesday and could be ready for Sunday's game with the St. Louis Rams.

--RB Reggie Bush did not practice Wednesday because of a bruised left knee. He said there was no swelling in the knee and that he did not work as a precautionary measure.

--DT Brian Young, who was inactive for last week's game with the Jacksonville Jaguars, did not work Wednesday because of continued swelling in his left knee.

--LDE Charles Grant, who sprained his right ankle on Oct. 28, played last Sunday against the Jaguars but did not practice Wednesday.

--WLB Scott Shanle, who did not play last week because of a strained left hamstring, participated in Wednesday's practice on a limited basis.

--CB Usama Young was held out of practice Wednesday because of a strained hamstring. His status for Sunday's game was unknown.

GAME PLAN

The Saints have blown the doors off their opponents the last two weeks with a wide-open passing game that has rocketed up to fourth in the NFL weekly rankings. While they will still want to throw it around in Sunday's matchup with the winless St. Louis Rams, the Saints may try to work on their running game as well. The Rams rank 25th against the run while allowing 129.9 yards per game, so the Saints might try to do some business there. Defensively, the Saints will have to contend with a Rams passing game that hasn't been spectacular in the first half of the season but still has the weapons to create havoc. While the Saints have done been solid against the run, allowing 96.9 yards a game, they rank 27th against the pass, giving up 248.1 yards per game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Saints RB Reggie Bush vs. Rams front seven. Bush hasn't piled up a lot of rushing yards, although he's also a big receiving threat out of the backfield -- leading the team with 50 catches. But he's been close to breaking some big runs this season and could find some good running lanes against the Rams' porous run defense.

Saints WR Marques Colston vs. Rams CBs Tye Hill and Fakhir Brown. Colston has been on a tear in the last two games, catching 18 balls for 244 yards and three TDs. The rangy receiver, who is 6-foot-4, could pose some serious matchup problems for the Rams' Hill (5-10) and Brown (5-11) -- especially in the red zone and around the goal line.

Saints LCB Mike McKenzie vs. Rams WR Torry Holt. McKenzie is the Saints' top cover corner and is coming off a big game against Jacksonville. He likely will have his hands full with Holt, who remains the Rams' top receiving threat with 46 receptions for 576 yards and four TDs.

INJURY IMPACT

DT Antwan Lake started in place of Brian Young last week against the Jaguars and likely would get the nod if Young is sidelined again Sunday.

WLB Brian Simmons had a solid game against the Jaguars and would fill in again for Scott Shanle if he doesn't fully recover from his strained left hamstring.


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