Once-dented Saints gear for Walker

December 29, 1992|By Mike Bruton | Mike Bruton,Knight-Ridder News Service

METAIRIE, La. -- Like an old refrain from a tedious song Herschel Walker's name rang repeatedly here yesterday.

The New Orleans Saints stirred around their practice facility, doing a post-mortem of Saturday's 20-0 victory over the New York Jets. But their minds were clearly on the Philadelphia Eagles' offense and the black eye it gave their defense nearly four months ago.

Defense isn't just a source of pride here on the bayou, it borders on being a religion. And the New Orleans players still are seething that Walker rushed for 114 yards in the opener -- a 15-13 Eagles victory -- between the teams back on Sept. 6.

"It's not whether we can stop him," free safety Gene Atkins said, looking ahead to Sunday's wild-card playoff game in New Orleans. "We can stop anybody when we put our minds to it. We've got to attack Herschel early and not let him get started."

Back in September, the opposite happened.

Intent on squelching Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, the Saints attacked, forcing four fumbles from the Eagles. But Walker found creases in the front seven too often.

"They really ripped us running, Saints coach Jim Mora said. "They ripped us as well as anybody has on the ground."

Other teams, Buffalo with Thurman Thomas for instance, have run well on the Saints. But the Eagles did it against New Orleans' primary defensive set. The Bills' gains in the Dec. 20 game came mostly when the Saints were in their nickel package.

The addition of Walker and the noticeable improvement in the Eagles offensive line, Mora said, have combined to make the Eagles more formidable, especially when one considers other weapons like Cunningham, Heath Sherman, Keith Byars and Fred Barnett.

"I don't think you can zero in on any one thing with these guys because they are so good in so many ways," Mora said. "We will try to play it better than we did the first time."

Still, Walker is clearly their biggest worry, and with reason. If the New Orleans defense, ranked second overall and first against the pass, has a weakness, it is against the run.

Mora stopped short, however, of saying the Saints can't win if they don't stop the run, particularly Walker.

"Our defense is good because we play good team defense," said Mora. "If any phase of our defense didn't play as well as it did this year, we wouldn't have been a good defense."

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