New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has admitted that his team's campaign could have been in tatters from the very start because of an 'anxious' pre-season.
The Saints are currently sitting pretty in the NFC South despite their hammering at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, and have a 9-3 record.
They face off against the Carolina Panthers on Monday, who have an identical record and are pushing Payton's team for top spot and for the second seed in the NFC divisional round of the play-offs.
It was a completely different story however when Payton was suspended from coaching in 2012 after he was found guilty of operating a "crush-for-cash bounty system".
Upon his return he immediately installed Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and they haven't looked back since.
"Our team anxiously got started in the offseason, and Rob and his staff have done a good job of really giving players a plan they could sink their teeth into that fits their skill sets," Payton said.
"His personality is contagious. He has a lot of passion for the sport, and his players feed off that."
The game against Panthers will represent two heavyweights of the division going head-to-head.
One area that the Saints will look to have the upper hand with is their running game.
"It's a good rotation between all of us. We all bring different things to the table," said Pierre Thomas, who has 486 rushing yards this season, when asked what has been the key to their success so far.
"Mark [Ingram, running back] is explosive, quick and agile, and he's a tough runner that gets third-and-short, fourth-and-short yards. Sproles is quick off the ball and has great hands as a receiver.
"I see myself as a hard-nosed runner who keeps going forward and keeps my legs moving, and I see myself as someone who can catch the ball as well."
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