Saints look to cut down on penalties

Saints RB Chris Ivory (29) streaks to the outside for good yardage in  the second half of the Saints' 34-19 win over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in the Superdome.
Saints RB Chris Ivory (29) streaks to the outside for good yardage in the second half of the Saints' 34-19 win over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in the Superdome.

When the New Orleans Saints face the Detroit Lions in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night, coach Sean Payton would like to see his team do at least one thing better than it did in its most recent game.

While the Saints were on offensively and defensively in a 49-24 drubbing of the New York Giants on Monday night, the numbers that stood out to Payton were 11 (penalties) and 104 (penalty yards). Four of the flags were for unnecessary roughness and another was for taunting.

Both were season-highs and Payton, as is his custom, wasn’t about to sweep them under the rug despite their runaway win. That’s why they were a point of emphasis when the Saints returned to work Wednesday.

The Saints, who averaged 5.8 penalties and 45.1 penalty yards in their first 10 games, had previous highs of nine penalties for 82 yards in a 30-27 victory at Carolina on Oct. 9.

“We had more (penalties) than certainly we’re used to, and certainly more than what’s acceptable,” Payton said of the Giants’ game. “We may or may not agree with every call, and yet you still have to get on to the next play and not let it have a carryover effect.

“We never want that to be a reason or excuse as to why a game goes a certain direction. It’s something that’s a point of emphasis for us and something we need to be better at than we were Monday night.”

Backfield dilemma

A year ago, Payton and the Saints faced a dilemma when their top three halfbacks were all active for the same game just once all season.

This year, he has a different challenge with four healthy ones in Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory. But there won’t be many times when Payton will have four active on game day, such as when Ivory was a healthy inactive against the Giants.

“It’s certainly not any plan set in stone going forward,” Payton said when asked if Ivory will continue to be the odd man out. “For that game, we spent a lot of time discussing where we were both offensively and defensively and in the kicking game with injuries and basically coming up with inactives.

“Each week, we will look at that and look at it closely. Obviously, we value his ability. The challenge of having four very good running backs who are all healthy is one that I have to handle as a head coach.”

Practice report

Even though middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma continued to be limited in practice as he works his way back from a left knee injury that has sidelined him for the last three games, the injury situation improved a bit Thursday.

Cornerback Jabari Greer, who was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, had full participation Thursday. Defensive end Turk McBride, however, was held out again with an ankle problem and will likely miss a third straight game Sunday.

For the Lions, safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) did not practice, while running back Kevin Smith (ankle) was limited after being held out Wednesday.

Defense rises

In their victory over the Giants on Monday night, the Saints defense did not allow a first-half touchdown for the third consecutive game.

In their three-game winning streak, the Saints allowed three points to the Giants and Tampa Bay Bucs (Nov. 6) and the Atlanta Falcons to a pair of field goals (Nov. 13).

The Saints have outscored those three teams 48-12 in the first two periods.

Home cooking

When they beat the Giants, the Saints improved to 5-0 this season in the Superdome and assured themselves of a winning record at home for the fourth year in a row.

The streak started in 2008 with a 6-2 mark and they went 6-2 in ‘09 as well before going 5-3 a year ago. They haven’t had four straight winning seasons since they put together six in a row from 1987-92; they had just one winning home season between 1993 and 2007 (5-3 in 2003).

The Saints are one of only three teams unbeaten at home this year along with the Baltimore Ravens (6-0) and Green Bay Packers (5-0).

Graham honored

Saints players have selected second-year tight end Jimmy Graham as the team’s recipient of the 2011 Ed Block Courage Award.

The award is given annually by all 32 NFL teams to a player who has overcome adversity to excel at his profession, whether it’s through setbacks on the field or challenges they’ve faced in their lives.

The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of neglected children and ending the cycle of abuse and the purpose is to raise awareness and prevention of child abuse.

Graham and the recipients from the other 31 NFL teams will be honored at the Ed Block Courage Awards in Baltimore on March 13, 2012.