Now in his seventh season with the New Orleans Saints, strongside linebacker Scott Shanle has had his back to the wall a few times.
It hasn’t happened a lot, especially since their 2009 Super Bowl-winning season, but Shanle knows what the Saints usually do on those rare occasions when they’re up against it.
“First of all, nobody likes to have his back to the wall,” Shanle said. “If you do, all the guys I know around here have been fighters. You try to fight your way out of it, or at least dig yourself out of the hole you’re in. The hole is just a little deeper this time.”
Reaching the midway point of a trying season, the Saints (2-5) can’t afford many more losses — much like the Philadelphia Eagles (3-4), whom they’ll face at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The circumstances officially make it a “backs-to-the-wall” game when you consider the Saints, who started the season 0-4, are coming off a 20-point loss at Denver and the Eagles have lost four of their last five games.
“Absolutely, I think we’ve had our backs to the wall since Week 3,” said Shanle. “It’s been that way for us the last few weeks. But even though we’ve been able to fight our way out of it in the past doesn’t mean we’re going to come out and play the perfect game or start shutting people out.
“It still comes down to execution, and to me, it’s a confidence thing. We need to do it consistently to the point that we believe we can do it every week and every play instead of just doing it for a series or a quarter.”
That’s the predicament the Saints find themselves in, not being able to do it consistently enough to avoid being the NFL’s worst defense statistically by 50 yards in allowing 474.4 yards per game.
In addition to ranking 32nd in total defense, which has them on pace to set an NFL record by 800 yards, the Saints are 31st against the run (170.1), 30th against the pass (304.6) and 30th in scoring defense (30.9 points per game).
“We’ll continue to fight until somebody tells us it’s over,” Shanle vowed.
Fortunately for the Saints defense, the Eagles offense could give them an opportunity to make things a little better — at least for a week after being shredded by the Broncos in a 34-14 loss last Sunday night.
In that game, the Saints defense and offense struggled. Which means that the game with the Eagles, who have sputtered on offense this season, is a must for the Saints in order to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“There’s never a more important time to circle the wagons and rally around each other, and make it about each week one at a time,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We can’t look at anything else. We can’t look at the rest of our schedule. We can’t look at our division. We can’t look at anything other than how do we win this week?
“That’s the approach we’ve taken this entire season. I feel we’ve gotten better each week with the exception of last week — which was extremely disappointing, the result of the game and our overall performance as a team.”
The Saints, who had won two games in a row before their meltdown against the Broncos, can think of no better time to get back on track.
The Eagles are also trying to get their act together, just eight days after quarterback Michael Vick created a firestorm when he said embattled coach Andy Reid was “obviously” thinking about making a change at the position.
Reid later said he never considered making a switch to rookie Nick Foles for the game with the Saints, noting that Vick was simply responding to a question that came out of Reid’s postgame news conference.
While it appears there was a gray area there, Vick hasn’t played well this season. He has been responsible for 13 of Philadelphia’s 17 turnovers with eight interceptions and five fumbles lost even though he was mistake-free in their 30-17 loss to the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons last week.
“I know that we can be better than what we are, and that’s a positive,” said Reid. “It’s something to look forward to and work forward to, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Like the Saints, Vick said the Eagles simply can’t think about anything but else but winning Monday night.
“We are not looking at it like that,” Vick said when asked about the game’s implications. “We are looking at it as if it is a playoff game for us. It’s a big game for us. We aren’t thinking about any type of stipulations involved in the game.
“It’s a big game for us and we can’t look any further than that. We can’t say, ‘If we lose, this is what’s going to happen.’ We have to go in with confidence and be ready to play.”
Just like the Saints.
“At the end of the day, we have to focus on what’s going to get us right and give us success,” said tackle Jermon Bushrod. “This is a crazy league, and at the end of the day, we still have a little life. There’s no quit around here.”
Especially after last week, Brees said.
“That game lights a fire within all of us that we don’t want that to be the lasting memory people have of our team,” he said. “We’re better than that, and we need to show them Monday night.”