Over the off week and holiday, I took some time to relax by myself, and thought about everything that went into getting to this point. It was the same type of feeling as I had at Christmas, just thinking about how excited and grateful I am for the opportunity to be in the playoffs.
You hear all the stories after the season about players on other teams wishing they had another chance to do something positive, and better their chances as far as the playoffs go. We’re right where we want to be. Our goals are still achievable — the same ones we set on Day 1. That’s an exciting opportunity.
The bye week was great. For the guys who have bumps and bruises, it was a chance to get healthy. For all of us, it was a chance to look back at film, and see how teams attacked us the whole season. This is a copycat league. We know that offenses study our mistakes to see what another teams did successfully against us. We are definitely in-tune with the issues we’ve had, and how Drew Brees and the Saints are going to try and approach us.
People talk about a bye week possibly slowing down a team’s momentum, but it’s really simple to keep that from happening. You just practice your butt off. You do all the things you do in a game-like manner. We had a great week of preparation. Even in walkthroughs, the tempo was high. From the lowest guy on the depth chart all the way to the top, everybody has elevated their game. That’s fun to be a part of, and it’s special because we’re evolving as a team.
It obviously helps to raise the intensity when you find out who you are playing. We’ve played this team in the past, but from our past mistakes, we also know what can happen if you take a team you have already beaten lightly. That happened with the Arizona Cardinals. We beat them earlier in the year. The second time we played them, we didn’t come out on top.
Coach Carroll talked to us about being normal, and not letting the game be bigger than it is. Enjoy the moment. That was the biggest thing I took from his whole message. These moments are precious. You really want to take advantage of it, and soak it all in. I think you appreciate it more when you really look at it that way. You can just fill up with gratitude, let yourself go and enjoy it.
I’m very excited to see Percy Harvin get in there this week, and see him go. He’s ready. You can see it in his eyes. The last few weeks, I’ve noticed something in the way he prepares and his mentality. It’s the reason he’s been so successful in this league. He has that killer instinct, that dogged mentality that you want in a player who you would want to be in a foxhole with you.
My rookie year was my first time ever facing Percy in game. We played Minnesota in a preseason game back when Brett Favre was their quarterback. The first time we met, Favre was trying to throw a quick slant. I caught on, and we met with a collision. That was how I introduced myself to him, and vice versa. It was speed on speed, a very explosive play.
You have to respect his speed. It’s like nothing else. It shoots out at you on tape, but it’s a whole different pace when he’s out there. He changes the offense tremendously. If you get the ball to him quick and he has a lot of space, he’s one of the guys who can change the game in just one play, whether it’s special teams, or anywhere on the offensive side of the ball. That puts a lot of pressure on an opposing team as far as game planning goes.
FROM THE FANS
This week, I asked some fans on my Facebook page (you following yet?) to submit some questions for this week’s blog. I picked out some good ones:
Q: Who did you look up to the most growing up outside of football? – Kyle Duncan
A: Thanks for the question, Kyle. I would have to say my dad. He not only introduced me to and taught me the game, but he showed me everything I know. You’re talking about a person who changed my life dramatically in way that he didn’t even realize. That just shows you that when a parent loves something so much and a kid sees that, it just trickles down. So my dad was definitely the biggest influence in my life.
Q: Does your sweet daughter rep a 29 jersey, also or is she another LOB member? – Mollie Annabelle Mattsen
A: My daughter is the Queen of LOB, and she wears the number 29 almost every day. It says Daddy’s Little Girl or Daddy’s Baby, but it’s always a 29.
Q: The fans and analysts have a tendency to compare players. Who would you say you are most like in your position? I would say John Lynch. I loved his hard-hitting toughness and he was fun to watch. – Dexter Carpenter
A: Being compared to John Lynch and called fun to watch, that’s humbling. He’s a legendary guy. I agree with the comparison, but I would say that I’m unique. As far as hard hits, I want to do more than that, and there’s more to playing safety than just that. You have to look at the issues that you want to excel at, and for me, that’s the playing the middle of the field, and open field tackling. Those are things that I felt were once my weakness that I have made a strength. It’s just another way of me evolving to be a complete safety.
Q: Who in your life has inspired you and helped to inspire your game and championship mentality? – Erwin Chance
A: I don’t think there is any one person. The saying holds true: It takes a village. On my journey to professional football I’ve had many different coaches. My high school football coach, my college football coach, my dad, my teachers, even those guys when I was a little kid who gave me money to get a haircut. Those guys saw something in me and always used to encourage me. Everybody I’ve come into contact with has had an effect on my life. It took a village.
Q: Maybe you already addressed this, but why did you add the “III” to your jersey this year? – Sandy Johnson
A: It’s about my grandfather. He’s the rock and the foundation of our family. There is a saying he always told me: Either you’re going to change your ways, or change your name. I used to laugh about it, but thinking about it now, that’s really powerful. Your name is really all you have. You’re representing more than you. You’re representing your family. My grandfather is the original Earl Thomas. My dad is Earl Thomas Jr. I’m Earl Thomas III. That’s why having the III on the back of my jersey means so much to me. That’s something that’s bigger than football.
It’s kind of crazy because from the day I got into the league, I wanted to have Thomas III on the back of my jersey, but they said you couldn’t have that. Then RGIII came into the league, and they let it go. When I heard that, I talked to Eric Kennedy, our equipment guy, and he called in to get it approved for me.
Thanks for the questions, everyone. Look out for a similar feature on my Twitter soon.
SCOUTING THE SAINTS
Did you hear that New Orleans painted our logo on their practice field? I figured that to be a sign of respect. But I think they’re trying to game plan too hard trying to simulate playing in Seattle. You can’t simulate us. Our personnel is not there, and more importantly, the 12th man is not there. We’re unique in every way as a team and an organization. Nobody does it the way we do it.
All of that said, the Saints aren’t going to come in and give the game to us. They’re a very good team. We’re up for the challenge.
They have a coach in Sean Payton who is willing to adapt. He’s daring. He’s fearless. When you describe somebody like that, it kind of sounds like a player, and I think his mentality is just like a player. He and Coach Carroll both have that swagger to them. You need that confidence when you’re a player or a coach. His team reflects that.
But what’s so good about our defense is that no matter what an offense tries to do to us, we also have the ability to adapt. You have to pay attention to the situation. What’s the time of the game? What’s the score? What’s the feel of it? Did they just get an explosive touchdown and want to surprise us? You follow the feel of the game. There are so many situational variables that you take in.
We have to be on the little details like we were the last time. The coaches have done a great job of limiting the game plan as far as just letting us play fast. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting. Players are going to be in spots they’re very familiar with where they can play at their very best.
As far as the game plan goes, I think the Saints are going to try to do the same things they tried to do the last time. An offense can’t really go away from what they’re used to. They’ll probably add a little something as far as coming with a more balanced attack, but they’re not going to go away from who they are.
When you’re facing Drew Brees, you have to be aware of what part of the field you’re on, whether you’ve got them backed up or you’re in the middle of the field, in the fringe or in the red zone. You take all those things into account when you’re facing a guy like that because he’s at the top of his game. He’s a MVP caliber quarterback, and he does a lot of great things for their offense. He likes to move you off with his body movements, pumping you one way and then throwing that seam route. He’s very explosive and he knows his personnel, so he’ll take advantage of mismatches.
Jimmy Graham is a very big target and he uses his body well, especially in the red zone. They throw it up to him and he’ll go and get it. He’s very physical. Add all those factors together, and you get a great ball player.
They line Darren Sproles up everywhere. He can play running back and slot receiver. That causes problems for a defense. He’s a dynamic player and he’s so quick. He takes small steps and he’s coming at you so fast that tracking is very important. Coaches have been preaching that all week because we know what he’s capable of.
In Marques Colston, they have a lot of knowledge. He’s been in the league a long time. He’s seen a lot of defenses. So we definitely have to be on our keys because we know he’s going to be on his keys, and he’s one of Brees’ favorite targets.
Lance Moore is a guy that people really don’t give enough credit. He does a great job in their offense, and is one of their better receivers. He’s very shifty in the slot, he causes a lot of problems with nickel corners trying to hold him, and he’s just another explosive player the Saints have.
Kenny Stills is like that as well. He and Robert Meachem are the fastest receivers they have, so we have to know where they are at all times. Brees wants to get us impatient, throw deep to one of those guys, and use Jimmy Graham on those double moves and stretch routes.
Discipline is so important, especially when it comes to star players from opposing offenses. We know what’s coming, whether it be the formation or something else that tips us off. When you watch enough film, you kind of see what’s about to happen before it happens. When you can come up with a synopsis of what’s coming, that’s how you get your rhythm. It’s not always right, but there will still be part of it that you can recognize, and that part of it can take you to the ball.
It’s all about the eyes. If our eyes are right, our game is right. We’re not going to change for anybody. We never do. If you get beat straight up, good on good, we’ll take that. But we’re going to make you make the spectacular play. We just have to be on it. Everything else will take care of itself.
This whole week getting ready for this game through practice and preparation has been fun. I respect the process and embrace it, and think that goes to show how much I love the game. My passion and the love for football come out in that natural flow of the week. Once I get in that rhythm — something I’ve been trying to master since I’ve been playing the free safety position — it’s going to be a beautiful game for me.
BEFORE I GO…
The one thing I can promise is that we’re going to come out determined and focused. I know we’re not going to take this team lightly. We know what they can do, and we’ve been in those situations before. I just know we’re going to be on it. If that’s not good enough, we’ll let the chips fall where they may.
We definitely know where we stand. We trust ourselves. We’ll go in there with trust in everything. If you trust your teammates, you go in there knowing that your brother has got your back –especially when you add in the 12th man. All of it is tied together.
We just need you guys to do what you always do. Bring what you always bring every week. You know what’s at stake. We know what’s at stake. Every time we get together, we have a good time. We’re in this thing together. That gives me all the confidence in the world.