Bushrod wants silence against Allen

METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod(notes) would like nothing more than to play the NFC championship game in the quietest place imaginable.

An empty stadium would be fine. A meadow perched high in some mountain forest. Even a library would do. Just some place where he can hear the calls from his teammates clearly and have his best chance to keep star Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen(notes) in check.

"You want the fans to be excited and all, but just kind of calm when we're on the field," Bushrod said of the Saints offense.

Conversely, Allen would just as soon play this game at a metal concert featuring Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax with amps that top out at 11.

"As a defensive player, it's great having all that noise," Allen said Wednesday, hoping that playing in the Superdome will help more than hurt. "I think we have an experience playing down there. We're used to playing in a dome. We're used to playing with loud noises so I think it's kind of a blessing in disguise."

Based on the first two rounds of the playoffs, noise figures to be the most important factor during this weekend's conference title games aside from the players themselves.

So far, the effects have been pretty obvious. Of the eight playoff games to date, five home teams have won. All of them played in domed stadium, where the effect of home fans screaming at the visiting offense is more profound as it bounces off the walls and ceiling and through the ears of players.

Home teams are winning by an average of 21 points in those games and have combined for 17 sacks (visiting teams have eight).

By contrast, visiting teams have won three games, all played outdoors. The average margin has been 10.6 points and the sack difference is eight for the visitors and only one for the home teams.

Sure, talent is a factor. But in the parity-driven NFL, the gap theoretically shouldn't be that large. Then again, Allen is an example of a player who is drastically impacted by playing at home in a dome versus on the road, inside or out. For Allen, silence is a killer.

The frenetic Allen, a man who plays as if his mortal soul depended upon chasing a quarterback until the play is over, is the life of the Minnesota defense. He is both its best player and spirit.

In 18 home games during his two seasons with the Vikings, including two playoff games, Allen has 21 sacks.

By contrast, in 15 road games in two seasons, Allen has 11 sacks.

Eleven sacks aren't anything to dismiss, but the total shows a profound difference. If you break it down further, the gap is bigger. Three of Allen's sacks on the road in that time were in games at Detroit against a truly bad team that had to throw on a constant basis. Another three were this season at Green Bay when the Packers were dealing with severe injury problems at left tackle.

Put aside those three games and Allen has five sacks in 12 road games.

Allen's hit caused Tony Romo(notes) to fumble in the first half last week.
(Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

In short, the malevolent, screaming, high-energy Allen is something much closer to ordinary on the road when there is less noise to distract the offense.

The reason for this change is well known to football purists. When offenses play in noisy stadiums, communication is almost impossible.

"They can't audible to what the defense shows them after they get them to the line," Saints defensive end Will Smith(notes) said.

More important to a defensive lineman, offensive linemen have to rely on silent counts to move in unison. Getting any group of five or six people to count in perfect sync for 60 or 70 plays is no easy task.

Advantage defensive line.

"We're talking inches, milliseconds" Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove(notes) said. "If you just get even that tiniest little jump on the offensive lineman, that can be the difference between a sack and just missing a guy."

That gets us back to Bushrod and Allen. Bushrod, a fourth-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft forced into action this season when Pro Bowler Jammal Brown(notes) was put on injured reserve earlier this season, is a relatively good athlete with quick footwork. Even so, Allen is among the most relentless players in the NFL.

"That's going to be a huge challenge for him," New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees(notes) said. "But I think he's a guy who has gotten better every week, and he seems to have always stepped up to the challenge. So I look forward to that matchup."

Bushrod's problems have come when he starts to depend too much on his footwork, oversteps and gets caught by ends who try to bull rush him.

That happened in New Orleans' loss to Dallas during the regular season as Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware(notes) set him up early in the game with a strong outside rush and then cut back inside later in the game.

"Those guys are pretty similar that way," Bushrod said, comparing Allen and Ware. "It's different [defensive] fronts they play, but how they play is pretty much the same."

Clearly, keeping Allen away from Brees would not only be a key to the game, but a huge boost to Bushrod's young career. Like everything else about this game, however, he'd like to keep that silent.

"Yeah, I visualize how the game is going to go, being successful, having our team win," Bushrod said. "But I really don't want to get into that. I don't want to talk about anything too much before it actually happens."

In this game, silence is Bushrod's friend as much as it's Allen enemy.