New Orleans Saints: Patrick Robinson

METAIRIE, La. -- Cornerback Keenan Lewis (toe) and running back Pierre Thomas (illness) were both listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions even though both players were held out of team drills for the second consecutive day on Friday.

Both players participated in some individual drills during the portion of practice that was open to the media. Thomas said he’s still battling the illness but insisted he’ll play Sunday.

Running back Mark Ingram (hand), center Jonathan Goodwin (knee) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) are also listed as probable after practicing fully all week. Linebacker Ronald Powell (illness) is listed as probable after missing practice both Thursday and Friday.

As previously reported, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is officially listed as questionable after participating in team drills on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring) is listed as questionable after being held out of team drills all week. That means rookie cornerbacks Brian Dixon and Stanley Jean-Baptiste could both see increased action as nickel and dime backs.

Backup linebackers Ramon Humber (ankle) and Kyle Knox (ankle) have officially been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
METAIRIE, La. – Jimmy Graham was held out of team drills during the New Orleans Saints’ practice on Wednesday because of his shoulder injury, leaving him highly questionable for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.

Meanwhile, running back Mark Ingram fully participated in practice and said he is “full go” with no limitations after missing the past four weeks with a broken hand.

Saints coach Sean Payton declined to offer any specific updates on any of the Saints’ injuries.

Graham was dressed for Wednesday’s practice and participated in some individual work during the limited portion of practice open to the media. But it’s too early in the week to predict whether there’s a chance that he'll play Sunday.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported this past Sunday that it’s highly questionable Graham will be ready to play this week after he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5. Schefter cited a source as saying Graham would not have been able to play last week had the Saints not had a bye. And the Saints signed veteran tight end Tom Crabtree last week as potential depth.

Ingram, meanwhile, looks like he’ll play for the first time since Week 2. And he insisted that the Saints haven’t “babied me or eased me into practice.”

“I’m ready to go, full go, 100 percent, full tilt. I’ve been getting all the (usual amount of) reps in practice,” Ingram said. “I’ve been doing everything, catching, running, blocking. So whatever’s asked of me, I’m ready to do it.”

It’s impossible to predict how much the Saints will use Ingram since fellow running backs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas were playing so well in his absence. Ingram led that trio in touches when they were all healthy during the first two games, but all three were involved.

“We’ll kind of see how we handle that on Sunday. But obviously we value depth at that position,” Payton said.

Saints center Jonathan Goodwin (knee) also practiced fully on Wednesday. So did fullback Erik Lorig – who had been out since training camp with a significant ankle injury. Goodwin should be fine to play at Detroit, though it’s unclear if Lorig will require more time to get up to full speed.

Nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring) and backup linebackers Ramon Humber (ankle) and Kyle Knox (ankle) were also held out of team drills Wednesday.
A position-by-position look at the New Orleans Saints’ roster through the Week 6 bye:

Snaps played: CB Keenan Lewis 319, CB Corey White 313, CB Patrick Robinson 147, CB Brian Dixon 27, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste 0.

S Kenny Vaccaro 332, S Jairus Byrd 267, S Rafael Bush 151, S Vinnie Sunseri 2.

Key stats: Vaccaro 27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up; Byrd 22 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble; Lewis 15 tackles, 4 PBUs; Robinson 12 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 interception; White 23 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 fumble recovery; Bush 22 tackles, 1 PBU; Dixon 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble.

My take: It’s a neck-and-neck battle between the secondary and the defensive line for the Saints’ most disappointing position group so far this season. But the secondary has clearly undergone the most turmoil -- capped by Byrd’s season-ending knee injury in practice two weeks ago.

Byrd, who was expected to come in and take this rising secondary to another level, was struggling even before the injury. But he was hardly the only one as the Saints suffered through assignment breakdowns and missed tackles across the board. The Saints’ original No. 2 cornerback Robinson was benched during Week 2 (before returning as the nickel back after Byrd’s injury). His replacement, White, has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride with ups and downs since then. And fellow safety Vaccaro has been equally inconsistent, either because he was still dealing with soreness from last year’s broken ankle or because he was trying to do too much -- or both.

There is some reason for optimism. Lewis has remained steady as the Saints’ No. 1 corner and most reliable defensive back. He’s mostly held his own while routinely matching up against top receivers. Vaccaro played his best game in Week 5, attacking as a run defender and saying he felt healthier and faster. And defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has helped to eliminate some of those assignment breakdowns by cutting down on the number of on-field checks and adjustments.

More than anything, the main reason for hope is that things can’t get much worse than they were in the first four weeks. Losing Byrd is a severe blow, but Bush at least gives the Saints a veteran alternative to lean on. And Robinson showed signs of life in Week 5, when he reeled in the team’s first interception of the season.

It will still be a roller-coaster ride for the entire secondary going forward. But the adjustments they’ve made and expected improvement from the pass rush should help even things out a bit.

ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “It’s been a nightmare. I think Lewis is turning into a great corner, on the positive side. But I never saw from Byrd what I saw in Buffalo, where he was a great ball hawk deep safety, played the ball in the air extremely well, baited quarterbacks, very few wasted steps. He didn’t show up at all. And maybe even more concerning, I thought Kenny Vaccaro was on the cusp of making the Pro Bowl. I don’t know if it’s injury-related, if he’s not all the way back, or he just doesn’t move as well as he used to, but he’s not doing anything well right now. Maybe the week off goes a long way [with Vaccaro]. And obviously the second corner’s a nightmare. They don’t have a second corner.”
I was even more impressed by the New Orleans Saints' defensive performance after reviewing the tape of their 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints had some terrible lapses over the course of three drives in the middle of the game, so it wasn’t perfect by any stretch. Cornerback Corey White especially struggled at times, and the pass rush remains a work in progress.

But the Saints started fast and finished dominant. Their run defense was downright stifling -- thanks in large part to safety Kenny Vaccaro. And two of those touchdown drives came after bad breaks when the Saints nearly got off the field much earlier (a roughing-the-passer penalty against Junior Galette and Galette’s almost interception).

Here are more thoughts after breaking down the play-by-play:

Dominant finish: Galette’s sack for a safety midway through the fourth quarter might have been the defense’s biggest play of the season to date. He was lined up as a true 3-4 outside linebacker outside of end Cameron Jordan (something the Saints have done more often this season). The Saints ran a stunt, with Jordan consuming both the left tackle and left guard while Galette cruised inside on a delayed rush after the fullback went out for a pass.

However, that wasn’t the Saints’ only big play over the final 10:14 as they finally “finished.” Tampa Bay’s next series ended with a holding call and three straight incomplete passes. The pass coverage deserves most of the credit, since Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon couldn’t find anyone open. Keenan Lewis was especially good against Vincent Jackson on some of those plays. The Saints also got decent pressure on Glennon with a four-man rush.

Dominant/lucky start: The Buccaneers also went nowhere for the first 28 minutes of the game, gaining 94 yards with three points over their first five drives. The Saints got lucky a few times, since tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins dropped a pass on the first third-and-8, and both a 32-yard catch by running back Doug Martin and a 27-yard catch by Louis Murphy were nullified by illegal formation/shift penalties. Still, the Saints didn’t give up many legal big plays.

And the Saints -- finally -- made their own badly needed big play when cornerback Patrick Robinson made an outstanding diving catch for an interception in the second quarter. Robinson had tight coverage on Murphy, located the ball in the air and made a terrific basket catch over his shoulders -- Willie Mays style. Glennon couldn’t quite step all the way into the throw because of blitz pressure.

Vaccaro lights fire: Vaccaro was flying all over the field as the Saints got off to that fast start, often cruising into the backfield on run blitzes. He missed once or twice, but throughout the day he helped stop Martin for gains of 3, minus-5, 1, 2 and 0. Vaccaro also flew in to hit Seferian-Jenkins to help break up two passes on the first two series. Vaccaro did, however, draw two penalties for illegal hands to the face on a blitz and illegal contact.

More run stuffs: Linebacker Curtis Lofton had at least three big-time run stuffs, Jordan had two, and linebackers David Hawthorne and Parys Haralson had one each as Tampa Bay finished with a total of just 66 rushing yards on 21 carries (and one of those was a meaningless 16-yard run by Martin as time expired in regulation).

The Saints did have one ugly breakdown when Bobby Rainey walked in for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Hawthorne looked like he might have been held, but the play was so well-blocked that it might not have mattered.

White’s struggles: The worst play for the Saints’ defense was a 20-yard TD pass to Murphy on third-and-7 before halftime. Blitz pressure didn’t get anywhere near Glennon. And White let Murphy get two full yards behind him in the end zone -- after first being flagged for holding Murphy earlier on the route.

White also gave up an ugly 32-yard gain to Jackson when he allowed too much cushion on a deep comebacker, then missed an easy tackle as Jackson got up to run. And White later whiffed on a tackle against Jackson that allowed him to gain at least 15 extra yards.

White didn’t get picked on too much in coverage, though, and he did have one nice breakup on a deep throw and one big hit on Martin after a short pass.

Other low points: Safety Rafael Bush was trailing on the easy 9-yard touchdown pass to Robert Herron in the fourth quarter, but Glennon had too much time to throw against a three-man rush. ... Bush also let Jackson get behind him for an unreal 34-yard gain that seemed to happen in slow motion when Glennon floated a pass across his body under heavy pressure on a second-and-20 play. ... Hawthorne also whiffed on a tackle against Martin after a check-down pass that turned into a 20-yard gain.

Other high points: Haralson and Galette should’ve made the play of the year with Galette’s near interception in the third quarter. Haralson shot past tight end Luke Stocker on a blitz to nail Glennon, who made a horrible decision to try and shovel the ball away (sound familiar?). The ball bounced off guard Logan Mankins' helmet and popped in the air, but Galette couldn’t hang on while Mankins grabbed at his feet. ... Lewis was matched up against Jackson often and held up very well. The only one of Jackson’s big plays that came against Lewis was a 17-yarder against too much cushion. ... End Glenn Foster had a handful of nice pass rushes -- often when he and end Tyrunn Walker were being used inside as tackles. ... Linebackers Ramon Humber and Kyle Knox had two big solo sticks on kickoff returns.
NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson said it meant a lot to him when coach Sean Payton called him into his office two weeks ago and made a point to keep encouraging Robinson even though he was being demoted.

[+] EnlargePatrick Robinson
Bill Haber/AP PhotoSaints CB Patrick Robinson intercepts a pass intended for Buccaneers receiver Louis Murphy.
"That made me feel a lot better about myself, to be honest with you," Robinson said Sunday, repeating those two words with extra emphasis when he asked about the way Payton had a list made up of other NFL cornerbacks who had come back strong from being benched.

Sure enough, when the Saints needed Robinson again on Sunday in the wake of safety Jairus Byrd's season-ending knee injury, Robinson rose to the challenge.

Robinson snagged the Saints' first interception of the season during the first half of their 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also had at least one impressive pass break-up while serving as New Orleans' nickel back.

The performance wasn't perfect for anyone in the Saints' secondary -- and Robinson appeared to get lucky early in the game when quarterback Mike Glennon didn't notice a receiver running open behind Robinson after an apparent missed assignment.

But as Robinson said with cautious optimism, it was "a step forward."

"The last couple weeks, I've been playing too cautious. And I think that really hurt me, instead of just going out there and playing and believing in myself and my talent," said Robinson, a former first-round draft pick whose career has been filled with highs and lows. "You know, like everybody tells me, 'Oh, I'm talented, I'm talented.' But I have to believe in myself, too."

One of Robinson's most endearing qualities has always been his blunt honesty about himself.

But that wavering confidence is easily his most frustrating quality, as well.

It's been an issue that Robinson and teammates and coaches have always talked about. The speed, the athleticism, the playmaking instincts when a ball is in range are there. But the confidence -- and the aggressive, full-speed play that comes with it -- has come and gone.

"I think I think too much. I think I've been playing not to give up the big play," Robinson said. "And I think that really hurt me as a player, instead of just playing football, use my instincts and my talent. ...

"I practiced well, but it's hard for me to translate it to the game. And I finally did it today."

Payton agreed, saying he's been very pleased with Robinson's attitude and energy in practice "despite some adversity" and the way Robinson has continued to approach his weekly role -- even when it was just special teams.

"It's a tough game, and he has handled that well," Payton said. "I was really excited to see him make that play, and that was a big play for us."

Robinson switched roles a bit on Sunday, playing mostly inside in the slot. Typically in his career, because of his speed, he's always played on the outside even when rotating in as a third corner.

Fellow corner Corey White said those roles may switch from week to week. But he thinks the Saints' reliance on Robinson will continue.

"(The interception) was big for him, and he came up big for us," White said. "You like to see him make that play. He played very well, he's a great player, and it boosts his confidence a lot. And we're gonna need him all year."
NEW ORLEANS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints' 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Proof of character: If you know anything about the Saints, you know they’re going to be more inspired by the gritty resolve they showed in the fourth quarter of a game like this than the disturbing sins that showed up in the second and third quarters.

“Last week, our character came into question, and the leadership of this team came into question,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “So you tell me a team that’s down 11 points in the fourth quarter and you come back to win in overtime, that says it all. It talks about the character and the leadership of this locker room. You know, things aren’t always gonna be pretty. But I’ll squeak out a win like that every week.”

No Graham update: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham wasn’t spotted in the locker room, and coach Sean Payton didn’t give a specific update on his status after he left with a shoulder injury during the first half. Graham tried to play through the discomfort for two more series, but doctors and trainers ultimately decided to take him inside for further examination.

"The key is being able to function at full speed," Payton said. "So I think we were smart and got a chance to take a peek and decided we were gonna wait.”

Robinson’s redemption: No individual player earned more redemption Sunday than Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson, who returned as the nickel back following his Week 2 demotion -- and responded with the Saints’ first interception of the season.

Robinson again admitted after the game that he needs to have the same confidence in his abilities that others have in him. He said it “meant a lot” that Payton went out of his way to keep encouraging him after the demotion by sharing stories of other cornerbacks who bounced back from similar fates.
METAIRIE, La. -- Running back Mark Ingram has been officially ruled out of the New Orleans Saints' game Sunday night at the Dallas Cowboys. But center Jonathan Goodwin and linebacker David Hawthorne could potentially play after continuing to increase their workload in practice Friday.

Both Goodwin (ankle) and Hawthorne (ankle/knee) returned to team drills on a limited basis after doing individual drills Thursday. Both are officially listed as questionable for the game. At this point, it's too difficult to predict whether either player will suit up on game day. Coach Sean Payton declined to offer any hints as to their status.

Tight end Benjamin Watson (groin) is also listed as questionable but seems to have an even better chance of playing after practicing on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. And cornerback Patrick Robinson is questionable after being added to the injury list Friday. He did not practice because of a hamstring injury. If Robinson can't play, rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste could be active for the first time all season in a special teams role.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton (shoulder) is listed as probable after practicing fully on Friday.

Ingram (hand), fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) were all officialy ruled out.
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints demoted cornerback Patrick Robinson this week, but they’re not giving up on him.

FOX sideline reporter Jen Hale, who also works for New Orleans’ local FOX affiliate, reported Sunday that coach Sean Payton called Robinson in for a meeting and showed him an inspiring list of NFL cornerbacks who bounced back from demotions.

Hale tweeted a photo that included scouting breakdowns of Tim Jennings and Mike Jenkins.

Neither Payton nor Robinson had much to say about the demotion following Sunday’s 20-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

"To be honest with you, I'm just excited we got a win. So I'm in good spirits right now,” Robinson said, according to The Times-Picayune.

“Well, it's how we finished last week so it's just what we thought was best for this week," Payton said.

Third-year pro Corey White started in front of Robinson and appeared to play very well – especially when tested on a deep ball down the sideline. Veteran safety Rafael Bush returned to his 2013 role as the fifth defensive back. And rookie cornerback Brian Dixon came in on dime packages as a sixth defensive back.

Robinson did play briefly on defense while Dixon was out with a minor thumb injury. And Robinson’s special-teams role appeared to increase.

Colston bounces back: Receiver Marques Colston broke out of a mini-slump in a big way Sunday with a 7-yard catch late in the third quarter, then an 18-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter.

“Absolutely, that was a big play for us. And it was a strong play inside, which is very typical of him,” Payton said of Colston, who powered through a safety to finish the final couple yards into the end zone.

Colston went six quarters without catching a pass before that point -- including a dropped pass in the first half Sunday. But obviously it was a matter of when, not if for the Saints’ all-time leading receiver.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Colston moved into seventh place on the NFL’s all-time list with their 64th TD connection -- breaking a tie with Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry.

Hill’s big day: Earlier in the game, Brees threw a touchdown pass to his true favorite receiver -- the open man. Second-year tight end Josh Hill broke WIDE OPEN for a 34-yard touchdown against busted coverage. It was the second touchdown of Hill’s career.

Hill also got wide open for a 14-yard pass later in the game. His 48 yards Sunday were more than he had in his entire career leading up to the game (43). He also made at least two nice plays in special teams coverage, as The Advocate’s Ramon Antonio Vargas pointed out.

Hill’s day was especially important since veteran backup tight end Benjamin Watson went down with an undisclosed injury in the second half, according to Payton.

“There’s some things I have to clean up. But we came out with the win, and I was able to make a few plays. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Hill said.

Worth noting:
  • The Saints are 26-0 all time under Payton when not committing a turnover.
  • The Saints are the eighth team in NFL history and the first since the 2008 Dallas Cowboys to average at least 280 passing yards and 140 rushing yards through the first three games of the season.
  • The combined 29 points were the fewest in a Saints home game since Minnesota’s last visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the 2010 opener, which the saints won 14-9.
Worth repeating:
  • RB Pierre Thomas on if it would be easier to sleep after the win: “I’m going to sleep real well tonight. I’m going to sleep with a smile on my face. It’s been rough the last two weeks, but we’ve put that behind us and are moving forward. Now it’s on to the next one.”
  • OT Zach Strief on the Saints still not being where they want to be, according to Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan: "I would consider that a frustrating game. We had a chance to put that game early and didn't do it. That's not a complete game."
METAIRIE, La. -- Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reiterated Friday that the New Orleans Saints' early struggles are "on us" as a defense -- and "on me" in particular.

"Hey, those are the facts," Ryan said during his weekly visit with the media. "You don’t like to admit ‘em standing up here, but it’s the damn truth. ...

"We want to be great on defense, we want to be a little tiny part of our success. And we’ve been a big part of our failure right now. It’s not how we’re going to roll."

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSaints coordinator Rob Ryan on his defense after the Saints' 0-2 start: "We've been a big part of our failure right now. It's not how we're going to roll."
Ryan said that improvement will come through hard work and long hours of "looking for any kind of edge you can get."

It’s unlikely that drastic changes will be called for, since the Saints thrived on defense last season with the same coordinator and most of the same players. But there will almost certainly be tweaks.

The most likely switch is at the No. 2 cornerback spot, where the Saints replaced starter Patrick Robinson with Corey White during last week’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Saints have not announced whether that will be a permanent change, but it’s obviously a possibility. Safety Rafael Bush could also see more snaps as the fifth defensive back in nickel packages -- the role he played for most of last season.

Some scheme tweaks could also be in store.

Even though the secondary is loaded with experienced veterans, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they have struggled with communication and assignment errors after releasing three longtime starters in the offseason (safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, and cornerback Jabari Greer).

When asked if that takes time to develop with new guys working together (like new safety Jairus Byrd and Robinson returning from a year-long injury), Ryan said, "Obviously it does."

"Those guys played with each other for a long time," Ryan said of Jenkins, Harper and Greer. "They know the system inside and out. So the communication was obviously excellent. But obviously these guys will take a little bit of getting used to each other and getting on the right page and the same page.

"That can also be helped with our plan. Doing things one way instead of three ways, and things like that. But we have to improve, we know that, we’re working on it and we have to get there."

When I asked Greer to scout the Saints’ secondary heading into this season, he agreed with the outside consensus that the Saints might be "as talented as they’ve been in a very long time." But he quickly brought up the importance of things like communication and chemistry with new players.

"Talent doesn't necessarily equal success," Greer said at the time. "Communication and leadership and understanding each other's roles, working together with each other's strengths and safeties covering up the corners' weaknesses, that equals success. And that is yet to be determined. ...

"Because given the departure of the veteran leaders in the secondary, that was the big question coming into the season. So I'm interested in seeing who's taking that leadership position, how they're going to rally the troops, and really how they're gonna communicate effectively."

Greer said typically the safeties take over that leadership role because they are known as the "quarterbacks" of the defense, responsible for making calls and checks.

Kenny Vaccaro has talked often about embracing that type of leadership role, even though he is in just his second year. But he said this week that leadership should be a collaborative effort rather than a forced one.

"I think the worst thing that can happen is when you anoint a guy and not just let him prove himself," Vaccaro said. "You don’t want to just give a guy that position. It’ll happen on its own, honestly. And I think we’ve got a lot of leaders in the secondary. So I don’t know if a guy will get kinged as a leader of the secondary.

"I think everybody has their own qualities, and we all just bring that together. ... We gather each other together."

Vaccaro said Jenkins (a former defensive captain) used to be known for his "powerful speeches" before games. He said that neither he nor Byrd is a "speech guy" and that they are both guys who prefer to lead by example.

"We talked about that (Wednesday)," Vaccaro said of him and Byrd. "We talked about we’re gonna have to just ride with each other and we’re gonna have to get out of our comfort zone. ... Definitely, though, I think we work all together."
METAIRIE, La. – Patrick Robinson said being pulled from the starting lineup last week is a big thing. But the New Orleans Saints cornerback said there’s only one way to respond to it.

“That’s something big, but you still gotta deal with it, no matter if it’s hard to deal with or not,” Robinson said. “You know, you mess up, you gotta own up to it. And try to get better from there.”

[+] EnlargePatrick Robinson
David Richard/AP PhotoSaints cornerback Patrick Robinson has had plenty of misses in the first two weeks of the season.
The Saints haven’t given any indication yet this week if they plan to make a permanent change at the No. 2 cornerback job.

Robinson was replaced in the Saints’ base defense by cornerback Corey White last week at Cleveland after a handful of early miscues. Robinson came back onto the field in nickel packages and had a couple more highs and lows in the 26-24 loss to the Browns.

The most costly error was Robinson’s 19-yard pass interference penalty on a third-down play in the first quarter when he didn’t turn back to locate the ball in the air. Also in the first quarter, Robinson also allowed a short touchdown pass and was penalized for jumping offsides on a field goal attempt (though safety Kenny Vaccaro actually jumped first).

Late in the game, Robinson was also penalized for defensive holding, which was declined during the Browns’ final 28-yard pass play that was loaded with defensive breakdowns.

Robinson echoed the thoughts of teammates and coaches throughout the week that all of those things are big issues – but small details that can be corrected.

“As far as me not playing, that’s a lot of motivation for me, pretty much. You know, to fine-tune my small details, like my eyes. And instead of turning to the receiver, turn back to the quarterback and look up, and not look back,” Robinson said. “Small things like that, you know, that make a big difference if I make the play or if it’s pass interference.”

Robinson said the message sent to the entire team this week has been, “We’ve just gotta play fast and smart.”

“You know, we made some dumb mistakes that cost us games, plain and simple,” said Robinson, who also was beaten on two mid-range passes in a Week 1 overtime loss at Atlanta. “We’ve gotta play smart, and we’ve gotta play faster than we are. … It’s as simple as that, to be honest.”

Film study: Reviewing Saints' defense

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
One of football’s classic sayings is that the film is never as bad or good as you think it’s going to be. The New Orleans Saints’ defensive performance in Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns was a perfect example.

For much of this game, the Saints played very well. They limited the Browns to just 4.5 yards per play, a rate which would have ranked second in the NFL last year behind only the Seattle Seahawks.

The Saints’ tackling in the open field was outstanding. They didn’t get burned by many of the play-action passes that Cleveland loves to run. And they were totally prepared for Johnny Manziel, who did squat on his three snaps.

What does all of that mean? The Saints’ defense is at least trending in the right direction after being decimated by missed tackles and big plays in Week 1.

But that’s where the good news ends.

Because once again, the Saints didn’t make enough big, game-changing plays (zero turnovers and only one sack). And they shot themselves in the foot with a handful of penalties and assignment errors.

It was those situational breakdowns that Sean Payton was talking about Monday when the Saints’ tape turned into a horror film.

Here are some more observations:

That final play: We’ve already shined the spotlight on this one quite a bit. With 13 seconds remaining, receiver Andrew Hawkins broke wide open for a 28-yard catch after cornerbacks Corey White and Keenan Lewis both chose to cover receiver Miles Austin out of a “trips” formation. Payton explained that the “point man” was supposed to stay on top and follow Hawkins. I have a pretty good guess of whom Payton meant, but I don’t want to speculate since I don’t know for a fact.

The play started ugly when cornerback Patrick Robinson was late adjusting to receiver Taylor Gabriel going in motion over to the “trips” side. Safety Jairus Byrd had to shout for Robinson to follow Gabriel. Robinson did, but then he had to grab Gabriel as he ran past and was flagged for a defensive holding penalty that was declined.

It also didn’t help that the Saints didn’t get immediate pressure on quarterback Brian Hoyer, even though they blitzed seven men on the play.

The penalties: The three other plays that infuriated Payton most were penalties: a 19-yard pass interference against Robinson in the first quarter and two offside calls in the first and fourth quarters.

Robinson almost did the right thing on the pass interference, turning to look for the ball just as he collided with Gabriel. But it was too much contact and the ball was overthrown anyway. Robinson must get better at locating the ball if he’s allowed to remain in the lineup (though he did respond with a nice pass breakup on a deep ball later Sunday).

The first offside penalty (which nullified a missed field goal by the Browns) was called against Robinson, but safety Kenny Vaccaro actually jumped first. Vaccaro was also the one who jumped early during the Browns’ game-winning drive, nullifying a tackle for loss that would have given the Browns a third-and-11. That was the penalty that had Payton shouting at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on the sideline.

The pass rush: I counted 19 blitzes for the Saints, while ESPN Stats & Information had 21. It was mostly effective – until that final play, at least. Although Hoyer moved the chains with some good, quick throws to his hot reads, he completed only 10 of 19 passes for 64 yards against the blitz before that final throw. The Saints’ lone sack came on a blitz on that final drive.

The Saints’ pass rush was most disappointing during Cleveland’s 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. They didn’t blitz Hoyer once as he went 4-for-4, including conversions on third-and-13 and third-and-4.

Jordan had a solid game, though. He batted down two passes, and he did an excellent job of keeping containment on Hoyer after play-action fakes. Galette also had a few nice moments, including the sack and a forced holding penalty.

More good stuff: I only noted two real missed tackles – a huge turnaround from last week. Vaccaro was especially good in that department, with at least three great open-field stops that prevented first downs. Byrd, Lewis and Curtis Lofton also had nice open-field stops. … The run defense was mostly good, aside from three big plays (see below). … Since I don’t do a special-teams review, I’ll mention punter Thomas Morstead here. He was outstanding, especially when he pinned the Browns back on their 4-yard line for that final drive.

More bad stuff: Austin burned Robinson with a sharp cut for an easy 3-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. … Four times, Cleveland eventually converted first downs after starting with third-and-12 or third-and-13. The Saints had decent coverage in every instance and twice they forced the Browns to convert fourth downs. But they’ll still be kicking themselves over those missed opportunities. … Robinson and White each gave too much cushion on third-and-short passes that were completed. … The three big runs: Terrance West gained 15 yards in the first quarter when three Saints defenders fell like dominoes. Linebacker David Hawthorne tried to backtrack his way out of traffic, but he wound up getting knocked into Lofton. Byrd had one of the few missed tackles on the day when Isaiah Crowell made a sharp cutback for a 17-yard gain in the third quarter. And West’s 9-yard TD run in the third quarter was well blocked, with Jordan unable to catch him from behind after going around the corner.
METAIRIE, La. -- Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan pointed the blame for the New Orleans Saints' 0-2 start squarely toward himself and the defense during an interview on the WWL Radio coaches' show on Monday night.

Like Sean Payton did earlier in the day, Ryan pointed to the defense's inability to finish and to assignment errors that have plagued the team in certain situations.

"Every two-minute situation we've had this year, we've blown," Ryan said, pointing to the end of both halves in Week 1 at Atlanta and the final drive in Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. "We want to be a great defense, and great defenses always finish. And that's something you just have to point the finger at us, and we have to get corrected."

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Rob Ryan
(Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images"Every two-minute situation we've had this year, we've blown," Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.
Ryan said the defense has to do a better job of communicating. Obviously the most egregious example was a coverage breakdown on Cleveland's final offensive play, when cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Corey White both covered the same receiver, leaving another wide open.

"These communication errors can't keep happening. Or we're just killing the team right now," Ryan said. "We know we're solely responsible for the two losses that we have. Our offense has been doing great, our special teams have been doing great.

"Hey, we have some good effort in places, and we've got some guys playing well. But as a unit that we take pride in, we've definitely failed us two weeks in a row."

When asked if the lack of practice time in the preseason for injured defensive backs like Jairus Byrd and Patrick Robinson is part of the problem, Ryan said nobody is saying that at all.

"We've limited our checks, and we still busted some things. So we can't have that. And that's not our style of play," Ryan said. "Right now, we need to develop our style of play and prove who we are. Right now we're not very good.

"We're gonna be great, we're gonna work at it. We've got the players, I know we've got the coaches here too. So together we've gotta do better quickly."

Some of the plays that irked both Payton and Ryan were obvious -- that final play and two pre-snap offside penalties (on Robinson in the first quarter and on Kenny Vaccaro on the final drive). It was Vaccaro's offside penalty that led to the moment when TV cameras captured Payton shouting and pointing at Ryan on the sideline.

Interestingly, both coaches also brought up a specific reference during their coaches' show interviews to a third-and-4 or third-and-3 play where the defense backed up and gave a receiver too much cushion.

Payton called it a "common sense thing we've got to correct." And Ryan said it was an "awareness issue you can't have," calling it "inexcusable" and "all on me."

Reviewing the tape, it appears that they might have been referencing a third-quarter play in which the Saints' defensive backs were still communicating right up until the snap as the Browns receivers motioned into a different formation, and Robinson backed up at the last moment before an easy 6-yard pass to Miles Austin.

Ryan was also asked about needing to get more of a pass rush out of the front four. He said that's absolutely needed, but he insisted he's confident the Saints can do that going forward.

And Ryan pointed out that the Saints defense wasn't exactly "gangbusters" in its first two games last year, despite a 2-0 start after two close victories.

Loomis' take: Saints general manager Mickey Loomis also spoke Monday at the Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club. Loomis said, "There's no way to sugarcoat being 0-2," but he stressed that they have been total team losses and can't be pinned on any one unit, as chronicled by The Times-Picayune.
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t give any indication Monday as to whether he intends to make a permanent change at the cornerback position after starter Patrick Robinson was demoted to the nickel back role during Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

However, fellow cornerback Keenan Lewis offered a passionate defense of his teammate Monday morning, after Robinson took a brunt of the criticism following the defeat.

“I’m going to root for him until the end. That’s my brother, and I feel he is one of the best in the league,” Lewis said, according to The Times-Picayune.

"A lot of people will sit there and say a ‘bad day,’ but only thing he gave up was 40 yards one time," Lewis said. "You see guys giving up three or four touchdowns a game. It's a part of football. … Look around on Sunday and there guys who caught 200 yards, three touchdowns. What do you say about those type of guys?"

The biggest play Robinson allowed Sunday was a 19-yard pass interference penalty in the first quarter, though he also committed two other costly penalties in the game (one during a Browns' missed field-goal attempt and one during the Browns' final play that included multiple coverage errors).

"Those guys (the Browns) are professionals too, and they made some good plays," Lewis said. "Just to lean on him and say he had a bad game I would say that ain't fair towards him. And as a teammate I think he is one of the best."

Robinson was not available for comment Monday.

Certainly, neither Payton nor any Saints players pinned Sunday’s loss solely on Robinson’s shoulders. They talked at length Monday about several “situational” issues where the Saints made mental errors or had assignment breakdowns in every unit.

However, Robinson was involved in a handful of those for the second straight week. And his miscues were highlighted by the fact that Payton decided to make the in-game switch.

It was reminiscent of when Payton yanked starting left tackle Charles Brown during last season’s loss at St. Louis. And Brown never returned to the lineup.

"Listen, it was just based on those early series," Payton said Monday when asked about the cornerback switch. "He ended up playing in nickel, and Corey [White] has been getting a bunch of snaps in the base. So it’s something I just felt like it was the best thing to do."

Patrick Robinson's struggles continue

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CLEVELAND -- As New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said after Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, cornerback Patrick Robinson was hardly the only one with "muddy hands."

[+] EnlargePatrick Robinson
David Richard/AP PhotoSaints CB Patrick Robinson breaks up a pass to Browns receiver Travis Benjamin in the second quarter during Sunday's Week 2 game.
But no individual player will be more under the microscope going forward than the Saints' No. 2 cornerback, who was demoted to the role of nickel cornerback after two blown coverages in the first quarter Sunday.

"He's an easy target. I'm sure there's a ton of stuff he'll want to clean up. But there's a lot of muddy hands just to be singling out one player," Payton said. "He's gonna work to improve, and we've gotta look overall at how we're helping not just him, but the rest of those guys."

Payton later added he understands why the media had questions about Robinson. And the mid-game switch was reminiscent of Payton yanking left tackle Charles Brown from the starting lineup late last season.

But when asked if he might make a permanent switch, Payton said, "I'm not gonna discuss changes on Sunday after a game."

The Saints have other options -- but no sure things at a position that has become a much bigger concern than hoped this summer, when Robinson, Champ Bailey and Corey White were fighting for the role.

White was the one who replaced Robinson in base defense Sunday -- which could potentially become a permanent switch. And Bailey remains unsigned on the open market, so he can't be ruled out as a possibility.

The Saints have two rookie corners on the roster in Brian Dixon and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, though both are still developing players. Jean-Baptiste has been inactive for both games so far, while Dixon has been used on special teams.

Or the Saints could continue to show the faith in Robinson that they showed in him when he beat out Bailey for the starting job in the first place this summer.

Robinson, a first-round draft pick in 2010, has had a roller-coaster career because of inconsistent play and injuries. But players and coaches have always raved about his raw talent and athleticism.

It's Robinson's confidence and consistency that need work. And it's hard to imagine these first two weeks have helped with Robinson's confidence. He also got beat for two deep balls last week at Atlanta.

"Just got to keep working," Robinson said Sunday, according to The Advocate. "You've got to keep working to get it right. Well, I'm not sure it's going to come overnight -- just have to keep working on my assignments, my technique. Simple as that."

Robinson's struggles began on the Browns' second series, when he was flagged for a 19-yard pass interference penalty on a third-and-7 play, even though the pass intended for receiver Taylor Gabriel was overthrown. Then, five plays later, Robinson got beat by a double move on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin.

On the next series, after he had been demoted to nickelback, Robinson was flagged for a neutral zone infraction, which nullified a missed field goal by Cleveland.

Robinson did settle in better for the rest of the game -- at one point making a great play to bat away a deep pass. But he added one more defensive holding penalty on the Browns' final offensive penalty (which would have been more egregious if the Browns hadn't declined the penalty because of an even worse coverage breakdown across the field).

Saints pin bad start on bad finishes

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CLEVELAND -- "Finish Strong."

It's one of the most famous expressions in the history of the New Orleans Saints -- the slogan for their 2009 Super Bowl season.

Well, it might be time to dust off those old T-shirts again. Because the Saints are a stunning 0-2 after losing each of their first two games in the final seconds.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesDrew Brees and the Saints couldn't quite get a handle on the Browns and fell to 0-2.
That word, "finish," was practically the first one out of every player's and coach's lips Sunday after the Cleveland Browns kicked a game-winning field goal with three seconds left to cap a 26-24 victory over New Orleans. As quarterback Drew Brees said, the Saints are "literally" two plays away from being 2-0.

Yes, everyone recognized that the game was filled with plenty of ugly moments, including cornerback Patrick Robinson's early struggles and Brees' interception that was returned for a touchdown and an early 16-3 Cleveland lead.

But for the second straight week, the Saints were leading the game when the clock was down to single digits.

And there were no bigger regrets than the blown coverage that set up Cleveland's game-winning field goal or the sack that knocked the Saints out of field-goal range three minutes earlier.

"There's a fine line between winning and losing. A fine line," said Brees, who pointed out that last year, the Saints also had two up-and-down games to start the season but they made those plays in the final seconds and started 2-0.

"The challenge in this locker room this week is going to be to stay together, to be tight, to understand that the difference between us being 2-0 and 0-2 is making plays at the end. And that's both sides of the ball," insisted veteran offensive tackle Zach Strief, who pinned the loss as much on the offense as the defense. "We had opportunities two weeks in a row to close that game out. And we didn't do it either time."

There were no innocents in the Saints' loss Sunday. As coach Sean Payton said when asked specifically about Robinson's series of costly mistakes in the first quarter, "There's a lot of muddy hands to just to be singling out one player."

But in the spirit of not being able to finish, most of the blame from this one will fall on the secondary, which saved its ugliest miscue for last.

Cleveland won the game with a 14-play, 85-yard field goal drive after starting on its own 4-yard line. The dagger was the final pass -- a 28-yarder to wide-open receiver Andrew Hawkins with six seconds left at the Saints' 11-yard line.

The Saints went with a blitz and man coverage on the play, which Browns players said surprised them. And at least one Saints defender missed his assignment. Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Corey White both went to cover receiver Miles Austin out of a trips formation on the right side.

No one covered Hawkins.

To make matters worse, Robinson was also flagged for defensive holding across the field on the play -- a penalty the Browns declined.

"Little things like that are troubling," Payton said in the understatement of the day.

White said after the game that the Saints were still "trying to figure out" what went wrong on that play, but he didn't shy away from the responsibility.

"When it comes down to the last play, you've got to make it," White said. "It doesn't matter what happens before that. We always talk about, 'Next play.'"

There were some positives for the Saints' defense. Those missed tackles that plagued them last week at Atlanta were cleaned up quickly. And the Saints gave up a total of only 202 passing yards on Sunday.

But 76 of those yards came on the final drive.

"Obviously we've gotta fix something. That's two losses where we didn't finish," Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "We've just got to get together and do more, man."