NFL Nation: Drew Brees

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

No quarterback in the NFL has been worse while under duress this year than Drew Brees, who needs to start making better decisions under pressure when the Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night.

Brees now has a league-worst passer rating of 19.4 when he's either under duress or being hit, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a number that has plummeted with three ugly interceptions over the past two games against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees has completed 20 of 47 passes for 199 yards while under pressure with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks.

The good news is Brees has been under pressure on only 20.4 percent of his dropbacks this year -- a rate that ranks sixth best among NFL teams once you throw out the sack against punter Thomas Morstead on a flopped fake punt at the Dallas Cowboys.

And, at times, Brees and the Saints' offensive line have looked outstanding, like they did during the first three-plus quarters at Detroit this past Sunday, when Brees completed 26 of 32 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

But then suddenly, the Saints line couldn't seem to block anyone in the Lions' stifling defensive front as they coughed up a 13-point lead in a stunning 24-23 loss. Brees threw a career-high 10 straight incomplete passes in the fourth quarter -- including a game-changing interception he admitted was too telegraphed.

Left tackle Terron Armstead got beat on that play, and he allowed at least three pressures in the fourth quarter. So did guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Right tackle Zach Strief allowed at least two.

Saints coach Sean Payton expressed very little concern over Brees, though, when asked if he thinks he's pressing too much.

"No, I don't," Payton said. "Obviously [you] want to have the one interception back, but I felt like his decision-making and rhythm, I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during the practice week was outstanding. He's going to be just fine. He's the least of our worries."
DETROIT -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton became terse when questioned about his decision to keep throwing the ball with a six-point lead and 3:38 remaining in Sunday's game.

In hindsight, the decision backfired with quarterback Drew Brees eventually throwing an interception on third-and-9 that allowed the Detroit Lions to come back for a 24-23 victory.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Paul SancyaSean Payton decided to go pass-heavy late against the Lions, a decision that ended up biting quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints.
"Three minutes, 30 seconds, three timeouts. That's like seven minutes," Payton said when asked why he chose not to start running out the clock at that point. Then he snapped, "Next question. Next smart question."

Payton returned to the question soon after, though, and explained that it would have been easy to second-guess the play calls in that situation either way.

And for what it's worth, I agree -- especially on a day when the Saints' run game was being silenced by a stifling Detroit defensive front.

Last year, for instance, Payton was criticized for choosing to run in a similar situation and allowing the New England Patriots time to march down the field for a late come-from-behind win.

"You get in that situation, and it's tough ... Hand it off three times, and there's two minutes, 48 seconds, more than that. So you go back and forth," Payton said. "It's less than a one-score game. We were in those situations last year. When the team's got three timeouts, and the team's got north of 3:30, 3:40 -- that's a ton of time. ..."

Payton was then interrupted and asked if he didn't think his defense could make a stop.

"I'm answering a question. Be quiet. ... Will you let me finish?" Payton shot back. "We made the decision at that point in the game with what we were wanting to do. I made it. Now it's easy when it doesn't work out to come back and [question it]. Now, if we hand that ball off and end up punting, then it's easy for you to sit in here and ask the same question again."

The Saints went with a pass-heavy mentality all day. But it was hard to second-guess the approach based on the results. The Saints' tailbacks gained 55 yards on 19 carries (an average of 2.9 yards per carry). Brees, meanwhile, completed 28 of 45 passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Brees' numbers were even better over the first three-plus quarters, when he completed 26 of his first 32 passes for 335 yards. But the passing game suddenly collapsed, with Brees completing just two of his final 13 passes for a total of 7 yards, including the interception.

Afterward, Brees fell on the sword, saying he let the team down.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Somehow the Saints (2-4) managed to come up with their ugliest, most painful loss yet in a season filled with them. They blew a 23-10 lead with less than four minutes remaining thanks to huge breakdowns by the defense and quarterback Drew Brees.

The defense allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate and a 5-yard TD pass to Corey Fuller in the final minutes, and Brees threw an interception inside his own territory as the lead -- and possibly the season -- rapidly disintegrated.

The only saving grace for New Orleans is that the entire NFC South is in turmoil, with no teams over .500. And the Saints still have six home games remaining. But they can't expect to win anything if they can't close out games.

Stock watch: Brees' stock rose and fell dramatically in this game. He was clutch for 56 minutes, finally rediscovering his receivers on a day when tight end Jimmy Graham and the run game were nonfactors. But Brees threw his most costly interception of the season from his own 29-yard line with 3:20 remaining. Safety Glover Quin cut in front of a pass intended for receiver Marques Colston to snag the pick on third-and-9.

Brees was then unable to march his team back in the final minutes for a possible game-winning field goal, completing just 2 of 7 passes on the final desperate drive with only one first down. He finished 28-of-45 for 342 yards, two touchdowns (including a 46-yard strike to Kenny Stills) and the one interception.

The defense was just as much of a roller coaster, with interceptions by Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro nullified by the late breakdowns.

Graham a nonfactor: Graham did play and probably wound up playing close to 20 or 30 snaps by unofficial count. But he was targeted only twice and didn't catch a pass. It’s unclear if the Saints intentionally left him out of the game plan or if he was covered on plays designed for him. He is heading in the right direction with his shoulder injury, though -- and the Saints will need him going forward.

Game ball: Colston and Stills reluctantly get the nod since Brees and the defensive backs had too many highs and lows. Colston hauled in six receptions for 111 yards, many of them resulting in big hits over the middle. And Stills caught five passes for 103 yards and the 46-yard TD on a day when the Saints absolutely needed their receivers to come through.

What's next: The opponents don't get any easier for the Saints, who host the sizzling Green Bay Packers (5-2) next Sunday night. But the Saints love the setting. They have won 13 straight prime-time games inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by an average of roughly 20 points per game.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Like everyone else a few days before the 2006 NFL draft, Reggie Bush thought he would be moving to Texas. As the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, the electric running back figured he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Then Houston stunned everyone and the night before the draft hinted that Mario Williams, not Bush, would be the No. 1 overall selection.

"I was preparing to go to Houston, and we found out the same way everybody else found out, on SportsCenter,” Bush said. "That was that. That was my first real introduction to the business side of football.

"I got an introduction really quick."

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush started his NFL journey with New Orleans and will play against the Saints for the first time on Sunday as a Detroit Lion.
It was that same night, on the eve of the draft, that Sean Payton called his quarterback, Drew Brees, and told him "I think we are going to get this guy."

Bush’s presence gave the New Orleans Saints a dynamic offensive weapon to add to a backfield that included starter Deuce McAllister at the time. It helped open up the New Orleans offense, and they couldn’t really believe their luck.

Bush fell right into their plans, giving them a game-breaking running back who could catch passes out of the backfield.

"Pure excitement," Brees said. "I think mainly because nobody thought that was even an option."

On Sunday, Bush will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Miami prior to the 2011 season for safety Jonathan Amaya and a swap of sixth-round picks.

The marriage between Bush and the Saints lasted five seasons and one Super Bowl before the team drafted another former Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, all but signaling Bush’s departure from New Orleans.

Payton said this week that he called Bush before the trade happened. Bush called the decision to pursue a trade and leave New Orleans "a mutual decision" and soon enough Bush was on to Miami and then, eventually, Detroit.

"It was nothing that was unexpected," Bush said. "I don’t have any bitterness toward the team or anybody. It’s part of the business side, the business side of our sport.

"Sometimes it can be ugly, but at the end of the day we all sign on the dotted line and we understand how it works."

Not only will Sunday be the first time Bush faces the team that drafted him, it’ll likely be the first time he talks with Payton since the trade. Bush said Friday the two have exchanged messages through other people but have not spoken directly – but that he plans on talking to him at some point Sunday.

In Bush’s five seasons in New Orleans, he played in 60 games, ran for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 294 passes for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the four seasons since he left the Saints, he has played in 50 games, rushed for 4,475 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 152 passes for 1,236 yards and six touchdowns.

He also had the first two 1,000-yard rushing seasons of his career after he left the Saints -- including last season with the Lions.

"He's someone that obviously was an important player for us," Payton said. "Whenever you're able to win a championship, and we were able to with that team in 2009, at that point it validates every selection, every trade, and every signing that brought you to that moment."

Bush, though, tried to downplay facing his former team Sunday -- even if he and another former Saints player, Isa Abdul-Quddus, are two of the team’s captains this week. And Bush acknowledged that it is probably no coincidence he was named a captain this week against New Orleans.

His head coach is pretty savvy like that, but Bush wants to treat it like a typical game -- but acknowledged if the game were in New Orleans instead of Detroit, the approach would be a bit different.

"I’m not going to try and make it more than that, because we still have a job to do and I don’t want to get caught trying to do too much," Bush said. "I think learning from experience in the past, when I’ve tried to do too much, it never really works out the way you want it to and you end up making a few mistakes.

"So for me, I’m going to go into the game with the same mindset I do every game."

All that will change is the opponent on the other side will look very familiar.
METAIRIE, La. -- It's almost impossible to define Reggie Bush's tenure with the New Orleans Saints -- except to say he was one of the most memorable players in franchise history.

Bush certainly didn't live up to the immense hype, but how could he? The former USC Trojan was supposed to be the next Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders rolled into one.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush arrived in New Orleans following a 3-13 season in which the Saints relocated to San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina.
At the same time, it wouldn't be anywhere close to accurate to describe Bush as a "bust." He finished his five-year stretch from 2006-10 with more than 2,000 rushing yards, more than 2,000 receiving yards and a total of 38 touchdowns, including the playoffs. There were frustrating bouts with injuries and inconsistency. But there were also plenty of jaw-dropping moments as a runner, receiver and punt returner -- including some of his greatest during the Super Bowl run in 2009 and the NFC Championship Game run in 2006.

Statistically speaking, Bush has had more success with his current team, the Detroit Lions, and with his previous team, the Miami Dolphins -- averaging more than 1,000 rushing yards per season since 2011.

But unless Bush winds up leading a Super Bowl parade through the streets of Detroit, it’s hard to imagine him making a bigger impact anywhere else.

“[Former New York Giants general manager] Ernie Accorsi said it once, 'When you win a world championship, at that moment it validates every selection and decision and signing that brings you to that point,'" Saints coach Sean Payton said. "[Bush] being included, obviously. He was very good in that game (Super Bowl XLIV). And in the years that he spent with us, he was very instrumental in what we became. From the minute he was drafted, for those people that were here at that time, that was a significant step for us.”

The Saints will face Bush on Sunday at Detroit for the first time since they mutually decided to part ways in 2011 with a trade to Miami.

“He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen play the game. He’s one of those guys that you tell your kids about as far as his athleticism,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who arrived in New Orleans less than two months before Bush as a free agent in 2006. “I’m not sure if there has been a player where there was as much hype and excitement for coming out in the draft as Reggie Bush. Maybe you could argue 'Johnny Football' this year. But he was the man.”

Brees recalled the elation throughout the Saints organization -- and the entire New Orleans community -- when Bush unexpectedly fell to the No. 2 pick in 2006 after the Houston Texans decided to draft pass-rusher Mario Williams on the eve of the draft.

That was on the heels of arguably the worst season in franchise history, when the Saints had to relocate to San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina and finished 3-13 before dumping coach Jim Haslett and quarterback Aaron Brooks.

“Sean and I have had conversations about this, about just him being in the room and realizing that moment when it happened that Reggie Bush just fell in our lap. 'Are you kidding me?'" Brees said. “Not only the type of player that he was, all of the things that he could do on the field, but I think what this city needed was somebody like that to be drafted here and the excitement that that brought, lifting everyone’s spirits and giving them hope. That was huge.”

The divorce also worked out for both teams. The Saints quickly replaced Bush with free agent Darren Sproles, who was even more electrifying in that 2011 season in a similar runner/receiver role.

And Bush got his wish to become more of a featured runner in Miami, where he had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2011 and has followed with at least 986 yards every year since.

Perhaps most importantly, Bush has stayed healthy over the past four years (though he’s ironically nursing an ankle injury this week that he’s expected to play through).

But Bush, now 29, has also matured as runner, showing better vision and patience inside instead of wanting to turn his runs outside and use his speed around the corner.

“I think he’s definitely matured from my times playing against him when he was here. He’s become an all-around running back instead of just being treated as a wide receiver or a gimmick guy,” said Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton, who used to face Bush as a member of the rival Atlanta Falcons.

“With a player like him, we knew going into the game how he was going to be used. So it made it, I wouldn’t say easy to game-plan for him, but we knew what he was going to be doing,” Lofton said. “Now when he’s in the backfield at running back, you don’t know what he’s going to do. He can run it downhill, he could run a reverse, can line up as a wide receiver, so I think that makes their offense very multiple by using him in those ways.”
To further illustrate why I don't think Drew Brees' arm strength is the reason for the New Orleans Saints' struggles to get the ball downfield, I broke down some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information.

Brees has completed just 1 of 4 passes this season that traveled 38 yards or more in the air (including his underthrown interception to Robert Meachem last week, but also including a gorgeous 46-yard pass to Kenny Stills a week earlier).

That's not great, but it's not unusual. The entire NFL has completed a total of 29 such passes this season out of 93 attempts (31.2 percent).

In 2011, when Brees had one of the greatest passing seasons in NFL history, he completed 3 of 9 throws that traveled 38 yards or more in the air. In 2009, when they won a Super Bowl, he was 4 of 15.

It's not a good way to measure arm strength, since such throws are simply difficult to pull off in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles, for instance, is 1 of 12 on such throws this season. Only four quarterbacks have completed more than two of them this season (Kirk Cousins 4-of-7, Matthew Stafford 4-of-8, Tony Romo 3-of-6 and Brian Hoyer 3-of-7).

The bigger issue, as I wrote earlier Tuesday in my “Film Don't Lie" breakdown of the Saints' downfield passing game, is that the Saints have been unable to get the ball downfield consistently to their wide receivers from all distances.

And there are a number of reasons for it -- including Brees' lack of timing or placement on some of those downfield throws. He admitted he needs to get a better feel for those throws again. I just don't believe it's simply a matter of arm strength with Brees, who still has shown plenty of his usual zip on intermediate throws.

The Film Don’t Lie: Saints

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

The Saints need to rediscover their downfield passing game during the bye, especially with potential shootouts looming at Detroit in Week 7 and versus Green Bay in Week 8.

The deep ball has been fading since last season for a number of reasons. But it was noticeably absent during Sunday’s 37-31 overtime victory over Tampa Bay.

Drew Brees completed 35 of 57 passes for 371 yards. But only four completions went to receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem. Brees was 2-of-6 on throws of 20 yards or more in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information data, with no touchdowns and one interception (an underthrown deep ball for Meachem when he took a shot on third-and-long late in regulation).

As I wrote previously, I don’t believe it’s an arm-strength issue with Brees. He still has plenty of zip on intermediate throws and completed a gorgeous 46-yard pass to Stills two weeks ago. But Brees is definitely rusty on the long throws, and he admitted he needs to “get the feel for that again.”

Defenses deserve credit. They’ve clearly made it a priority to take away that element, which is partly why the Saints’ run game has had so much success dating back to late last season. And Brees has also remained efficient while feeding shorter passes to tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Brandin Cooks and running backs.

The receivers deserve some blame. Colston might have as many as seven drops this season, depending on your grading scale. And though I can’t accurately say whether receivers are getting less separation, there have been some deep throws for Meachem and Joe Morgan in which the corners were in position to make great pass break-ups even when throws looked on target.

Against Tampa Bay, Brees was also dealing with consistent pressure in his face from tackle Gerald McCoy. That’s not to make excuses -- but to point out that more than one fix is needed.
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints should've blown the doors off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. They were at home, they were up 13-0, and they had a struggling opponent on their heels.

But in a twisted sort of way, allowing Tampa Bay to rattle off 24 unanswered points might just turn out to be the best thing that could've happened.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Bill HaberDespite three interceptions, quarterback Drew Brees helped lead the Saints to a key division win.
The Saints (2-3) rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 37-31 in overtime -- and who knows, maybe salvaged their season in the process.

"This was a game that by winning, I think could be a defining moment when we look back on the season, when it's all said and done," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who helped rally the Saints after putting them in a bind with two ugly interceptions.

"Last week, our character came into question, and the leadership of this team came into question," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said of the Saints' 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. "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."

Things definitely were not always pretty. In fact, the Saints tried to turn this into their ugliest loss of the season -- which would have been quite an accomplishment this year.

Brees' first interception set up a Tampa Bay touchdown, and his second one was returned 33 yards for another score. During that same stretch, the Saints' defense started reeling as well, leaving some of those gaping holes in coverage and run defense that we saw in the first four weeks.

But with 13:28 remaining and the Buccaneers leading 31-20, the Saints essentially decided to take their season back.

The offense leaned heavily on running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson to score nine more points in regulation and six more on the opening drive in overtime.

And the defense went into its own version of "beast mode," led by outside linebacker Junior Galette sacking Mike Glennon for a safety with 6:44 remaining -- thanks to an assist from a frenzied Superdome crowd that also stepped up its game while the Bucs were backing up with delay of game and false start penalties.

The Saints' pass rush still needs to get home more often, but the best thing about the defense's performance throughout the day was its aggressive, attacking approach that led to a handful of big plays. Galette, safety Kenny Vaccaro -- even embattled cornerback Patrick Robinson made some big-time plays.

"It's a huge step, I feel like," said Galette, who almost made a game-changing play in the third quarter but couldn't hang on to an interception after linebacker Parys Haralson put a hit on Glennon.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a few times," Galette said. "But we just finished, that was the biggest part. When you get in a game like that, you just have to finish, and that's what we did."

Even kicker Shayne Graham bounced back from a missed field goal and missed extra point over the past two weeks to nail a clutch 44-yarder to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.

"To me, that's the type of game that we needed to have. That was a team win," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "We both made mistakes, and we both came up big for each other.

"Look, we're 1-3, and we're down 11 points. That's an easy tank. It's easy to, 'Here we go again.' And we didn't. And I think this team will start learning to trust itself. You can use a game like that. So there's a ton of things that we'd say, 'Man, we'd like to do that better.' And yet, we found a way to win. And we won together."
NEW ORLEANS -- To put it bluntly, Drew Brees almost threw away the New Orleans Saints' season on Sunday.

His two interceptions in the second and third quarters of Sunday's 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the result of horrible decisions, plain and simple. He was getting hit as he threw, and he tried to force passes that weren't worth the risk. The second one was returned 33 yards for a touchdown and led to a rare moment where coach Sean Payton chewed out Brees on the sideline.

"First of all, it shouldn't happen," admitted Brees, who added a third interception on a third-and-long shot late in regulation that he felt was more worth the risk. "The first two certainly shouldn't happen, even though the second one, you get your arm hit. Just know the situation, know when and where to take chances. ... That gave them 14 points. That shifted momentum at a point in the game where I thought we had it firmly grasped."

But let's be honest. Those kinds of plays have always been part of Brees' makeup, stemming from his Brett Favre-like quality of always feeling like he can make something happen out of nothing.

And, oh by the way, Brees did wind up helping the Saints (2-3) make something out of nothing Sunday as they rallied from a 31-20 deficit in the fourth quarter.

The Saints leaned heavily on their running backs down the stretch -- both rushing the ball and passing to them. And Brees finished strong for the most part, finishing with 371 yards on 35-of-57 passing with two touchdowns and the three interceptions.

"I think most importantly is the way we responded," Brees said. "For me, I'm going to stay aggressive. I'm going to stay positive and just know the opportunities are going to come."

Brees has hardly been the Saints' biggest problem this season. Far from it.

In fact, he was downright sharp in the first four games, despite a handful of missed opportunities in New Orleans' 1-3 start. He led the NFL in completion percentage among full-time starters. And I understood why Brees seemed flummoxed earlier this week when asked about the "panicked mob's" concern that his arm strength has regressed.

But there was no denying that Brees struggled to get the ball down the field Sunday when he did take those deep shots.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees has completed just 7 of 18 passes thrown 20 yards or more in the air this season, with one touchdown and now one interception. He was 2-for-6 on such throws Sunday, including the late pick that was underthrown for receiver Robert Meachem.

I'm not quite ready to buy in to the arm-strength theory just yet. It wasn't an issue when I broke down the tape through the first four weeks. But something is definitely lacking -- whether the coverage is frustrating Brees or he's rusty from simply not taking enough of those shots to get into a rhythm.

"I think some of the plays that maybe you're familiar with seeing ... we dialed those up, but the coverage is just not giving us those," Brees said. "I would say there's some go routes that I can do a better job throwing. And I think that's just practice and time on task and just kind of getting the feel for that again. But we haven't taken a lot of those shots, and part of that is on me.

"You certainly want to pose that threat to opposing defenses with, 'Man, those guys can run by you. They can beat you with the underneath passing game. They can run the football. They can do a lot of things that we have to be ready for.' So, yeah, that [deep-ball] element has to come back."

If the Saints are going to dig themselves out of this rut they're in, they can't just lean on Drew Brees looking kinda, sorta like Drew Brees this season.

They need him to find a phone booth during the bye week. They need Superman.
NEW ORLEANS -- The table was all set for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to turn around their season.

Then it all fell apart.

Despite holding an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Bucs lost 37-31 to the New Orleans Saints in overtime Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"We had every opportunity to win this football game," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. "We had the Saints right where we wanted them. We didn't finish. We allowed things to slip out of our hands. We've got to learn how to finish football games. That's tough to come in here and have the opportunity we had and let it slip away."

It's tough because, with a win, the Bucs would have been nicely positioned. They would have been right in the NFC South race and they would have been coming home with a two-game winning streak and growing confidence for next week's game with Baltimore.

Instead, they're 1-4, in sole possession of last place in the NFC South and coming home angry. There was more anger in Sunday's locker room than there was after a 56-14 loss to Atlanta in Week 3.

"Somebody's got to make a play," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "You've just got to make a play. We let that one go. We let that one go."

The Bucs let this one get away in regulation and in overtime. They took a 31-20 lead when rookie receiver Robert Herron caught a touchdown pass from Mike Glennon with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Plenty of teams have blown leads to Drew Brees and the Saints in their home through the years. But shouldn't you expect to hold on when you have an 11-point lead and your offense and defense have been playing well?

"Yes, we do," coach Lovie Smith said. "There's no other way around it. You're up by 11. With our defense, simple as that, you don't let them score and you win the football game."

That's not what the Bucs did. Two series -- one by the offense and one by the defense -- quickly turned the course of the game. On a New Orleans drive that featured three Bucs penalties, Pierre Thomas scored on a 27-yard run to cut the lead to 31-26.

The Bucs followed that with one of the worst offensive series in franchise history, which is saying a lot. The Bucs started with a first-and-10 at their own 20. They quickly got backed up by three penalties and a fumbled snap by Glennon. Stuck at the 1-yard line, Glennon was sacked for a safety by Junior Gallette to cut the lead to 31-28.

The Saints followed that up with a field goal to send the game to overtime. But that's where things got even worse for the Bucs. On a third down, the Tampa Bay defense appeared to force a New Orleans punt. But cornerback Johnthan Banks was called for illegal use of hands. That gave New Orleans new life and the Saints wound up winning on an 18-yard run by Khiry Robinson.

The Bucs, who finished with 15 penalties for 113 yards, have no one to blame but themselves. They had this game there for the taking and they didn't finish it off.

"It was a key game for us," Smith said. "We put a big emphasis on it. On the road and a division game, that itself says quite a bit. To be able to steal one would have put us in pretty good position. But we seem to do it the hard way. I'm still encouraged by a lot of the things I saw. Disappointed in the loss, but encouraged by some of our play. We're getting better as a football team and eventually our record will show it."

But, despite the golden opportunity, the Bucs aren't there yet.

W2W4: Buccaneers at Saints

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints:

Mike Glennon: The second-year quarterback will make his second straight start. He is coming off an impressive game-winning drive in Pittsburgh. Glennon had some success with the deep ball, something the Bucs weren’t getting much of with Josh McCown in the first three games. The Bucs don’t want Glennon in a shootout with Drew Brees, but they will try to take advantage of his big arm and take some shots down the field.

The running game: The best way to avoid the shootout with Brees is to have a strong running game. The Bucs haven’t run the ball very well so far. But Doug Martin is healthy after missing two games with a knee injury. The Bucs are likely to try to establish Martin early.

The pass rush: The defensive front four showed some signs of life in last week’s win against Pittsburgh. The Bucs recorded five sacks against the Steelers. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Johnson both are playing through injuries, but have been productive. Brees isn’t an easy quarterback to sack because he gets rid of the ball quickly. But the Bucs need to put some pressure on Brees and knock him off his favorite launching spots.

The secondary: The Bucs have a lot invested in their secondary. But the defensive backfield has yet to produce much in the way of results. That needs to change against the Saints. The Bucs have been credited with only five passes defended. The secondary needs to start getting its hands on some footballs.

Lavonte David: The linebacker has played well, but he hasn’t made any of the big plays he made last season. David is the Bucs’ best player after McCoy, and he needs a big game for this defense to slow Brees. David has to make a play or two as pass defender or a rusher.
TAMPA, Fla. -- You could make an argument that the McCowns are the first family of the NFC South.

Josh McCown plays for Tampa Bay and previously played for Carolina. Brother Luke plays for New Orleans and previously played for Atlanta.

Their current teams will square off Sunday when the Bucs visit the Saints.

"We have Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa and New Orleans covered," Josh said Thursday. "We know where to eat at. We know where all the spots are. It’s just where the journey has taken us, and it’s been fun. All of our stops along the way and the guys we’ve gotten to work with whether it’s myself and Jake Delhomme in Carolina or Matt (Ryan) and Drew (Brees) with Luke, it’s been great."

The McCowns might not play Sunday -- Josh is dealing with a thumb injury and Luke is the backup quarterback to Brees, but the meeting still will be special.

"It will be cool," Josh said. "I’ve said it over and over, it’s a blessing just to be in the NFL for one person. For two people in the same family, those are long odds. It’ll be fun Sunday. It will be special for Luke and I."

Josh still was wearing a brace on his right hand Thursday and he has yet to grip a football, but he said he believes he’s making progress.

"It feels like I’m gaining ground and improving," he said. "But there’s still a healing time that has to occur. We just have to let the process take place."

Josh said surgery remains an option if the injury doesn’t heal with therapy and rest. But that is an option McCown wants to avoid.

"You never say never," McCown said. "You don’t know. But we’re hopeful. We’re very encouraged by where we’re at now. But, again, you can’t take anything off the table."
METAIRIE, La. –The New Orleans Saints' offense is not broken.

It didn't suddenly disappear or get old or get "figured out." In fact, as quarterback Drew Brees correctly pointed out on Wednesday, the Saints' offense is actually improved through four games this year in almost every statistical category.

"The major difference is we were 4-0 last year, 1-3 this year," said Brees -- though he made sure to stress that he doesn't want to "get too caught up in statistics, because statistics don’t always tell the story."

"It’s obvious it’s not good enough,” Brees said.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesDrew Brees and the Saints offense, aside from turnovers and big plays, has been statistically better this season than in 2013.
But his greater point, that the Saints' offense should stay the course and believe in the process and not try to “create problems” that don’t exist, should be well-taken.

Because those aren’t empty or misleading statistics that Brees was referencing. The Saints' offense truly has been better in just about every relevant way imaginable this year, based on numbers provided by ESPN Stats and Information.

The biggest difference, obviously, is that New Orleans' defense got off to a great start last year and is off to a lousy start this year. And the offense hasn't been good enough to make up the difference.

The Saints’ points per game are down from 27.0 to 23.8 through four games, but that's largely because the Saints aren’t getting as many possessions. They’ve had 9.75 drives per game, which ranks 31st in the NFL.

The Saints’ points per drive, however, are up, from 2.25 to 2.44. And their touchdowns per drive are up from 25 percent to 30.8 percent (which ranks second in the NFL this year).


  • The Saints’ yards per game are up, from 419.5 last year to 425.8 this year. And their yards per play rank No. 2 in the NFL this year (6.4, compared to 6.1 last year).
  • Their passing yards are down from 338.3 per game to 294.5. But their rushing yards are way up, from 81.25 per game to 131.3.
  • The Saints have the best third-down efficiency in the NFL (57.1 percent) and the best completion percentage in the NFL (71.4 percent). Their red-zone efficiency is way up (from 43.8 percent to 68.8 percent).
  • They’ve thrown fewer interceptions than they did in the first four games last year (3 vs. 4) and Brees has been sacked a lot less (5 times vs. 12 times). However, the Saints have four lost fumbles this year, compared to one at this point last year.
  • One other category in which the Saints have dropped off is “big plays.” Last year they had 19 pass plays of 20 yards or longer through four games. This year, they have only nine.
  • Combine all of those factors and the Saints’ offense is ranked by ESPN Stats and Info as the second-most efficient in the NFL this season, with 46.33 expected points added. Last year through four games, the Saints’ EPA was 27.07.

Saints coach Sean Payton said the Saints' scoring efficiency has been good for the most part (especially before the slow start at Dallas in last Sunday's 38-17 loss). But he said it's the "lack of opportunities" that have stood out "when we get to talking about a complementary game.” Payton, who attributed that to issues such as the Saints’ turnover ratio (minus-6, with seven giveaways and just one takeaway) and the defense not getting off the field enough on third downs.

Payton was hardly pinning the blame solely on the defense, though. When asked if there are things on offense that he’d like to clean up, Payton said, “Absolutely.”

“Look, we’ve turned the ball over too much,” Payton said. “Our third-down numbers have been good. Our rushing totals have been good. Our big-play numbers have been down. So the two specific things would be the turnovers and the big plays.”
METAIRIE, La. -- The highlight of Drew Brees' press conference Wednesday came when the New Orleans Saints quarterback answered one question about a theory from the "panicked mob," then another reporter followed up by saying, "Can I ask another panicked mob question?"

"Sure," Brees said with a laugh. "Let's go. The sky is falling."

Brees was good-natured while answering those particular questions about whether his arm strength is diminished and whether the Saints' training camp practices at The Greenbrier resort made them too soft. (The short answers: No and no).

Brees said he understands why fans are looking for such big-picture answers after New Orleans' surprising 1-3 start. But he said the team can't -- and doesn't -- think that way.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees said "areas where we can get better," but that the sky is not falling.
"I would say that because of how important all this is to all of us as players, as a community, as a fan base, as much as the media is a part of our game now, that everybody always wants a reason. Something or someone to blame," Brees said. "And I think sometimes you waste your time searching for that stuff as opposed to just knowing that if you continue to do things the right way, good things will happen. …

"We're not trying to create problems here. Just because everybody wants to know, ‘What the heck's going on? What's wrong? Why are you 1-3? The sky is falling. Oh my gosh.' Hey, we're gonna keep doing what we do. Yes there are areas where we can get better, absolutely. But we're also gonna continue on the path that we started this offseason."

Brees was one of many players who exuded that confidence Wednesday that the Saints will be able to work their way out of this early-season funk -- starting with Sunday's home date with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Although players and coach Sean Payton have said that they can't just rely on their past success, it can still serve as inspiration.

They know they have the talent and track record to succeed if they work hard enough and execute properly.

Even newcomer Jairus Byrd pointed Wednesday to the different "vibe" in the Saints' locker room, where there is a noticeable winning culture. He said it wasn't always like that during his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton, who began his career with the Atlanta Falcons, agreed.

"I've been in systems where I knew going into the game that a lot of things were flawed and we didn't have a chance of succeeding. But it's been proven that this system works," Lofton said. "We're not doing anything different than we did last year. We've just go to go out and just play."

That doesn't mean nothing has changed, though.

Payton said earlier this week that the Saints are playing like a 1-3 team right now and they can't expect different results without making changes to the process. He backed that up Wednesday with some tweaks to the practice routine -- including a spirited offense vs. defense competition instead of the traditional work against scout teams.

Certainly some game-planning tweaks will follow, as well.

But no one believes a drastic overhaul is needed as much as a dedicated effort from each individual to improve their own level of play.

"I'll be honest with you, my approach is no different. It's no different now than it was nine years ago," Brees said. "When you step into the building, it's time to work. Prepare as hard as you can as well as you can. … The mindset of, ‘Every time we get the ball we're gonna score, and every time we step on the field we expect to score 40 points,' none of that stuff changes. … I have a routine. I know it works, I'm gonna keep doing it. I'm gonna stay aggressive."

As for that question about his arm strength, Brees was a little taken aback.

"Ummm, I really don't even know how to respond to it to be honest with you. I mean, I'm not sure what would lead anybody to believe that," said Brees, who has not completed or attempted as many deep balls as usual this year -- though he did just complete a gorgeous 46-yarder to Kenny Stills at Dallas, and he leads all full-time quarterbacks with a completion percentage of 71.4 percent.

Brees, 35, acknowledged that age will have an effect at some point -- mostly, he said, with recovery time. But he said, "I don't feel like there's anything I can't do now that I could do when I was 25 years old. So I really don't know how to answer the question."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- In one sense, the New Orleans Saints' offensive performance in Sunday night’s 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t really all that different from their first three this season.

It still wound up being a pretty equal mix of some impressive drives and some paralyzing lulls. But the biggest difference was that this time, the Saints weren’t facing a team like the Cleveland Browns or Minnesota Vikings, who lulled along with them. This time, the Saints were playing an offense that was capable of leaving them in the dust.

You know – the kind of killer-instinct offense that we’re normally used to seeing from the Saints themselves.

Quarterback Drew Brees correctly pointed out that the Saints actually got off to a decent start, with their first two drives crossing midfield before his tipped-pass interception late in the second quarter sent Sunday’s game off the rails.

“It’s a game of momentum, and when you’re on the road, it’s even more so,” explained Brees, who pointed out what a fine line it was between 10-7 and 17-0.

But in a sense, Brees had it backwards.

The storyline of the Saints’ first two losses at Atlanta and at Cleveland, both of which came down to the final seconds, was that they were just one or two plays away from a different outcome.

As we saw Sunday night, the Saints’ offensive high-wire act this season also left them one or two plays from this kind of implosion.

They’ve been way too stop-and-start all season, even though the overall numbers and efficiency have ranked among the NFL’s best.

And sure enough, things got a little exciting and interesting in the second half Sunday night, too, once the Saints had to hurry up and start firing away. They flashed that quick-strike ability that still hasn’t gone away with two touchdowns that brought the score within 14 points. And Brees’ final numbers bordered on fantastic (32-of-44, 340 yards, two touchdowns and one interception).

But clearly something is missing.

The most glaring absence so far has been the deep ball – which wasn’t a big problem until Sunday night, when Dallas also shut down the run game and corralled tight end Jimmy Graham in the first half.

I don’t see any concerns about Brees’ arm strength, which some people have asked about. When he did fire deep, he still had some authority and accuracy. But clearly, Brees is either not seeing what he needs to see down the field, or he’s not getting comfortable enough in the pocket to take those shots.

Once the Saints started forcing the ball downfield Sunday, it led to as many bad results as good ones: Brees’ interception into a too-tight window, fumbles by Graham and running back Travaris Cadet and at least two dropped passes each by Graham and receiver Marques Colston while the defense was repeatedly hitting them hard in the open field.

A 62-yard run by running back Khiry Robinson in the fourth quarter wound up making this game look even closer than it really was. Other than that run, the Saints gained 36 yards on 11 carries by running backs.

The Saints actually had the most efficient offense in the NFL through three weeks, according to a formula developed by ESPN Stats & Information. They earned that grade through a number of long drives that chipped away with the run game, underneath passes and third-down conversions.

Those numbers, however, masked just how thin the Saints’ margin for error was.

“So for us offensively, what do we need to do?” Brees said. “Well, we need to be ultra-efficient, score more points and take care of the football.”

It can be done – especially with seven home games remaining on the schedule. But as Brees said best of all Sunday night, “We’ve got to play better.”