NFL Nation: Drew Brees

METAIRIE, La. –- The New Orleans Saints remain confident after their 0-2 start. But they aren’t ignoring the very real problems that need to be corrected.

Coach Sean Payton highlighted on Wednesday the Saints' last 15 games (including playoffs), in which they are 7-8 (and 2-8 on the road). And the biggest problem has been their inability to finish.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Karlos Dansby
AP Photo/David RichardDrew Brees and the Saints look for their first win of the season on Sunday against Minnesota.
 During that stretch, the Saints have surrendered late leads to the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers in 2012, as well as the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns in the first two weeks this year. They also had late rallies fall short last season at the New York Jets and at the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.

“Sean put up a statistic today, going back to last year, we started 5-0. And looking at the rest of the games since then, we haven’t been finishing in the fourth quarter, whether it’s on offense or defense,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “He kind of came at us in the team meeting like, ‘Look at this guys, this is our last 15 games.’”

Payton also mentioned Wednesday that turnovers were a “major topic” in Wednesday’s morning meeting.

After making that a huge emphasis this offseason, the Saints’ defense has only forced one takeaway during the first two games, giving them a turnover ratio of minus-3 on the season.

The Saints have now forced only five turnovers over their past 13 games.

Although Payton preached that the Saints need to keep an even keel and not fall into the “crisis” that will be created from the outside, he also stressed that they can’t overlook the specific reasons for their losses.

“I think you have to pay attention. There’s a way we lost those two games,” Payton said. “It’s in the details and the preparation. It’s on us as coaches, everyone collectively, the players. I thought our practice [Wednesday] was outstanding.

“I think you can’t bury them under the rug and pretend it never happened. You have to look at it. I think we’re trying to make sure we uncover every stone and look closely at how we can find ways to make the corrections, and hopefully we can get that done this weekend.”

As Payton and players pointed out after last Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Browns, the areas that most need to be corrected are “situational” errors -- like the missed assignments that plagued them on both sides of the ball late in the game and some costly penalties.

In some ways, the defensive performance was encouraging in Week 2 because the Saints’ defense proved they were able to clean up the issues that cost them in Week 1 (namely missed tackles and a few big plays over the top).

But as Vaccaro said, “That’s encouraging. But when you fix one problem, you can’t let other problems [replace them]. You can’t let communication become the next problem.”

“I don’t know, man, we’ve just gotta put a game together,” Vaccaro said – though when asked what his message would be to Saints fans, he said, “We’re working, and just ride with us.”

Quarterback Drew Brees was among several others who expressed that combination of frustration and confidence.

“For us right now, despite the fact that we have a lot of veteran guys, a lot of guys who have been here for a long time and won a lot of games, this is a new team. So it’s kind of reestablishing and recreating your identity and it’s like ‘Ok, who are we, who are we trying to be?’” Brees said. “We’re certainly a lot better than what we’ve shown. But you are what your record says you are. So we have to go out and get a win so we can start feeling better about ourselves so that we can start gaining some momentum.”
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed Wednesday that running back Mark Ingram won’t play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings after having surgery to repair a displaced fracture above his thumb.

Payton, however, said he’s optimistic Ingram won’t be out for long and called it a “week to week” situation.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
AP Photo/Tony DejakThe Saints' Mark Ingram shined last Sunday despite suffering a serious thumb injury in the first quarter.
“The procedure went well. It’s just a matter of the swelling, the wound and the bone healing,” said Payton, explaining that Ingram couldn’t just play with a cast because the fracture was displaced. He said Ingram had two screws placed right above his thumb.

The injury occurred during the first quarter of Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was unclear if Ingram was injured when cornerback Joe Haden’s helmet hit his left hand during a tackle, or if it occurred as Ingram braced himself with the hand on the ground. Either way, Ingram popped right back up, briefly pulled his hand inward and jogged back into the huddle.

Ingram had the hand taped on the sideline soon after but played the remainder of the game, thriving with a total of 104 yards from scrimmage. Fellow running back Pierre Thomas called him “a warrior.”

“It’s obviously impressive that he played that long with it,” Payton said. “You could see on film that his exchanges were a little different and how he was taking the ball. But he’s a tough player.”

As for how the Saints will fare without Ingram, players and coaches expressed confidence even though Ingram was playing the best football of his career.

Payton, Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees said they all expect fellow running backs like Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet to step up.

"It's nothing new. We've all been through it,” Thomas said. “You always expect something like this is going to happen, and we'll be ready for it. We're going to make sure we know what to do. We're going to make sure we didn't lose a beat. We lost a good running back, but he's going to get better and get back quick.”

Payton agreed that Ingram has been especially “sharp” this season while running for a total of 143 yards, three touchdowns and 6.0 yards per carry. But he said the Saints have always preached the importance of depth.

Robinson has run for 59 yards and a touchdown this year on 14 carries (4.2 yard average). Thomas has run for 47 yards on 10 carries (4.7 average) and has nine receptions for 74 yards.

“Khiry’s a guy, shoot, he’s another back we feel like is young [but] is someone that’ll be ready for the workload,” said Payton, who proved his faith in Robinson by increasing his workload during the Saints’ playoff run last year, even though he was an inexperienced undrafted rookie.

And Brees said he is “very confident” that Robinson can handle things like pass protection as he has continued to develop in his second year.

“From the first time he stepped foot in our building until now, he’s light years in improvement in every facet of the game,” Brees said, “but I’d say especially in nickel, where you’re required to be a little more headsy in regards to protection and getting out and running outside of the backfield.”

Other injuries: Linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle) and center Jonathan Goodwin (elbow) were also new additions to the Saints' injury report this week. Neither player participated in team drills Wednesday. The severity of the injuries is unknown. Hawthorne left last Sunday's game early with the injury, while Goodwin played the entire time.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton was limited with a shoulder injury (which also limited him in practice last week). Safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) remained out with lingering injuries.

Jimmy Graham shows his worth

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:15
PM ET
CLEVELAND -- Maybe Jimmy Graham has had more impressive days. But the New Orleans Saints tight end was never more important than Sunday.

It may seem like a moot point, since the Saints ultimately lost 26-24 to the Cleveland Browns in the final seconds. But Graham was the single biggest reason why the Saints were in a position to win after starting in a 16-3 hole.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Tony DejakJimmy Graham tied a career high with 10 receptions against the Browns.
Graham didn’t have a catch at that point in the game, with less than four minutes remaining in the first half. But he finished with 10 catches (matching a career high) for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

“That’s why they’re paying him so much money. That’s why he’s asking for that much, he’s that kind of impact player,” Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby said, referencing the four-year, $40 million deal Graham signed this offseason. “We held him in check for a little, then he got loose and made his plays.”

On a day when nothing else seemed to be working for the Saints’ passing offense, Graham delivered time and again. No matter who was covering him -- including Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, whom Graham beat twice for big plays in tight man coverage.

“When you’re 6-7, 260 and you can run like a deer and jump out of the gym, you’re hard to cover,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “So obviously you saw him make some plays today. I thought he played exceptionally well.”

When asked if he ever gets in one of those zones where he feels like no one can stop him, Graham said, “You know, I’m not that cocky. But I’m confident that if Drew throws it up, I’m gonna try to get it for him.”

Graham certainly helped to dispel the myth that he can be taken out of games by a top cornerback.

Two of his biggest plays came when he was being blanketed by Haden – a 9-yard TD pass with three seconds left in the first half and a 20-yard pass to the 3-yard line that set up another TD in the fourth quarter.

The notion that Graham doesn’t have the same impact when covered by cornerbacks became popular when the New England Patriots’ Aqib Talib had success against him last year. And it was oft-mentioned when Graham was trying to be declared a receiver for franchise-tag purposes this summer.

But Graham proved that his size advantage can still prove too much for even top cornerbacks.

When asked if he invites teams trying to cover him that way, Graham said, “Yeah, I guess. If they’re gonna cover me with a cornerback, I’ve gotta find a way to get open.”

Graham also added high praise for Haden, who certainly had a successful day aside from those two plays.

The Browns’ passing defense did an outstanding job of frustrating Brees and his receivers throughout the day. At times, they had seven defensive backs on the field, leaving no one open -- and sometimes leading to costly results.

That pass coverage led to Brees being sacked against the goal line in the first quarter when he held the ball too long. It led to an interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter when Brees heaved one over Graham’s head under pressure. And it kept receiver Marques Colston without a catch (or even a single target) for the first time in 87 games.

But the Browns couldn’t find an answer for Graham.

“Jimmy Graham is a special player that has a special talent,” Haden said. “I ran up to him after the game, and we just both paid homage. He was telling me how good I was at corner, but he is just a really big target. Sometimes it is really hard to make plays on the ball; you have to try and get under him. Once he gets that big frame in front of you, it’s kind of hard to hit that ball.”

Saints pin bad start on bad finishes

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
7:30
PM ET
video
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."
Observed and heard in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns:

Brees
Unfinished product: The word “finish” was uttered by just about every player in the Saints’ locker room after they let another lead slip away in the final seconds. Yes, they had a lot of problems throughout Sunday’s loss. But as quarterback Drew Brees pointed out, they are “literally” one play away in each game from being 2-0. And last season, they started 2-0 in the exact opposite fashion with last-minute wins. … That didn’t help erase anybody’s frustration, but it hasn’t sapped this team’s confidence yet. Offensive tackle Zach Strief insisted any "crisis" will only come from the outside.

Payton-Ryan exchange: The TV cameras caught Saints coach Sean Payton shouting and pointing at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on the sideline early in the Browns’ game-winning field goal drive. When asked afterward if that was normal, Payton responded, “Every game. Yeah, every game.” … Obviously we don’t see (or notice) that exact type of exchange on a weekly basis. But it certainly matches with Payton’s animated, emotional persona on game days -- especially considering the circumstances of the game.

Dansby’s secret info: According to ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon, Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby said he heard the Saints’ line call on a crucial third-and-5 play at Cleveland’s 31-yard line late in the fourth quarter (that they were going to protect outside right). So Dansby said he knew he could get a free lane up the middle for a sack against Brees. Indeed, Dansby flew in untouched and knocked the Saints out of field goal range.
ATLANTA -- It seemed impossible that New Orleans Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks could live up to the lofty hype that surrounded him heading into his NFL debut.

And he didn't. He exceeded it.

Cooks
The Saints' dynamic new weapon did a little bit of everything -- at least during the first half -- of New Orleans' 37-34 overtime loss at the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Cooks finished with seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, plus one run for 18 yards and two forced penalties against the defense for holding or interference.

However, Cooks was the first to point out that it felt a little hollow.

"To be honest, I had an all right day. But at the end of the day you want the win," Cooks said. "I would rather have zero catches with a 'W' than what I did."

Cooks was especially down after he had only one catch for nine yards in the second half. And quarterback Drew Brees threw just slightly behind Cooks in the end zone for a costly interception in the third quarter.

“That’s the one that really bugs me,” Brees said after the game. “If I put that thing one more foot in front of Cooks, it’s a touchdown.”

However, Brees has to be feeling very good about the possibilities with his new weapon -- who is as diverse as he is dynamic.

The Saints found about a half-dozen different ways to put the ball in Cooks' hands -- continuing the trend we saw in training camp. He caught a deep ball in traffic for 32 yards on the second play of the game. He later had the end-around run, a screen pass and a slant, showing off his combination of blazing speed, impressive hands and toughness.

As advertised, the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder gives the Saints yet another unique matchup problem that coach Sean Payton and Brees can exploit.

“He looked sharp,” Payton said. “I thought he made some good plays in space, hung onto the football. And the thing with him is he’s prepared. And it's nothing we haven’t seen and that you (in the media) have seen in practice. He looked very comfortable.”

Because the Saints spread the ball around so much to so many different weapons, it’s hard to predict whether Cooks can put up similar numbers on a weekly basis.

But he is obviously a big play waiting to happen. And he is more than ready to burn defenses when they pay too much attention to tight end Jimmy Graham or receiver Marques Colston or the run game.

“Guys were doubling Jimmy, Colston. The run game was (working),” Cooks said. “In an offense like this, someone’s gonna be open.”
METAIRIE, La. – Much was made of the success the New England Patriots had last year against New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham when they used physical cornerback Aqib Talib against Graham in press coverage.

In fact, probably too much was made of it, as few NFL teams have cornerbacks with that ability and no other teams copied the Patriots’ blueprint after that Week 6 matchup.

But one way or another – whether he’s being pressed by cornerbacks, jammed by defensive ends or harassed by linebackers – Graham knows he’ll keep seeing new wrinkles in the way teams cover him this season.

He always does.

Luckily, as Graham pointed out, the Saints have one of the game’s most innovative offensive minds in coach Sean Payton.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees and Jimmy Graham's chemistry gives them a big advantage, no matter the wrinkles defenses throw at them.
So they certainly talked this offseason about the possibility of seeing coverages like they saw in New England, among others.

And they’ll be ready to throw out some new wrinkles themselves.

“Sean’s great with that in the offseason. Always does something new, implements new wrinkles,” said Graham, who offered some good detail Friday on what worked for the Patriots last year.

“I wouldn’t say New England covered me with a corner. I would say they were jamming me on the line with someone who can jam well, and then playing zone behind it,” Graham explained. “When you have help over the top and then you’ve got a linebacker scraping to help and you’re getting jammed man to man, it makes the picture cloudy of what you’re supposed to do. Especially when you run a lot of routes like me and (receiver Marques) Colston, where you have a lot of options. So when teams do that, it just kind of clouds that picture up.

“But it’s something that we’ve worked on this camp, shoring up some of those things and being ready for when teams do that. And Drew [Brees] being the quarterback he is, he finds the open guy. He doesn’t key on one guy or two guys, he finds the open man.”

Graham did stress, however, that he and Brees have a great chemistry that has allowed them to have immense success even when Graham isn’t so wide open.

“I think I definitely have a chapter in his book. I’m definitely on his page … or whatever you want to call it,” Graham said when asked if they’ve built a rapport similar to the one between Brees and Colston. “He looks for me, and he understands my body language. That’s a very important thing when you’re in between the linebackers and safeties.”

Typically, Graham said he doesn’t mind when defenses go to great lengths to try and take himself or Colston out of the game – as long as the Saints win. Last season's playoff victory at Philadelphia was a perfect example, when the Eagles sold out to harass both of them, even using defensive ends to chip them at the line.

“But that means that our running game just opened up. We were smashing people in that game,” Graham said.

The Saints weren't so fortunate against the Seattle Seahawks the next week. They also put a heavy focus on stopping Graham -- with All-Pro safety Earl Thomas shadowing him often in bracket coverage. But the Seahawks' defense is deep enough that they were also able to match up against the Saints' other receivers and runners (at least until a furious fourth-quarter rally).

The good news this year is that neither the Seahawks, the Patriots nor Talib are on New Orleans' regular-season schedule.

Two other positives for Graham – he’s healthy again to start the season after battling through a torn plantar fasciitis throughout the second half of last season; and the Saints’ receivers are loaded in terms of speed.

Graham said he thinks it will be even harder for defenses to take any one element away from the Saints’ offense this year now that they’ve added dynamic rookie Brandin Cooks and gotten downfield threat Joe Morgan back from injury.

“Having Joe Morgan healthy, that’s a big deal. In my opinion, he’s one of the fastest guys that I’ve ever met,” Graham said. “And Meach [Robert Meachem]. We just have a lot of speed now that’s gonna put a lot of pressure on these safeties. So you can’t cheat coverage, and you can’t have the safeties in the box. You have to respect that speed on the outside. And that’s one of the things we had in 2011 and one of the things they had in 2009. It makes teams have to play honest.”

Graham had a monster season in 2011, when he temporarily set some all-time receiving records for a tight end before New England’s Rob Gronkowski passed him up in the final minutes. That season, Graham finished with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But Graham wasn’t far off that pace last year, finishing with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. And as CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco pointed out in this historical film study, Graham has always caused particular nightmares for Sunday’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons.

METAIRIE, La. -- Not that there was any doubt after Drew Brees looked so good in his only preseason performance two weeks ago. But the New Orleans Saints quarterback officially declared himself "100 percent" healthy Wednesday after recovering from a strained oblique.

"I did what I needed to do to get healthy. I feel strong. I feel 100 percent," said Brees, who wound up playing less than one full quarter during the preseason after missing the first two games with the injury and sitting out the final preseason game as part of his usual routine.

Brees
That one quarter was impressive enough, however, to declare Brees good to go for the season. He threw for 128 yards and two touchdowns on a total of three drives against the Indianapolis Colts.

After that Colts game, Brees said he didn't feel quite back to 100 percent yet. But two weeks later, he said he does.

Brees admitted that it was a little hard for him to miss out on his usual amount of preseason reps because he's a "creature of habit" and "very routine-oriented." But he's also admittedly a master of optimism. Brees even referenced the "optimism bias" on Wednesday while talking about how he tried to make the most of his practice reps and mental reps over the past month.

"I think I've tricked my mind into thinking I took the reps," Brees said. "I think if you approach practice as if it's game-like, so your mind is there, and the speed and the intensity with which you're playing is there, it's as if you did take the reps."

Brees said the one thing he probably missed out on most was the time to keep developing a rhythm with young receivers like Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon. But he said he's had ample time to do that since returning.

"Just getting back in it, like anything, it's muscle memory, it's getting back on track -- especially with the young guys," Brees said. "But we're very much on the same page."
Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 1-10.

1. QB shuffle: Everyone loves a quarterback ranking, and #NFLRank brought a unique take to the traditional top four. For the second consecutive year, the panel tapped Green Bay Packers ace Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback in football. If anything, the 2013 season shook loose anyone who might have grown numb to Rodgers' skills and value. The Packers won only two of eight games he either didn't play in or couldn't finish because of a fractured collarbone, but he returned in Week 17 to lead the team to a division-clinching victory at the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, the panel reacted to Tom Brady's down season for the New England Patriots by pushing him down to the No. 4 QB after Rodgers, the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. Brady is still considered the seventh-best offensive player in the game, but you'll find no argument here about his standing among other elite quarterbacks.

2. Burying the lede: In a quarterback-driven league, it's fascinating that a receiver was named the best offensive player in the game. Yes, in 2014, Rodgers and Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson have swapped positions. Quarterback is the game's most important position, but the prime of Johnson's career is proving to be historically productive even in the NFL's age of passing. In 46 games over three seasons, Johnson has caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns. That means in his average game -- average! -- Johnson catches 6.6 passes for 111.7 yards. Johnson has accounted for 1,120 more yards over that period than the NFL's next-most productive receiver, Brandon Marshall. There is no other player in the NFL who has outperformed his peers at that level in recent years.

3. Anonymously elite: You could probably name the NFL sack leader over the past two seasons. The Houston Texans' J.J. Watt has 31 since the start of the 2012 season, and for that and other reasons, he is the No. 1 defensive player in this year' #NFLRank. But can you identify the player who totaled the second-most sacks over that period? Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams might be the least known player among the #NFLRank top 10s, but he grew into an unblockable force during last season's 19-sack campaign. (He has 29.5 since the start of 2012.) One linebacker and three defensive backs separated Watt and Quinn in this ranking, and at this point Quinn has to be considered the top edge rusher in the NFL. You'll be hearing more about him.
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife Brittany welcomed their fourth child and first baby girl.

The proud papa tweeted a picture and this message on Tuesday morning:

 

Brees missed Monday’s practice because of the pending arrival, but was back on the practice field Tuesday morning. It's unclear if he will play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

Brees often sits out the final exhibition game. And now he has an awfully good doctor’s excuse.
METAIRIE, La. -- With baby No. 4 on the way, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees missed practice on Monday.

Brees and his wife Brittany are expecting their first girl to fill out a roster that already includes boys Baylen, Bowen and Callen. It’s unclear exactly when she is expected.

"I don't have any news, but I think you guys will probably hear," Saints coach Sean Payton said after practice. "Everything is going good, and I think you'll hear something."

It’s also unclear if Brees’ absence will affect whether he plays in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens. It already seemed like a long shot since he often sits out the final preseason game. But the Saints haven’t yet specified whether Brees will play.
New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston confirmed that he was just getting some veteran rest when he sat out of the team’s second preseason game two weeks ago -- part of a plan that has been ongoing this entire offseason to limit the 31-year-old’s workload.

“That’s just something that Sean [Payton] decided to do,” Colston said. “We had kind of spoken about it all preseason, and really this is the first time where he kind of sat me down. So it was just really rest.”

Colston
Colston has talked all offseason about how much healthier he feels this year compared to the last year or two, when he has been plagued by a nagging foot injury.

“I’m feeling really good going into the season,” Colston said. “I have two more weeks to try and get better and continue to manage my body. But by all means, it’s a totally different ballgame than last year.”

Colston certainly looked fresh in last Saturday night’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. He made two big-time catches – a 13-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone and a 12-yard catch on a third-and-8.

And he was targeted a total of six times by quarterback Drew Brees during the first quarter (two catches, two incomplete passes, one offensive pass interference penalty and one defensive pass interference penalty).

Obviously it didn’t take long for those two longtime teammates to find their familiar rhythm while Brees was making his own preseason debut. Brees had been sidelined by a strained oblique during the first two exhibition games.

“The old trusty guys,” Brees said when asked about finding that rhythm with Colston and longtime running back Pierre Thomas during two first-quarter scoring drives. “Some of those guys, we’ve had so much time together. I was thinking about it today. You take each of ‘em. You take Marques, Pierre Thomas, Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, Jonathan Goodwin, even though he left and came back. All of us have been together for eight-plus years now. That’s pretty rare, but certainly that pays off. We have that trust and confidence in one another.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New Orleans Saints have gotten pretty good at these final preseason “dress rehearsals” over the years.

Their 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts marked the eighth consecutive year that they have won the second-to-last preseason game, which is the game where starters typically play the most.

As they usually do, the Saints took their preparation for Saturday’s game more seriously than other exhibitions, specifically game-planning against the Colts in practices during the week. And they came out sizzling, rolling to a 20-7 lead while most of the starters were still in the game.

“It’s a good thing, because we certainly come into this game saying, ‘Hey, this is like a regular-season game for that time we are in. … We usually prep for it like it’s the dress rehearsal for the season,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose two-touchdown performance was especially impressive considering it was also his preseason debut.

Brees was one of several key Saints veterans who made their preseason debuts Saturday after nursing a variety of injuries -- a group that also included guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Champ Bailey and receiver Kenny Stills.

“We knew coming into this we were going to bring all the guns out and see if we could put a few good drives together and then get them out,” Brees said. “Make sure everybody was ready to roll for the regular season.”

Consider that, “Mission accomplished.”

The Saints weren’t perfect -- especially when it came to penalties, a nagging problem that has plagued them throughout the preseason.

This time, New Orleans was “only” charged with 10 penalties, compared to 22 a week earlier. But eight of them came in the first half. And the Saints also had to burn at least one timeout because they didn’t have the right number of men on the field -- an issue that coach Sean Payton said was his "biggest disappointment."

But Payton was obviously more pleased than he was a week earlier, when he was fuming over the penalties in his postgame press conference.

“Pretty much what I told the players, it was good to get the win. There were a lot of positives. I thought the energy was good. I thought situationally in a lot of areas we did some good things,” Payton said in his opening statement after the game. “We are still high in the penalty count with 10. Substitutionally, that was a mess in the second half, part of it in the first half. We will get that squared away, and we need to because it cost us timeouts and just keeps showing up too often.”

Payton specifically credited the strong play by the Saints’ secondary to the high energy the team was playing with. The Saints had two interceptions and nearly two others.

There was still plenty to nitpick about, though, including a coverage breakdown that led to the Colts’ only first-half touchdown.

The consensus among most players was that they’re getting closer but not quite there yet. That’s how defensive end Cameron Jordan felt after he played outstanding, with the exception of one missed opportunity at a sack when he allowed quarterback Andrew Luck to slip from his grasp.

“The one (missed play) is always nagging at you,” Jordan said. “I feel like we’re headed in the right direction, further along the path than what we started out with.”

Tight end Jimmy Graham made a similar comment after the offense gave its smoothest first-half performance to date.

"It went well. Especially if you compare it, you can tell that we're just growing,” Graham said. “And to have No. 9 back is a big part of that. He really gets the tempo going early, and he's really looking to push the tempo. When we've been able to push the tempo, that's when we’re at our best, so all good things."

Bring on Week 1.

It only took one quarter for Drew Brees to prove he's ready for the regular season on Saturday night. And the rest of the New Orleans Saints' starting units didn't look too shabby themselves in a 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Saints weren't perfect -- especially in the penalty department (10 for 84 yards), which has been a maddening problem this preseason. But they did most of the important things right while cruising to an early 20-7 lead.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' third preseason game:
  • Apparently Brees didn't have to shake off too much rust after missing the first two exhibition games with a strained oblique. He led the Saints to touchdowns on their opening drive and their third drive, throwing TD passes to fullback Austin Johnson and receiver Marques Colston. Brees finished 9-of-15 for 128 yards and even ran 10 yards for a first down. ... He called it a night before the first quarter was over and probably won't play in the preseason finale on Thursday night. He certainly doesn't need to.
  • The Saints' starting defense looked dominant at times, highlighted by safety Kenny Vaccaro's diving interception in the first quarter and a nearly spectacular interception by cornerback Keenan Lewis, who ran step for step down the field with receiver T.Y. Hilton and tipped away a deep ball. Safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Patrick Robinson and cornerback Champ Bailey also made healthy returns to the lineup, helping New Orleans hold Luck to a mediocre night (10-of-18 for 103 yards, one touchdown, one interception). Luck's TD came on a blatant breakdown in coverage, when nobody picked up wide-open tight end Coby Fleener on a 21-yard pass. ... Defensive end Cameron Jordan was also outstanding with one sack, one near-sack and one pressure into an incomplete pass during a goal-line stand.
  • Receiver Kenny Stills left the game with trainers during the first half, which was the biggest negative of the night. According to the CBS broadcast, Stills aggravated the quad injury that has plagued him throughout the preseason. It's unclear how long he may be out, but if he's in danger of missing Week 1, the Saints do have plenty of experienced depth at the position.
  • Neither of the Saints' backup quarterbacks did anything to cement their job as Brees' understudy. I found it odd that veteran Luke McCown came in first for the third straight game; I thought it would be more of a 50-50 split during the preseason between he and Ryan Griffin. McCown finished 3-of-10 for 45 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, though he did lead the Saints on two field goal drives. Griffin, meanwhile, led the Saints to just three points during the entire second half, finishing 8-of-13 for 46 yards with an interception.
  • In other position battle news: Center Jonathan Goodwin started ahead of Tim Lelito and appeared to play well while the offense was rolling. ... Kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke were both perfect (Graham made field goals of 39 and 24 yards; Dimke a 45-yarder. ... The running backs aren't exactly jockeying for roster spots, but they again proved that there should be a three-way timeshare between Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson. Thomas had the best night with four catches for 66 yards and three runs for 13 yards. Ingram had a 17-yard run and finished with eight carries for 46 yards. Robinson had eight carries for 21 yards and one catch for 4 yards.

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
12:00
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints (2-0) and Indianapolis Colts (0-2) will meet in the third preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight, with the game televised nationally on CBS. Here’s What 2 Watch 4:

1. Look at the stars: Tonight’s game will be much closer to the real thing than New Orleans’ first two preseason outings. Quarterback Drew Brees will make his debut after missing the past two games with a strained oblique, and said he wants to get in a good groove since he’s not expected to suit up in Week 4 of the preseason. Safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Champ Bailey, guard Jahri Evans and receiver Kenny Stills are also expected to make their preseason debuts after recovering from various injuries. I’m very interested to finally see both the offense and defense intact for the first time -- especially against a quality opponent like the Colts in a game where the starters are expected to play about a full half of football. I hope rookie receiver Brandin Cooks is on the field after battling a stomach virus all week, because I’m anxious to see Brees out there with his full array of mismatches to choose from.

2. Secondary is primary: Finally, we’ll start to see what this highly-touted Saints secondary looks like with all of the veterans on the field together. I’m not actually sure how much we’ll get to see Byrd and Bailey since the Saints have been cautious with their recovery timetables. But Byrd certainly didn’t waste any time living up to his reputation as a ball hawk in full-team drills this past week, intercepting two passes and breaking up another in the end zone on just his second day of full participation. As for Bailey, I think his roster spot is pretty secure, but his starting job remains up for grabs against fellow dinged-up veteran Patrick Robinson and Corey White. As coach Sean Payton said of Bailey earlier this summer, the Saints don’t need to see it every day, but they do need to see it once in a while. A strong outing against Andrew Luck & Co. would help.

3. No yellow flags: Sure, penalties are up around the league. But the Saints have been turning it into an epidemic, with 10 of them in Week 1 and 22 last week (plus six others that were declined). Payton was seething after the game, refusing to dismiss the problem as “just the preseason” and suggesting that it’s a sign of poor discipline and poor coaching. Obviously the Saints will be looking to clean up their act so the issue of “sloppy play” isn’t hanging like a black cloud heading into the regular season. … The guys it’s probably most important for are the offensive linemen who are still jockeying for roster positions (be it centers Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin battling for a starting job, or guys like Bryce Harris, Marcel Jones and Senio Kelemete battling for backup roles).

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