NFL Nation: Sean Payton

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints seemed to have the proper mix of anger/frustration/confidence/realism/focus on Monday after a 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that sent them reeling back to 1-3 on the season.

But they were the first to admit they won't really know if they're reacting the right way until they start to see real evidence on the football field -- beginning with Sunday's home date with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Here's what we can't do: We can't continue with the exact same preparation plan and expect different results, right?" Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And so you've gotta constantly look at tweaking the approach coming into the next week.

"Look, we'll find out a little bit about this team here. When you start the season 1-3 and you get punched like that, very quickly we'll find out a little bit about what we're made of."

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Sean Payton
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images"Here's what we can't do: We can't continue with the exact same preparation plan and expect different results, right?" Saints coach Sean Payton said.
"Every team is different," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "This team is different from last year, and that team was different than the year before. And this team has not figured out how to win yet."

I know a lot of Saints fans are eager to pinpoint some grand, big-picture theme that can explain this inexplicable start.

I've heard countless theories, from this team buying into its own preseason hype to tuning out Payton's message to having a "country club" training camp in West Virginia to just plain not wanting it as much as the Cowboys did on Sunday night.

And none of those theories can be dismissed outright since, as Payton suggested, everything should be on the table when looking for a solution. Payton said he'll look closely at all factors with the staff and veteran leaders on the team.

But when I asked leaders such as Payton, Strief, Junior Galette and Keenan Lewis on Monday if they see any such big-picture reasons that could point to their slide, they said they genuinely didn't think so.

"There's no lack of fire. We practice our ass off," Galette said. "I feel like we practice harder than any other team I've been here with in five years. We practice harder than any of those teams, and we have more talent than any of those teams as well.

"You have to be realistic and know that we're not as good as we thought we were. We have to get better and improve drastically. It's very humbling, but we still believe in our team, and we still believe the sky's the limit.

"We're in a rut right now. Coach always talks about the rut and the groove, and we're in a rut. We've got to get in that groove, and once we find it, we'll keep our foot on the gas."

Strief said he can't guarantee that nobody was reading news clippings -- but he knows from experience they don't mean a thing, whether you're predicted to be good or bad.

"And do I feel that the idea of going somewhere to save guys' legs for the season is causing us to lose games? No," Strief said of the training camp theory. "Having three turnovers is causing us to lose games. Getting behind 24-0 before halftime is having us lose games. Not finishing drives in the fourth quarter had us lose games."

Payton agreed that it's important for the Saints to take a hyper focus on what's preventing them from winning -- including the "laundry list" of on-field problems that were on display Sunday night.

"That's all of us looking at the tape closely and looking at the specifics in regards to assignment technique and then us as coaches looking at, 'Are we asking the players to do things we feel like they can do well?'" Payton said.

And Payton stressed the "sense of urgency" that's needed isn't just about showing up on game days, but showing up on the practice field and in the film room.

"This is a win business, so when you're not having success, that challenges everyone. That challenges the players, the coaches. You have to dig down deep. It's a gut check," Payton said. "And I'm certain we will."

Whether or not the Saints did lose their proper focus or motivation or any other intangible you want to consider early in the season, it's clear there's no excuse for those things to be lacking now.

"I'm definitely angry," Lewis said. "I didn't picture us being 1-3, the team battling even to get to .500. So it hurts. And I'm going to try and challenge my teammates and get it going.

"The first two losses, you lose by 2-3 points, you look back and say we could have done more. But a team comes in and puts up 38 points, dominating from start to finish. It's definitely head-scratching, and we gonna get it fixed.

"We can't be waiting around saying, 'It's still early.' We've gotta start kicking the door in."
Thomas MorsteadTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys stopped Thomas Morstead for a 2-yard loss on the Saints' ill-fated fake punt.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- To be fair, there is no such thing as a high-percentage play when you are down 31-17 and facing a fourth-and-9 with 7:45 remaining in a game.

But a fake punt clearly wasn't the answer. And New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said after the game that "hindsight probably was 20-20" after punter Thomas Morstead was sacked for a 2-yard loss. The Dallas Cowboys scored soon afterward to ice their 38-17 victory.

Payton said he is not sure he would have gone for it in that situation, though. He likely would have opted to punt instead with two timeouts still remaining.

"It’s something we’d had up for a while. Even versus their 'safe' look, it was something we thought would have a chance," Payton said of the play, which began with a fake handoff to running back Travaris Cadet -- but the Cowboys didn’t bite.

"There was some misdirection involved. They played it pretty well," Payton said. "Hindsight probably was 20-20. I had kind of gone back and forth with it. It was on the hash mark we wanted, and they covered it pretty well."

Morstead said the Saints had been practicing the play for a while, but the Cowboys simply didn’t bite.

"No one was open, so I didn't throw it," Morstead told reporters. "I think they had three guys covering the two that were options for me to throw to, and I just didn't feel like it was there. I decided instead of going 0-for-1 with an interception, I'd try to extend the play, and it just didn't work."

It was hardly the only special teams gaffe of the night for the Saints.

Kicker Shayne Graham missed a 41-yard field goal wide right in the second quarter to help set the tone in an "everything that could go wrong ..." game.

It was Graham’s first field-goal miss of the season, but he also missed an extra point last week in a 20-9 victory against the Minnesota Vikings. Graham later made a 30-yard field goal Sunday and is 4-of-5 on the season.

UPDATED: Payton reiterated Monday that the blame for the failed play was "on me for being impatient" when asked if he would have liked to see Morstead at least throw the ball up for grabs.

"No. Listen, that's on me. That's not Thomas or that's not Cadet," Payton said. "It's a play designed for misdirection. Credit Dallas, they were in a punt-safe. I kind of felt like they would be, and really that's on me for being impatient. I thought we were at a point in the game once we got to two scores, if I had to do it over again, I'd have punted. Thomas did what he was supposed to."

Saints don't hide from harsh reality

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
8:00
AM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said it best: You can't jump in a hole and hide from 1-3.

The Saints’ two last-second losses were frustrating. And they took their problems seriously. But they still had that sense of, "Oh man, if just one or two things had gone differently we could have been 3-0."

Sunday’s 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys? That was downright disturbing.

[+] EnlargeCowboys
AP Photo/Tim SharpTerrance Williams caught two of Tony Romo's three TD passes against the Saints as Dallas amassed 445 total yards in its 38-17 rout.
It was disturbing because the defense imploded so badly that folks who cover the Cowboys were comparing it to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's demise in Dallas two years ago.

It was disturbing because the offense was just as bad, getting shut out in the first half for just the third time since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006.

And it was disturbing most of all because this was the Saints’ chance to show who they really were on the national “Sunday Night Football” stage.

Maybe that is exactly what they did.

"We can talk all we want about talent or expectation or any of that stuff. Right now we’re not a good football team. We didn’t do anything right," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "You’re glad it’s the fourth game of the year and it’s not just decided (at the end of the season that) you were a bad team. But right now, we’re a bad team."

So how do they deal with that revelation?

"There’s one way to work yourself out of these holes, and it’s cliché to anybody that hasn’t experienced it, but you’ve got to work your butt off," Strief said. "I know guys feel like they’ve worked hard, and I know sometimes it looks like you’re working hard. But we have to find more. Somewhere, in really every department, we’ve got to work harder than we have and maybe harder than we ever have before."

Secondly, it has to start with some very real X’s and O’s corrections.

On defense, the Saints have a laundry list of fixes to make, but right at the top has to be figuring out how to generate more pressure with their four-man pass rush. That was maybe their biggest key to success last season, and it has virtually disappeared this season. That could lead to those badly needed turnovers and alleviate pressure on the secondary.

On offense, the Saints need to figure out how to hit on some deep passing plays. It was OK for three weeks when their offense was still very efficient. But those big plays were sorely missed against a Dallas defense that was also corralling Jimmy Graham and shutting down the run game at the same time in the first half.

On special teams, the Saints need to decide whether kicker Shayne Graham is still their guy, and they could use a little juice in the return game.

"It’s challenging, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating. But that’s on all of us right now," Payton said. "It’s on me, it’s on our staff, it’s on the team. Obviously it’s not where you want to be, and we’ve got to make sure we look closely at the reasons why we’re not winning."

Last but not least, those fixes have to pay off immediately with a Week 5 win at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (also 1-3) before the Saints head into their Week 6 bye.

They don’t get much more "must-win" than this. The Saints haven’t lost a home game with Payton on the sideline since 2010 (not counting his 2012 suspension). And they certainly can’t stop now.

"We had a bad day today. That’s clear. Everybody sees it, everybody sees the score. You know, we’re disappointed and slightly embarrassed," Lofton said. "But at the same time, this is the first quarter of the season. We’ve still got a lot of season left. We’ve gotta go get this game against Tampa, get away from the bye and get on a roll.

"What we have on this team, the character of these guys, we’ve got to put more into the process. And we’ll get this thing corrected."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

No sugar-coating: There were no real fiery speeches in the Saints' locker room. But there was a whole lot of harsh reality. The Saints (1-3) were cautiously optimistic after their first two losses came down to the final seconds. But they were a lot more matter-of-fact after this blowout saw Dallas jump to a 31-3 lead:

Strief
"We have to be realistic right now with ourselves. Right now we're not a very good football team," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "You're glad it's the fourth game of the year, and it's not just decided -- it's the 15th [game], and you were a bad team. But right now we're a bad team."

Added safety Kenny Vaccaro: "It is a big deal now. First, it's like, 'OK, we're starting slow.' But once you're 1-3 it's like, 'OK. Now we gotta ...' The first 25 percent of the season's over. So I don't know."

"There's not going to be much good to see on this film," coach Sean Payton said. "We're 1-3 right now, and that's about how we're playing."

Why the fake punt? The Saints did just about everything wrong Sunday night, but the most inexplicable decision seemed to be their fake punt in the fourth quarter when they had closed the gap to 14 points. If you're gonna try for a miracle, why not at least have Drew Brees throwing it instead of punter Thomas Morstead on fourth-and-9?

Payton said, hindsight being 20-20, it was the wrong decision. But it was a play the Saints had considered for a while, and they had the ball on the hash mark they wanted. But the Cowboys covered it well.

Effort and energy? Payton has never been shy about calling out his team when he feels like the effort and energy aren't there. But he stopped short of doing that this time.

"I don't know, necessarily," Payton said. "We'll grade that when we put the tape on. I thought they came in with the right mindset. Obviously, though, it didn't match what Dallas' was."

Overconfident at Dallas? No chance

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:30
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- The message at New Orleans Saints camp Wednesday was clear because it was repeated often by coach Sean Payton, Drew Brees and several players: Don't take the Dallas Cowboys lightly even though the Saints trounced them 49-17 last season in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, setting an NFL record with 40 first downs in the process.

That message was also unnecessary.

Brees
At 1-2, the Saints are hardly in danger of overconfidence, especially considering this is a road game against the Cowboys.

Yes, Brees insisted, the Saints are feeling good after finally getting their first win of the season last week over the Minnesota Vikings. But, no, they're not letting off the gas pedal.

"For us, we got tripped up the first two weeks of the season. Then we came back with a nice win at home, so we feel like we got that first win under our belt and we broke the seal," Brees said. "We'd really like to build on that and come out and play better this week than last week. That's what we're really focused on.

"These are different teams now at different places in the season -- even though it's only a year apart, it's a different game. And listen, we have a lot of respect for the Dallas Cowboys. They are very talented. And this is our next game, it's the most important game.

"It's 'Sunday Night Football' in Cowboys [AT&T] Stadium. It doesn't really get any better than this at this point in the season."

The Cowboys (2-1) come into this game as the hotter team after a rally at the St. Louis Rams gave them their second straight victory last week.

Just like New Orleans, Dallas' offense has been off to a strong start with more reliance on the run game than in the past. And just like New Orleans, Dallas' defense has been up-and-down.

The Saints have outscored opponents 26-24 this year. The Cowboys have outscored opponents 26-23.

"Both teams are early in the season looking to get another win here. This will be [the Cowboys'] second game home now after losing their home opener. I'm sure they're looking to play better at home. We're looking to play better on the road," Payton said of a Saints team that is 0-2 on the road this year and 2-8 over the past 10 games, including the playoffs.

"I think this will be a real good challenge for us. This is a team coming off of two [straight] wins. They obviously came from behind last week and got the turnovers they needed and won on the road. Both of their wins have been on the road, which is tough to do, so you see them playing with confidence. What they're doing offensively with their commitment to run the football has benefited their defense."
METAIRIE, La. – The answer to the New Orleans Saints' defensive woes was simple:

Simplify things.

After struggling with assignment and communication breakdowns during their first two games, the Saints cut out all of their on-field checks and adjustments – especially since they were playing at home with the crowd noise at a fever pitch. The result was a much cleaner, more efficient performance in Sunday’s 20-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeSaints defense
AP Photo/Bill HaberKenny Vaccaro and the Saints' defense sizzled against Minnesota on Sunday.
“Anytime you’re having communication issues, especially playing at home, anytime you can simplify it, that helps everyone just get your cleats set and just play fast,” Saints safety Jairus Byrd said.

"This week we tried to approach it like, one call, that’s it," cornerback Corey White said. "Whatever they come out in, we work it out, we play through that. And that helped us a lot. Get our cleats set and just play through it."

If that approach sounds familiar, it’s because it’s one of the biggest clichés in all of football.

But that cliché exists for a reason. And it’s one that has come up often with Rob Ryan’s defenses in the past.

For all of the praise Ryan has earned over the years for being a multiple, flexible, versatile “mad scientist” who will try to throw a variety of wrinkles at opposing offenses, he has also received his share of criticism for making things too complicated at times.

The trick is finding the right balance.

“It’s a fine line, but it can be blurry if the ends don’t justify the means,” coach Sean Payton said, presumably referencing the fact that the Saints' defense wasn't justifying those means by having too many assignment breakdowns in the first two games of the season.

“So it needs to be clear, it needs to be simplified. With that, you reduce variation and you reduce the variables that go into execution,” Payton continued. “So I thought we did a good job that way. I thought Rob and the staff did a good job. … I thought that was important.”

It will be interesting to see how the Saints toe that line going forward.

White, who played very well Sunday after being promoted back into a starting job ahead of Patrick Robinson, agreed that eliminating all of the checks was the biggest key to success for the Saints. But he disagreed with the notion that being too sophisticated causes problems.

“No, we’ve got a multiple defense and we’ve got a lot of smart players. So whatever [Ryan] gives us, he knows we can handle it,” White said. “And the first two weeks, we just didn’t execute third downs and specific situations.”

And Byrd said it’s important that the Saints don’t become too simple.

“You can’t stay the same, obviously. In this league, quarterbacks are too good where you can’t just be vanilla all the time,” Byrd said. “So we’ve got the baseline, now we just keep building slowly and keep building off of what we have.”

There was at least one player whose role wasn’t simplified on Sunday -- second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro, who went back to playing the multiple “star” role that he played so often last year.

That meant shifting between the strong safety spot, the slot cornerback spot and even some time as a linebacker.

“It’s fun, but mentally I’ve gotta lock in more,” Vaccaro said. “I’ve gotta think on every play what position I’m playing, because the way Rob calls it, you have to know exactly what you’re doing.”
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.

Colston's shutout both rare and normal

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
AM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t seem too surprised or concerned over the fact that receiver Marques Colston was held without a catch for the first time in 87 games played during Sunday’s 26-24 loss at the Cleveland Browns.

As rare as that was, Payton indicated that a receiver having a quiet day -- even Colston -- is pretty normal in a Saints offense that spreads the ball around so much.

And Payton is right.

Colston
The way the Cleveland Browns made it their mission to devote heavy coverage to the Saints’ receivers downfield reminded me of a handful of games from last season (at Chicago, at New England and at Philadelphia in the playoffs). In those three games combined, Colston caught a total of five passes for 42 yards.

And just like the Saints did in those three games last season, they eventually adjusted to the Browns’ defensive plan. The Saints’ offense finally started rolling late in the second quarter and through the second half with a heavy dose of tight end Jimmy Graham and the run game.

“We got a lot of sub-packages, but I thought by and large we threw it pretty well. The targets sometimes are going to be different,” Payton said. “Jimmy ended up having one of his better games. That happens with our offense. I thought Kenny Stills was able to have an impact coming back. [Robert] Meachem had some big plays for us.

“I thought as that game went on Drew [Brees] did a good job of finding the matchups that were advantageous to us.”

The Saints’ four receivers combined for a total of nine catches, 79 yards and no touchdowns -- with three catches apiece for Brandin Cooks, Stills and Meachem.

It’s still a bit surprising that Colston couldn’t even match that type of output. And it's worth noting that Colston’s snaps were cut down from 64 in Week 1 to 41 in Week 2 (second behind Cooks’ 55 snaps, but still ahead of 29 apiece for Stills and Meachem).

“We felt he played too many the week prior,” Payton explained. “Managing the amount of snaps these guys get and trying to keep them from getting north of 50, for instance. We have depth there. Obviously Brandin received more snaps yesterday. That’s something that we will pay attention to each week.”

Still, there’s no reason to expect that Colston will be scaled back in the Saints’ offense on a weekly basis.

After all, Colston had five catches for 110 yards in Week 1, though his late fumble proved costly. And Colston has talked all summer about feeling healthier than he has in two years.

But Sunday’s game was a reminder that even the greatest pass catcher in Saints history isn’t immune to being passed over in this deep, diverse offense.
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.

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

The Saints have had a handful of costly errors from every unit during their 0-2 start. The one common bond: They have to be smarter in their home debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Sean Payton said his biggest disappointment has been the struggles in "situational football," whether it be the blown coverage at the end of Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the missed blocking assignment on a sack or an offsides penalty on a field-goal attempt.

"That's the one thing that's stood out now, two weeks in a row," Payton said.

The most maddening yet was the blown coverage in the final seconds, when Cleveland receiver Andrew Hawkins broke wide open out of a bunch formation. Cornerbacks Corey White and Keenan Lewis both covered the same player, while Patrick Robinson was flagged for holding another receiver across the field.

“You gotta be able to handle bunch. You gotta be able to handle receiver motion,” Payton said. “I mean, shoot, when you play man-to-man like we do, you’re gonna get that.”

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro agreed, saying, “We’ve got smart players. It’s just disappointing that we're not playing up to our abilities. I put that on us.”

Patrick Robinson's struggles continue

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:00
PM ET
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).
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.

Greer: No compassion for Goodell

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
6:30
PM ET
video

METAIRIE, La. -- Former New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer offered strong opinions on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell while serving as a guest analyst Thursday on ESPN. Greer described Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice investigation as "ignorant," and he said he believes that players around the league have "no compassion at all" for Goodell's plight.

Greer
Greer echoed the sentiment of former teammates Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle in saying that Goodell's credibility with players was already tarnished in the past through incidents like the Saints' bounty investigation, the 2011 lockout and the way the commissioner has been "overwhelmingly harsh" in handing out penalties and fines.

Greer recalled when Goodell came to speak to players from each of the 32 teams at the time of the 2011 lockout. Greer said, "The consensus was, 'This guy has nothing to do with us.' He was taking heat from all 32 teams. There was a big rift in players and ownership, and we saw that Roger Goodell was on ownership's side."

"There is no compassion from players for Roger Goodell in this moment. No compassion at all," Greer said.

Goodell's handling of the Rice investigation has received increasing scrutiny, with questions about whether the commissioner had access -- or should have had access -- to a tape showing Rice punching his then-fiancee in an elevator.

Asked later for his thoughts on how Goodell has handled the Rice investigation, Greer said, "It's went from negligent to downright ignorant. I don't want to be harsh with my words, but it seems now that it is becoming a circus. Although we don't know whether he saw the tape or not, just the way the whole situation is developing, I don't agree with."

Greer said he knows from experience how thorough Goodell's investigation was into the Saints' bounty allegations in 2012, when coach Sean Payton was suspended for a full season, among other severe punishments. And Greer said he believes players such as Vilma and Will Smith were unfairly "vilified."

Some in the media have begun to make a similar comparison, saying that Goodell should be held to the same harsh standard to which he held Saints leaders in 2012. At the time, Goodell said of Payton, "Even if you aren't aware of something, you should be aware of something like that in your organization. That is his direct responsibility as the supervisor of players and coaches, and he should have known what was going on in his organization."

Current Saints players have been more measured with their words when asked to make that comparison, though, and Payton reiterated Thursday that he hasn't given it much thought.

"Our focus really has been on Cleveland [New Orleans' Week 2 opponent]," Payton said. "Yesterday I said it, and I'll say it again today: When you look at our work week and our work days, our time and energy from morning 'til evening is on the opponent. I understand the question, but that's what I would say."

Asked if it feels good that people seem to be coming to his defense, in a way, Payton said, "It's immaterial. In other words, we said at the time what we had to say, and we'll leave it at that."
METAIRIE, La. -- By Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints' defensive backs made it clear they were tired of hearing about and talking about their tackling woes in Sunday’s 37-34 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Lewis
As The Times-Picayune chronicled, at one point during interviews, cornerback Keenan Lewis just started blurting out the word, "Tackle," regardless of the question he faced.

But Lewis and his teammates certainly weren’t done trying to get their tackling issues fixed.

Lewis spent extra time on the field, working on his tackling technique against a blocking sled -- something he said he used to do in the past.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro called his tackling problems in Week 1 "ridiculous" and said (per The Advocate), "I had a hard time sleeping this week because of the film we put out there."

Everyone remained confident that tackling is a correctable problem. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require extra emphasis in practice -- especially as the Saints prepare to face a Cleveland Browns offense that stubbornly runs the ball with a pesky zone-blocking scheme in the Mike Shanahan style.

"Absolutely there is (an emphasis in practice)," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We have individual periods out here where it’s strictly fundamentals. You’re working location, landmarks, leverage, where you’re fitting. The No. 1 thing is population of the ball. All of those things we work on. And we have to."

SPONSORED HEADLINES