Week two wrap: Saints give one away in Cleveland

The scoreboard says the Cleveland Browns beat the New Orleans Saints. But in reality, the Saints gave this one away. They have nothing to blame but their own mistakes.

IMG_1088.JPGThe freshest mistake(s) in the mind of Saints fans is the defense’s failure on the Browns’ final drive. Cleveland started at its own four yard line with 2:46 left. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer drove to the Saints 11 yard line to set up the game-winning field goal.

Championship defenses — heck, good defenses — don’t let a team drive almost the length of the field with the game on the line. The Saints defense had the Browns in 3rd and 1, 3rd and 3, 3rd and 12 and 4th and 6 situations on the final drive and Cleveland converted each time.

That series was just the final nail in the coffin. The Saints dug their graves long before that.

In the second quarter, with the Saints down 10-3, Drew Brees kept his reputation of playing poorly against the Browns intact. He threw another interception for a touchdown against the Browns (he did it twice the last time the teams played in 2010). Before that, a penalty gave Browns kicker Billy Cundiff another shot at a field goal that he missed moments before.

Nine points (botched PAT after the pick-six) given away in a one point loss.

The Saints defense gave up 324 total yards a week after coughing up 445 yards. Rob Ryan’s unit obviously needs to get a lot better very quickly. The big plays and turnovers, especially in critical situations, are missing.

In 2009, the Super Bowl season, the Saints were 2-0 after two games. They outscored opponents 93-49. This year, the Saints have scored 58 points and given up 63. In 2013, the Saints created seven turnovers through two games. This season? One.

This not a Super Bowl team right now. At this point, the Saints don’t even look like a playoff team. Since 2002, 100 teams have started the season 0-2. Nine have made the playoffs. I wrote earlier that the Browns game was critical.

It’s hard to say the second game of the season is a must-win, but it is. This is a team with Super Bowl expectations. A team that is expected to have a top 10 defense. A team that has all kinds of toys to play with on offense.

That’s the kind of team that goes into Cleveland and dominates the Browns. That’s the kind of team that goes on the road and wins a game it’s supposed to win.

The Minnesota Vikings (1-1) visit the Superdome next Sunday. If the Saints don’t win that one in front of a raucous home crowd, it may be time to hit the panic button.

Sunday is a must-win game for the Saints

IMG_1088.JPGThe Saints will beat the Browns on Sunday. I know this because they have to.

Since 2002, 100 teams have started 0-2 and only nine have made the playoffs. The 0-2 hole is one the Saints can’t afford to fall into.

It’s hard to say the second game of the season is a must-win, but it is. This is a team with Super Bowl expectations. A team that is expected to have a top 10 defense. A team that has all kinds of toys to play with on offense.

That’s the kind of team that goes into Cleveland and dominates the Browns. That’s the kind of team that goes on the road and wins a game it’s supposed to win.

The Browns put up 389 total yards of offense against the Steelers in week one, but Brian Hoyer and Andrew Hawkins aren’t exactly Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. This should be a good get-well opportunity for the Saints defense. Should be.

The Browns are 31st in total total defense, just one slot ahead of the Saints who are dead last. Drew Brees should be able to pick on cornerbacks Buster Skrine and rookie Justin Gilbert on the left side, but Joe Haden, the other starting corner, is a playmaker. So is safety Donte’ Whitner. Haden, in his 5th season, has battled a foot injury, but is listed as probable for Sunday. Still, the Browns’ defense is susceptible to giving up big plays.

BUT… this is an outdoor game on the road against a team that Drew Brees has had mixed results against. Sunday would be a good time to change that. In four career games against the Browns, Brees is 3-1, but with a lower passer rating against the Browns than any other team. In the last meeting between the teams, Brees threw four interceptions. Two were returned for touchdowns.

Saints roll into Cleveland and win, 38-24.

Game notes:

- Browns starting running back Ben Tate is injured, so carries will be split between rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.

- Drew Brees needs 67 yards to pass John Elway for #4 on the NFL’s career passing list.

- The Saints are 1-3 against the Browns since 1999.

Week one wrap: Saints defense blew it against Falcons

IMG_1088.JPGThe Falcons never really had a chance. At least that’s how it looked this storyline would play out after almost two quarters. But we know better. This is Saints/Falcons. All the games are close. This early lead surely wouldn’t last…

The Saints were up 13-0 and 20-7, but a defense with more holes in it than a Lakeview street was too much to overcome. Beginning with 20 seconds left in the first half, the Saints were outscored 30-14.

Rob Ryan’s vaunted unit, fourth in total defense in the NFL last season, gave up 568 yards of total offense to their “little brothers.” Matt Ryan threw for 445 yards and did whatever he wanted.

Whatever. He. Wanted. 

Julio Jones had 7 catches for 116 yards. Devin Hester had 5 for 99; Roddy White had 5 for 72; Harry Douglas had 6 for 69; Antoine Smith had 1 for 54. 

I’m a big Rob Ryan fan, but the defense’s performance Sunday was indefensible. Embarrassing. 

Patrick Robinson isn’t the answer at cornerback, even if the Saints start him every week from here until eternity. He has never shown enough on the field for anyone to consider him the answer. Corey White probably isn’t either. Champ Bailey? I don’t know. The Saints cut him for a reason and no one has signed him yet. At this point it seems the Saints have to live with Robinson and White. That’s not comforting after Sunday’s debacle. 

The defensive front four hardly put any meaningful pressure on Ryan. Tyrunn Walker got in for a sack on Ryan late, but that was pretty much it. Linebacker Junior Galette had four tackles. Defensive end Cam Jordan had one.

Oh, and no one could tackle.

Outside of safety Jairus Byrd, no one on the defense was very good. Byrd made two huge plays — forcing a Julio Jones fumble early and making a key third down stop late. That’s all there was to brag about.

The Saints’ offense put up 34 points and had 472 yards of its own, 333 of them coming off the arm of Drew Brees. Rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks was amazing (7 catches, 77 yards, one touchdown) . The offense wasn’t perfect, but Sunday’s output should be enough to win on the road against a division rival.

Ugly, ugly, ugly. 

The defense, from which much is expected, didn’t show up for a huge season-opener in a year many are picking the Saints to go to the Super Bowl. Right now, that’s laughable. 

Saints’ success in 2014 starts with the running game

The Saints/Falcons rivalry is one of the fiercest in the NFL. While Atlanta holds a 47-43 edge in the all-time series, the Saints have won nine of the past 11 games. In the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era, the good guys have won 13 of 16 against their divisional arch-rival. In a nutshell, Sean Payton owns the Falcons, not Arthur Blank.

Since 2006, the Saints have only opened up once against the Falcons — last season. The Saints won 24-17 when rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro broke up a Matt Ryan pass in the end zone in the final seconds.

But this is a new season and anything can happen, especially when it comes to the Saints and Falcons. Both teams have lofty expectations this year. The Falcons were on the cusp of becoming one of the NFL’s elite teams two years ago when they made it to the NFC Championship, but then blew a 17-point lead and lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 28-24. Atlanta finished with a 13-3 record and followed that up with a 4-12 record during an injury-riddled 2013 campaign. Entering this critical year for coach Mike Smith, Atlanta has a lot of burning questions.

Can quarterback Matt Ryan prove he is the Falcons’ franchise player and elevate the team to the next level?

Can Ryan’s reshuffled offensive line protect him enough to get the ball to his talented wide receivers?

Will oft-injured running back Steven Jackson hold up long enough to make a difference?

Can a young secondary grow up in a hurry?

The Saints don’t have nearly as many question marks, but they do have a few important points of emphasis. The team struggled with consistency in 2013. The running game was sluggish until it sparked to life near the end of the season and the passing game had trouble getting in sync against the more physical teams on the schedule. After getting off to a blazing hot 5-0 start, the Saints went 6-5 down the stretch, dropping games to the Patriots, Jets, Seahawks, Rams and Panthers. With the additions of speedy rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks on offense and ball-hawking safety Jairus Byrd on defense, the Saints hope to make defending them and moving the ball against them that much more difficult. Add a seemingly rejuvenated Mark Ingram running the ball, a more experienced, hard-hitting Kenny Vaccaro at the other safety position and the Saints have the pieces in place to make a lot of noise in 2014.

The success of the running game is obviously a starting point. The Saints two best teams under Sean Payton — the Super Bowl-winning team in 2009 and the team that should have made it to the Super Bowl in 2011 — both had powerful running attacks. In 2009, the Saints finished with the league’s sixth-ranked running game and the NFL’s top-ranked offense. In 2011, the Saints’ running game finished sixth again and the offense was tops in the league. In 2010, 2012 and 2013, the Saints running game was 28th, 25th and 25th respectively.
When the Saints run the ball effectively, they are extremely difficult to beat.

Notice I didn’t mention #9 at all in this column. If the running game does what it should and the defense can maintain last year’s top 5 ranking, we will all be talking about Drew Brees a little less. And I’m sure he’ll be ok with that.

Saints over the Falcons in week one, 31-17.

Slideshow: Katrina front pages from the Times-Picayune

The reporters and editors at The Times-Picayune did some of their finest work in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina. They won a Pulitzer for it. Here are some of the eye-catching and emotional front pages published, in order of publication.

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Video: Questions During Commercial Breaks, pt. 6

Saints announce moves as roster is trimmed to 75

From a team media release:

The Saints released T/G Manase Foketi, DE Rufus Johnson, QB Logan Kilgore, LB Kevin Reddick, DB Rod Sweeting and DE George Uko and the contracts of TE Travis Beckum, LB Victor Butler were terminated.

The team announced the release of WR Andy Tanner, OT TY Nsekhe and S Ty Zimmerman Monday.

League rosters need to be reduced to 53 for the start of the regular season by Saturday, Aug. 30 at 3 p.m. CT.

Game preview: Saints vs. Colts

saints_logoThe Saints and Colts battle tonight in the third preseason game, which is the most important preseason game. The starters will play into the third quarter and jobs will be won and lost.

Here are a few things I’ll be watching tonight:

Drew Brees will be on the field for the first time this preseason. I doubt he’ll be rusty, but it’ll be good to see him get some live-action reps in. I expect a couple of shots downfield to show off rookie first round pick Brandin Cooks and Brees’ chemistry, which they haven’t had much time to perfect. Mark Ingram has run hard and well in the preseason. I’m hoping his effort continues into the regular season. We’ll see how he handles the Colts defense, which was terrible against the run last season but is much-improved this preseason. Is Robert Meachem fighting for a roster spot? A good showing by Nick Toon could make decisions difficult in WR land. Starting center is up for grabs, too. I’m interested to see how the line protects Brees against the Colts front four. There’s some uncertainty at fullback with starter Erik Lorig suffering from a mystery ailment that could force him to miss some regular season time.

Cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Jairus Byrd are expected to make their preseason debuts. Bailey needs to show something on the field to solidify his roster spot. Byrd has looked impressive in the few practices in which he’s participated coming off back surgery. Rookie corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste had a rough outing last week. The secondary will be challenged by third-year quarterback Andrew Luck.

Someone will likely win the place kicking job tonight — either veteran Shayne Graham, 36, or free-agent Derek Dimke, 24. Graham is nearing the end of his career and Dimke has never kicked in a regular season NFL game. This has been a pretty even battle throughout training camp, but I like Dimke here. Punter Thomas Morstead is as solid as they come. He should have another great season, so no concerns there. Who will be the full-time kickoff and punt returner?

A few questions left to be answered and not a lot of time to answer them. The regular season begins Sept. 7 in Atlanta against the Falcons.

Back to school reminder: Social Media can be dangerous


I made a list… a selfie list

I take a lot of selfies, no doubt. But am I worthy of this list? NOLA.com thinks so. For the record, most of my selfies feature me AND other people on the set during newscasts. Anyway, here’s a list. I’m on it. Enjoy.

Video: What people do at WDSU

Social Media Boot Camp with Southern Miss student-athletes

Media | Social Media training at Southern Miss

IMG_0928Hattiesburg, MS – It’s been far too long since I visited this campus. The University of Southern Mississippi was home to me for four great years from 1993-1997. If I didn’t realize how long ago that was, it was hammered home today. Another freshman class is moving in — one that wasn’t alive when I was here. But the feeling in the air is the same — excitement and anticipation. The smells are the same. Heck, some of the people are the same.

I walked around campus and marveled at how much greater it has become in the 17 years since I left. Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, a new campus cafeteria, an improved football stadium and new dorm buildings are some of the highlights. IMG_0933This is a great place and it’ll always be like home for me. I met my wife here and my sister and brother followed me to Hattiesburg. I’m happy to see the experience on campus is constantly improving. I walked out on the football field this afternoon. It, and the stadium, looks fantastic.

Now, the reason I’m here — I’m doing a Media/Social Media training session for new student-athletes tomorrow morning. I look forward to meeting with them.

Video: Questions During Commercial Breaks, pt. 5

Video: Questions During Commercial Breaks, pt. 4


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