NFC South: New Orleans Saints

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints defense found a new way to struggle in last Sunday's 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was really the first time all season their run defense got beat so badly at the point off attack. (Most of the big gains by the Cowboys, 49ers and Bengals had come around the edges).

Both end Akiem Hicks and nose tackle John Jenkins got shoved back at least three times by 1-on-1 blocks on big run plays.

[+] EnlargeRavens
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsEclipsing 95 yards or more rushing in four games this season, Ravens RB Justin Forsett has at least earned his way into Pro Bowl consideration.
Clearly the Saints didn't adjust well to the Ravens' zone-blocking scheme and stretch-run plays. Jenkins, who was singled out by ESPN analyst Jon Gruden for getting blown up three times in the second quarter, said that was the case for him.

"I was trying to get the feel of that whole scheme, it's not often we go against a zone team like that," Jenkins said. "So trying to get the feel, trying to find a fit and being able to make plays was on my mind."

Jenkins did respond with a big-time run stuff right after Gruden's comments. And he settled in better in the second half. The Saints will need that type of continued improvement from the second-year big man going forward since veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley will miss time with a quadriceps injury -- possibly the remainder of the season.

"Honestly, just whatever they need me to do, that's what I'm gonna do. So it's unfortunate that Brodrick went down and so late in the season, but I guess I gotta do what I gotta do," said Jenkins, who's had a roller-coaster season with a torn pectoral muscle in the summer, followed by inconsistent play on the field that left him inactive for three games.

The 6-foot-3, 359-pounder said he feels like he's been making progress, though.

"Being able to overcome that injury and then trying to find my fit back on the team and being able to play the schemes that I'm playing, it was a growth period for me this whole season," Jenkins said.

Those interior linemen were hardly the Saints' only problem against Baltimore, though, as the Saints gave up a season-high 215 rushing yards. Running back Justin Forsett ran for 182 of them and two touchdowns. He and backup Bernard Pierce combined for five runs of 20-plus.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro whiffed once when Forsett came around the corner. Linebacker Curtis Lofton missed one potential tackle. He and linebacker David Hawthorne each ran into blocks at least once when Forsett made some sharp cutbacks.

And the Ravens' linemen and fullback did a consistently good job of sealing off the edges and moving up into the second level to take out New Orleans' linebackers (sometimes a result of the Saints' linemen not being able to occupy multiple blockers).

"If we went through some of the breakdowns in the runs last week, it's just gap integrity and fitting it correctly," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Especially when you're playing some down-safety defense, understanding your alignment to begin with, and then your gap to fit it correctly. I think that's the No. 1 thing when you look at the runs."

"A lot of different reasons," Vaccaro said. "It kind of goes back to the first of the season, a guy's out of his gap on this play, then another guy's out of his gap on this play. ‘Cuz it only takes one person out of your 11 to get creased, especially with these schemes like the Ravens run. We've just gotta be more clutch all together."

Put even more succinctly, Lofton said, "It's guys not doing their job."

As Payton also pointed out, when the Saints are forced to add an additional safety into run defense, it puts even more stress on the secondary. So it can be a domino effect.

The good news is this hasn't been a consistent problem for New Orleans' defense all season. Their struggles against Cincinnati a week earlier came mostly from four big runs, but the Saints actually stuffed the Bengals for two yards or less on 17 of their 31 carries.

The bad news is that the task doesn't get any easier as they face the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road this week. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell is second in the NFL with 951 rushing yards (not to mention 484 receiving yards).

"It surprises me a little bit," Vaccaro said of the recent breakdowns. "I thought after that Lions game [in Week 7], our run defense was going uphill. And then to have something like this these last two weeks, it's just kinda like, ‘Alright man, let's get this handled.'

"We've gotta get it fixed because the Steelers are a big running team. Le'Veon Bell to me is the most complete back in the league."
METAIRIE, La. -- ESPN analysts Steve Young, Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis absolutely nailed the current state of the New Orleans Saints in their postgame breakdown after Monday night's 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Naturally, the ex-QBs Young and Dilfer were defensive of Drew Brees. But they correctly pointed out that Brees' woes are magnified because -- as Young put it -- he's been "neutered because he has no help."

Here's the recap:

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanThe problems surrounding Drew Brees appear more prominent when the Saints QB does make a mistake.
Young: "You gotta know that whoever that wild-card team that has to come down here if that's the case ... (the Saints) are just not gonna play enough defense. There's nothing about this Saints team that's scary, other than No. 9..."

Dilfer: "And he has to be perfect ..."

Young: "And he's been neutered because he has no help and he's not getting protected. So, to me, whoever comes out of the division, put 'em in the playoffs and they're gonna be one-and-out. There's no way you can go forward with what they have. Now, we've seen teams get hot and strengthen and turn the ball over defensively. But (Sean Payton said last week) it's a six-game season? I think it's gonna be tough for them to get very far."

Dilfer: "What's unfair is when you're not supported by a good defense, it magnifies every mistake..."

Young: "And you're unprotected by the offensive line..."

Dilfer: "Yeah, it magnifies every mistake you make. So Drew (had some) missed throws. He wasn't perfect. But hardly any quarterback is perfect. But his mistakes become magnified because you feel like every time he has the ball, he has to be perfect."

Dilfer and Young then dissected how often Brees was under pressure on Monday night, when Brees was sacked four times and hit as he threw the third-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown.

"It just takes away from his brilliance, because there is so much good that No. 9 does to get things going," Dilfer said.

Protection hasn't been a constant issue for Brees this season -- but it certainly was on Monday night since the Saints couldn't run against Baltimore's defense and became one-dimensional.

Young put Brees in the elite class with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers and said all of them "go south" when they have protection issues.

"The problem with what's happening with Drew now is he's 35 and everybody's starting to talk about (a decline), and this is only going to add to that. And that just frustrates him, I'm sure," Young said. "But unfortunately he doesn't have a lot of weapons to fight back with right now."

Host Steve Levy then pointed out the Saints can no longer count on their home mystique, either, after dropping three straight home games for the first time since 2006-07. The Saints' streak of 14 straight prime-time wins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome fell on Monday night.

Then Lewis interjected with perhaps the most damning line of all:

"They were good then, Steve."

"That's a big deal," Young added. "The whole league knew, no matter how they were playing they could come down here (in the Superdome) and get healthy. Things could get right. Now that's all gone. You have nothing left."

QB snapshot: Drew Brees

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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A quick observation of quarterback Drew Brees and how he played in the New Orleans Saints' 34-27 loss in Week 12:

Believe it or not, Brees is actually on pace to throw for 5,078 yards with 32 touchdowns and a league-best 70.3 completion percentage.

Brees
But it’s still easy to see that he’s not playing up to his usual standard. And it’s easy to identify why: the turnovers.

Brees has thrown 11 interceptions and lost two fumbles this year. And it’s not just the volume that’s disturbing -- it’s how incredibly costly they’ve been in huge moments. His interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter of Monday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens was the latest example.

Brees has thrown three pick-sixes this year. Only Blake Bortles and Austin Davis have thrown more, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Brees' accuracy also has been a tick off on some of his deep balls throughout the year and some of his red zone throws Monday night. And I don’t disagree with analysts who say he’s not the same as usual this season.

But I also believe that’s magnified by the fact that the Saints so desperately need Brees to do it all for them. Brees has been pressing too much with the Saints' defense once again playing so poorly (a flashback to 2012 in both regards).
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints (4-7) helped two divisions make history Monday night with their 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens (7-4).

The NFC South is now the only division in NFL history with every team at least three games below .500 at any point in the season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And the AFC North is now the only division to ever have every team at least three games above .500.

Remarkably, New Orleans is still tied for first with the Atlanta Falcons (4-7), despite having lost three straight games -- all at home.

Obviously, that’s a great incentive to keep plugging away. In any other division or any other season, New Orleans would just be playing out the string at this point.

But it should come as no surprise that Monday night, the Saints weren’t taking any comfort or motivation from the rest of the division’s failures when their own are so prevalent.

“I ain’t even worried about no hunt. There ain’t no hunt when you’re 4-7,” Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said when asked about still being in the playoff hunt. “You gotta worry about winning the next game. There’s no such thing as a hunt when you’re 4-7.”

“You don’t really take a lot of solace right now after a loss,” coach Sean Payton said. “Obviously, to be playing for something is important. And yet we’ve gotta make sure that some of the things we did better tonight we continue to build on, and then some of the things we didn’t do well, we get corrected. … I completely see -- and our players completely see -- ‘Hey, these are some things we’ve gotta be better at. And if we’re not, then it’s not gonna matter.’”

The Falcons currently hold tiebreakers based on head-to-head record and division record. But the Saints could erase those tiebreakers by winning their final three games within the division (vs. Carolina in Week 14, vs. Atlanta in Week 16, at Tampa Bay in Week 17).

That alone might be enough to win the division at 7-9.

Heck, the Saints might even still be considered the front-runners -- as NBC analyst Rodney Harrison suggested.

But as offensive tackle Zach Strief pointed out, the Saints still have to figure out how to actually start winning games for any scenario to play out.

“The reality is this team needs to fix itself, because it’s not gonna matter. Because we have to win games,” Strief said. “So if it wasn’t that scenario, it shouldn’t change what guys are playing for in here. If you can’t elevate yourself to care enough based on pride and based on responsibility to each other to your fans to your coaches, then you’re not a professional. So it shouldn’t matter.

“The reality is all we have to worry about is fixing ourselves, because everything’s gonna come from that. If we don’t fix ourselves, nothing else matters.”
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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints got one thing right in Monday night's 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens -- the offensive aggressiveness and sense of urgency that was so blatantly lacking a week earlier.

The Saints' first play of the game was an empty-backfield pass, with Drew Brees hitting Jimmy Graham for 11 yards.

Their second: a 67-yard gain on an end-around run by seldom-used dynamic receiver Joe Morgan.

Of course, that drive ended with a failure to punch it in, despite having first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But we've established by now that this team is far from perfect.

At least the Saints looked more like their usual selves on offense while failing to get the job done.

"Last week was real tough the way we looked, but I thought we had energy tonight," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who had admitted his team was too "flat" after a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. "I felt like our guys had the energy and were ready to go. It's a game that comes down to opportunities, and we weren't able to capitalize on them."

That aggressive approach backfired when Payton said he went with a "gut feeling" to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the Saints' opening drive because he thought it was an important time in the game to send a message. Saints running back Mark Ingram wound up getting stuffed for the third time on that goal-line stand.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanDrew Brees threw for 420 yards and three TDs, but he also had a costly interception against Baltimore.
But it was the execution that failed -- not the mindset, especially considering the Saints need their offense to lead the way with their defense struggling so mightily.

"Our approach going in, and our players knew it, was that we were going to be aggressive in this game," Payton said. "And we obviously could look back and [have] kicked it. But it's something I decided."

Brees' performance was also aggressive but imperfect.

His stat line was a pretty good summation of what kind of night it was, for better and for worse: 420 yards, three touchdowns and one colossally-costly interception that was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Brees admittedly missed a couple of throws in the red zone -- where the Saints scored only 20 points on five trips inside the 16-yard line. However, he seemed to be too generous on himself for a poor decision to throw the interception while under pressure.

Brees described it as "really just bad luck -- you get wrapped up just as the ball's coming out of your hand and it kind of deviates the throw a little bit."

The offensive line did earn its share of the blame, too -- on that play and many others. The Saints couldn't run a lick in the first half, and Brees was sacked four times overall.

In a bit of a role reversal, the unit that played the best was the receiving corps, which had been sagging for much of the season. Morgan also had a 62-yard catch in the first quarter. Marques Colston and Kenny Stills also had big nights. Even Nick Toon got in on the action.

Another positive spin for the Saints: Baltimore's defense was probably the best remaining on their schedule. New Orleans will certainly have better opportunities for success against the other three struggling members of the NFC South later this season (vs. Carolina in Week 14, vs. Atlanta in Week 16, at Tampa Bay in Week 17).

And, yeah, that's grasping at a consolation prize at this point. But, hey, someone has to win the embarrassing division. And an aggressive, attacking Saints offense offers their only hope to be that team.
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Baltimore Ravens' first offensive snap on Monday night was a 38-yard run by Justin Forsett.

Their last meaningful snap was a 20-yard touchdown run by Forsett.

And in between was a whole bunch of other ugly stuff for a New Orleans Saints defense that has somehow managed to regress during the Saints' current three-game losing streak.

New Orleans' defensive performance in Monday night's 34-27 loss to the Ravens might have been its worst yet this season. And the only reason I say "might" is because there are so many other worthy candidates.

"I think every game we come off, it's something new. Sometimes we have problems with the pass, sometimes we have a problem with the run, sometimes we have a problem with both," Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis admitted bluntly. "So we gotta fix everything."

Of course there's plenty of blame to go around after this loss -- and for the Saints' pitiful 4-7 season, in general.

And of course quarterback Drew Brees deserves a large share of it after he threw yet another game-killing interception in the third quarter that was returned for a touchdown.

But Brees' sin is that he hasn't been able to handle the burden of needing to be almost perfect every week. He's pressing too much because he's all the Saints have -- and it's not working out.

It's 2012 all over again.

At least the Saints had an excuse that year, when they went 7-9 and set the NFL record for yards allowed in a season while coach Sean Payton was serving a year-long suspension.

This year has been a much more startling disappointment because the Saints' up-and-coming young defense under second-year coordinator Rob Ryan was actually supposed to alleviate that pressure on Brees and the offense more than ever.

Last year was a breakout year for the Saints' defense. This year, it has been nothing but breakdowns.

"This year has been kind of funny, just the way we find a way to lose the game," veteran linebacker and captain Curtis Lofton said. "We gotta quit finding a way to lose the game and find a way to win a game."

The Saints' defensive sins were too many to count Monday night. They couldn't get off the field again on third downs (Baltimore was 9-of-13). They allowed five plays of 35 yards or more. They forced one turnover and one sack -- but it wasn't nearly enough to make up that big-play deficit.

More than anything, though, the Saints couldn't stop the run, which has recently emerged as their biggest problem in a series of rotating biggest problems this year.

Forsett ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He set the tone on the Raven's opening drive, which ended in a touchdown. And he put the game out of reach late with that final touchdown that put Baltimore up by 14 with 2:53 remaining.

"I think tonight it was apparent we struggled just consistently stopping the run. That happens, and there are a lot of things that become more challenging," Payton said. "Your third downs become more challenging. Your pass rush becomes more challenging. The pressure on the back end becomes more challenging."

The Saints did try to make a couple of lineup tweaks this week -- moving cornerback Patrick Robinson back into the starting lineup ahead of struggling Corey White and thrusting recently-signed rookie Pierre Warren into the starting free safety job vacated by Rafael Bush's season-ending leg injury.

Those moves actually paid off a little, with those two combining to force a fumble near the goal line.

But not much else panned out. Ryan dialed up more blitzes than usual on third-and-longs, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco fired off quick passes that burned the secondary just as much as when the Saints weren't getting any pressure.

When asked if it's frustrating that the Saints are still trying to figure out so many issues this late in the season, Payton said, "We're not trying to figure it out. We're trying to correct it."

"Obviously our margin for error is not good enough to win close games," Payton said -- a realization that's even more disturbing. "We have to play better and coach better."
NEW ORLEANS – Observed and heard in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints' 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Brees
Brees on pick-six: After throwing for 420 yards, three touchdowns and one extremely costly interception that was returned for a touchdown, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said, "There's just not a large margin for error ... and we're just not doing quite enough to get the job done right now."

Brees said his throws in the red-zone weren't good enough on the drives that fell short, and he said his pick-six was "really just bad luck -- you're getting wrapped up just as the ball's coming out of your hands, and it kind of deviates the throws a little bit. ...

"This is a game of inches and split seconds. Unfortunately a lot of those haven't gone our way this year."

Brees later added, "It's the team that makes the least amount of bad plays that wins, not necessarily the team that makes the most amount of good plays."

Saints vow to keep working: The Saints didn't try to sugarcoat their performance, but there were also no signs of frustration boiling over in the locker room. Coach Sean Payton said the team remains "together" and "tough-minded." Cornerback Keenan Lewis said, "If you're down at this point, you find a way to fix it, not walk out." And offensive tackle Zach Strief said, "If there's one good thing I can say about this team is there's been a constant elevation in work."

Payton, who took an extra-long time addressing the team before meeting the media, kept his message in-house. Brees' message was that they just need that one win to start turning things around. "Winning cures a lot of things," Brees said.

Vaccaro on personal foul: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro got the raw end of the deal on a personal-foul penalty after he retaliated against Ravens receiver Steve Smith for shoving his helmet off after a tackle in the third quarter. The penalty had Payton incensed on the sideline for several minutes. Neither dwelled on the penalty after the game, though.

"He's just a competitive player. I made a tackle, he stiff-armed my helmet off, and that was it," Vaccaro said. "I mean, I'm not gonna back down. At the same time, I can't get stupid penalties."
NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas, cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Curtis Lofton are officially active for Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s unclear if either Thomas (shoulder, rib) or Lewis (knee) will be limited at all. Thomas practiced every day this past week on a limited basis after missing the past four games. Lewis also increased his workload, practicing twice after being limited to 10 snaps last week.

There were no real surprises among the Saints inactives: receiver Robert Meachem, running back Khiry Robinson, offensive tackle Nick Becton, defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, linebacker Kyle Knox and cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Terrence Frederick.

That means all three newcomers the Saints signed this week will be active: receiver/punt returner Jalen Saunders, safety Pierre Warren and linebacker Moise Fokou.

There were also no surprises among the Ravens’ inactives: nose tackle Terrence Cody, receiver Michael Campanaro, linebacker Arthur Brown, defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, center Gino Gradkowski, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and offensive tackle Jah Reid.
METAIRIE, La. -- Last year, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton cracked that he’d be the first to send longtime Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith a retirement card if it ever happens.

When asked about that this week as the Saints prepare to face Smith’s new team, the Baltimore Ravens, Payton said, “It’s ready, the flowers, the whole nine.”

Smith
“The good news was he left our division. The bad news was we’re playing him this year,” said Payton, who has always been effusive with his praise for Smith, whom he coached in the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season. “I love watching him play, his passion. He’s tough. There’s an energy that he brings with him that is very evident just on watching the tape. ...

“He has energy, he has juice, he’s a guy that obviously looks for the big-play opportunities. He’s fit in great with their system.”

The Saints have faced Smith 22 times over the past 13 seasons – a rivalry that predates everyone on the Saints’ current roster and coaching staff. Over the past 18 of those games, Smith caught 90 passes for 1,364 yards and scored 11 touchdowns (one on a running play).

This year, Smith has 49 catches for 728 yards and four touchdowns, though he’s slowed down a bit over the past month after a monster start.

With both Steve Smith and surging receiver Torrey Smith as big-play threats for the Ravens, it’s imperative that Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis is closer to 100 percent than he was last week, when he was clearly hampered by a knee injury.

When healthy, Lewis has been the one constant for a turbulent Saints secondary that now has to turn to its third starting free safety in the wake of veteran Rafael Bush’s season-ending leg injury.

“I give a lot of respect to that guy. One of the best in the league, physical, so he’s got it all,” Lewis said of Steve Smith. “They should’ve definitely kept him in Carolina. That’s been their guy for years. You don’t get rid of a guy like that. What is he, 35? But he’s playing like he’s 25. So you don’t get rid of people like that.”

W2W4: Saints need stars to step up

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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METAIRIE, La. -- There is plenty of blame to go around for the New Orleans Saints’ 4-6 start. But the three guys who need to step up the most from here on out are arguably the Saints’ three best players: quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Cameron Jordan.

All of them went quiet last week in a stunning 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s inexcusable for a Saints team that has too many other problem areas. Their star players can’t afford any more off days -- or nights -- starting with tonight’s “Monday Night Football” showdown against the Baltimore Ravens (6-4).

Here's What 2 Watch 4:

Brees
More aggressive offense: Last week's offensive performance was arguably the most disturbing thing that’s happened to the Saints all season, simply because it was so out of character. The Saints’ 10 points marked their lowest output at home since 2006. They were surprisingly-efficient in many ways (high completion percentage, high third-down rate, only one meaningless turnover late in the game, no sacks). But they simply couldn’t score, and they didn’t have a play longer than 17 yards, with Brees missing on the few shots he did take down the field.

Maybe it was just an over-correction since Brees had been struggling with too many turnovers. But the Saints aren’t themselves when they’re not being aggressive. I expect a huge change in that department, especially against a struggling Ravens secondary.

“One of the best ways for a team to get momentum and to get a spark is big plays,” said receiver Joe Morgan, who advocates throwing deep even more and who may help fill that role with dynamic rookie receiver Brandin Cooks on injured reserve. “Not just me. A lot of guys are capable of doing that.”

Graham
More Graham on offense: Graham already leads the Saints with 59 catches, 623 yards and seven touchdowns this year. But they need even more out of him, even if they force-feed him and risk more interceptions because of it (a problem at times this year). Graham is one of the league’s most difficult mismatches, and he’s going to win more times than not.

The rest of the Saints’ season should look more like the Saints’ furious rally attempts against Cleveland in Week 2 or San Francisco two weeks ago, when Graham caught six passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns after halftime (not including his nullified Hail Mary TD catch). The Saints can’t afford to be passive with Graham like they were last week when he caught just three passes for 29 yards.

Graham, by the way, says bring it on.

“If [Cooks] is out or not, I want to do everything,” Graham said. “That’s just the player I am. I always think I’m open, and I always think the ball should come my way. I know if Drew throws my way, I’m going to do my best to go up there and get it for him and put this team in the best place to win.”

More pressure required: The secret to the Saints’ defensive success last season was their relentless four-man pass rush led by Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette, each of whom wound up with 12-plus sacks. Jordan, especially, has been more hit or miss this year -- which has put an added burden on a young, struggling secondary.

“We definitely have to set the tone this week,” said Jordan, who was silenced last week, mostly because QB Andy Dalton got rid of the ball so fast. “The ball was out even faster than we were told about. But being part of the D-line, it has to start with us. We’ve gotta be able to get back there and affect the quarterback and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. So if that has to be faster, it has to be faster.

“[Baltimore’s Joe] Flacco is one of the few pocket passers in the league. But he’s still getting the ball out pretty fast, and they’ve got some nice weapons we’re aware of.”
METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints would prefer to avoid making history Monday night when they go up against Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs.

The six-time Pro Bowl linebacker needs just a half-sack to reach 100 for his career.

Two of Suggs’ sacks came against Drew Brees – one in 2010 and one in just the third game of Suggs’ career in 2003, when Brees was with the San Diego Chargers.

But there’s another Saints player who’s been admiring Suggs’ work even longer – fellow Pro Bowl pass-rusher Cameron Jordan, who hails from the same town in Arizona where Suggs went to high school.

Here’s what the Saints had to say about Suggs this week:

[+] EnlargeTerrell Suggs
AP Photo/Nick WassRavens linebacker Terrell Suggs is closing in on 100 career sacks.
Jordan: “A Chandler High guy. I’ve been watching him since I was probably like 12, when he was at my alma mater. He was a running back, a defensive end, linebacker. He was like all-world back then. Then, of course, he goes to our rival high school, some trash school across the street (Hamilton High), then he goes on to [Arizona State] and he sets the NCAA record for sacks (24 in 2002 as a junior and 44 for his career, both of which still stand). So I’ve been watching him for a long time. If anybody’s been watching him, I’ve had front-row seats my entire life.”

Jordan on what kind of running back Suggs was (he once ran for 367 yards in a game): “He was the same size when he was like 10. He was mauling kids. He was completely dominant.”

Brees: “He’s as productive as ever. And he’s multidimensional. I think some people maybe view him as, ‘Hey, he’s getting’ a bunch of sacks every year, so he’s kind of this pass-rush outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.’ But he’s really good against the run. He’s a smart, crafty player. You can just tell he’s played a lot of football. That’s a really prideful group there, too. Some of those guys, especially up front, have been there a while. He played with guys like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis for a long time. So I’m sure he learned a lot of football along the way from being with that group and being a part of some really great defenses.”

G Ben Grubbs (a former teammate with the Ravens): “His work ethic, God-given abilities, God-given talents [stand out]. You know, he loves playing the game. And when you see him play, if you’ve ever seen him practice, you can look at that guy and say he’s having fun doing what he is doing. And I just think that the way he approaches the game has enabled him to do what he’s able to do.”

G Jahri Evans: “He’s just consistent, man. He’s consistent against the run, and he’s consistent against the pass. He can get after the passer when they ask him to. And he boxes tackles in on the run. That’s what you see with Terrell, even when he missed those games through injury (a torn Achilles in 2012), he came back and he’s still playing at a high caliber.”

LT Terron Armstead: “They’ll play strong and weak, but most of the time Terrell is on my side. … Everything [stands out]. Savvy veteran. He knows exactly what he’s trying to do, where he’s trying to get on the field. You’ve gotta be aware of him the whole entire game.”

Jordan: “He’s just tenacious. He’s not only explosive, but at this point he’s so seasoned in the game -- he’s seen all the moves, he knows what to do. He’s played all the teams at least twice. I mean, what is he, like 35 years in? And he’s still playing at an elite level. So that’s very impressive.”
videoMETAIRIE, La. -- A new six-game season kicks off tonight for the New Orleans Saints.

That's the message coach Sean Payton sent his team heading into tonight's home date with the Baltimore Ravens (6-4). Payton showed players a chart at the beginning of the week with all of their statistics reading zeroes.

Evans
"Basically the idea is, 'Play our best football now,'" Saints guard Jahri Evans said. "We still have a shot at it, despite our 4-6 record and the mistakes we've made. We're still in position to accomplish all the things we want to accomplish."

That's the beauty of the NFC South, which has become a laughingstock to everyone outside the division. To the Saints, it's reason for hope.

It's the one good break they've gotten this year in a season filled with bad breaks.

Since the Saints are in the division lead, they have a golden opportunity to host a first-round playoff game should they maintain hold of that advantage.

And as offensive tackle Zach Strief said, "Once you get in, it's free for anybody to take it."

Strief
Although Payton stressed that it's important the Saints don't ignore the mistakes they've made so far this season and that they learn from them, Evans said the message is that they don't "carry those mistakes forward into the now."

"Certainly we're concerned with the way that we're playing. We don't want to turn in games like we did last week," Strief said of the Saints' 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals -- their lowest scoring output in a home game since 2006. "But everything is still in front of us, and this team can still turn things around.

"So we could listen to the message of, 'What's wrong with you guys? You guys stink.' Or we could turn things around and get into this tournament and see what happens."

It may sound like a tired message since the Saints have continued to take two steps forward and two steps back all season. But several players credited Payton for being straightforward with them about where they stand -- but also about what they can still accomplish.

"We know we're a good team. And we haven't played it or haven't shown it, but we're still very confident. And all of these problems, they will be addressed and they will be fixed," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "Coach Payton has been very real with us. 'This is exactly where we're at in the NFC, and this is exactly what we've gotta do. And if we do this, then at the end of the year we're going to be very happy.'

"And this is what it's about. So guys gotta see that. You've gotta feel it, you've gotta breathe it and you've gotta believe in it. And you have to do everything in your power to make this team better and make yourself better for these last six games."
METAIRIE, La. -- Say this for New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson: He’s resilient.

Robinson
The former first-round draft pick’s entire career has been a non-stop roller-coaster ride because of his highs and lows on the field and injury issues off the field.

But Robinson has continued to battle back each time -- something he has again been doing quietly over the past month after losing his starting job early in the year.

And this week, Robinson was honored by teammates as the 2014 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award for the way he came back from the major knee injury he suffered last year.

“I'd say in the nine years that I've been here, [Robinson won by] the largest margin of votes. It wasn’t even close,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “With the injury he suffered and the rehab, he was here every day in the offseason. It was just like he was a fixture in the building. I think it was an easy decision for his teammates and certainly well deserving.”

More recently, Robinson has shown his resilience on the field, playing noticeably more decisive and aggressive in his nickelback role. He was officially credited with a total of three passes defensed in Weeks 9-10, and he easily could have been credited with two more this past Sunday against Cincinnati.

Former Saints cornerback Jabari Greer made a point to stress the improvement he’s been seeing from Robinson when he broke down the Saints earlier this week. And Greer suggested that Robinson’s speed could make him a good matchup against the Baltimore Ravens’ speedy deep threat, Torrey Smith, on Monday night.

Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan both praised Robinson on Saturday for his improved play -- and his improved confidence, which Robinson himself admits has always been one of his biggest issues. Ryan said he’s seen the game start to “slow down” for Robinson.

“It was pretty tough. But I think it was all on me,” Robinson said of being demoted while he was struggling early in the year. “[I was] not being as fundamentally sound on my technique. And I think I was playing a little … like I don’t want to get beat instead of just playing football, pretty much.

“Right now, I’m just trying to do my job and that’s it. If I get beat, oh well. On to the next play.”
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is well aware that third-and-long has become his unit’s biggest nemesis.

“We gotta fix it. Hell, it’s everybody [trying to find the solution],” said Ryan, who said that includes meeting with coach Sean Payton to discuss the philosophy in those situations. “We have to fix this. So it can’t be just, ‘Oh, we played good, then we blow this or did this.’ It’s costing us games, and we have to fix it.”

The Saints allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to convert six first downs on third-and-8 or longer last week. And they’ve allowed more first downs than any team in the NFL this year on plays of third-and-8 or fourth-and-8 or longer (23, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

Some of the breakdowns have been more notorious than others (Golden Tate’s 73-yard touchdown on third-and-14 at Detroit and Michael Crabtree’s 51-yard catch on fourth-and-10 versus San Francisco immediately spring to mind).

Unfortunately, the specific solution is hard to identify since the Saints' defense has been burned in a variety of ways in those situations -- whether they blitz or not, whether they keep the quarterback in the pocket or not.

“There’s been a lot of different games where this situation has come up, and they’ve been a little bit different every time,” Ryan said. “We lose contain, we misplay a ball in the air, we have the wrong leverage on a play. There’s a lot of different things. But at the end of the game we have to be more aware of the situation, we gotta be better technique-wise, and we've gotta do a better job of coaching. That’s just the way it is.”
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' final injury report of the week was loaded with good news Saturday. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Curtis Lofton and running backs Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet are all listed as probable for Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Lewis
That means all are likely to play, barring any setbacks. Lewis, who has been fighting through a nagging knee injury for two weeks, said he plans to ready.

"'Monday Night Football.' I’ll be there," Lewis said. "I definitely feel like it’s getting better every day. I’ve got two more days. And 'Monday Night Football,' here we come."

It remains unclear if Lewis will be limited, as he was last week when he only played 10 snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals. But chances are his workload will increase well past that total. He was able to practice on a limited basis both Friday and Saturday this week after practicing only once last week. The extra day of rest before a Monday game didn’t hurt.

It also remains unclear if Thomas will be limited, since he missed the past four games with shoulder and rib injuries. But the "probable" designation is a promising sign. And Thomas has been able to practice on a limited basis all week. He was in very high spirits when he met with the media Thursday -- though he refused to reveal whether he’s officially playing or not.

I addressed Saturday morning how Thomas’ return might affect running back Mark Ingram's touches. I think Ingram will still get a heavy dose of the carries and goal-line looks, with Thomas spelling him at times and playing a bigger role in the passing game. Cadet’s touches could diminish, even if he is healthy enough to play. And running back Khiry Robinson (forearm) has officially been ruled out for Monday, as expected.

Lofton was expected to play all along, so his "probable" designation comes as no surprise.

Receiver Robert Meachem remains questionable after returning to practice on a limited basis with his ankle injury. The Saints don’t need to rush him back, even after losing Brandin Cooks to a season-ending thumb injury this week, since they have experienced backups Joe Morgan and Nick Toon on the roster.

Linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) has also been ruled out. Ingram (shoulder) and offensive tackle Zach Strief (chest) are listed as probable, but they should be fine after both practiced fully all week.

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