No doubt that's a great question. In the simple, short answer the Saints are a team that is 4 and 6 that has lacked consistency on both sides of the football this season. More recently have looked disgustingly bad on defense in the previous three games before the bye week.
The more complex answer is we'll find out what this team is really made of in the final six regular season games. It's hard to feel good about the Saints possibly finishing above .500 when you look at the schedule remaining. This game in Houston Sunday is not nearly as winnable as maybe it was thought to be four weeks ago. The following week against the Panthers at home seems completely out of the question.
The following four games don't look all that bad, but then again the same could've be said about the two game stretch in weeks 9 & 10 when the Saints faced and lost to the Tennessee Titans who had one win prior to that match up… followed by an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins. After the Panthers; the Saints play Jacksonville at home, Tampa on the road, home against Detroit and then wrap up the season against the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
The final six games are hardly soft for this team, and frankly it's going to be tough to even go 3 and 3 in the last six games. The players and coaches, at least on the surface, still seem pretty optimistic about their chances.
Dennis Allen Debut:
Sunday will be the first chance we'll get to see what a Dennis Allen defense looks like, albeit playing with the same personnel group that has been one of the worst units in the NFL. "He's got a demeanor about him that is important. There is a calmness about him. I think there is always something uniquely different when you change play callers," Saints coach Sean Payton said in describing what Allen brings to the defense.
The players seem to be all in on Allen. "We're ready to play, he's a great coach. Guys are flying around in (practice) more than I've seen in previous weeks," explained cornerback Delvin Breaux.
The Saints officially placed cornerback Keenan Lewis on injured reserve yesterday (sports hernia) after he struggled to return to full health following preseason surgery. He went through the process (sports hernia procedure), He was making progress off the M.C.L. There is a point especially with his position... in order to play a level you need to play at corner, with all the change of direction, it was going to take a little more time," Payton said. Lewis also suffered a knee injury in the loss to Washington. Lewis played in just six games this season predominantly in the sub packages on defense. The team restructured Lewis' contract this offseason after he expressed some frustration on social media. The Saints gave him $10.4 million in guaranteed money, for the three years remaining on his deal he signed in 2013. Lewis wanted more security at the time, and the Saints gave it to him.
Saints defensive back Damian Swann has suffered two concussions this season and hasn't played since since November 1st against the New York Giants. "I think Damian's prognoses is better, I think we get him back here sooner rather than later," Coach Payton explained ahead of the final injury report of the week coming out. Swann is listed among three players ruled OUT for this week against the Texans. This will mark the fifth game he's missed this season. Swann expressed his concern in the locker room today about potential long term effects of concussions and brain injuries.
You will see a difference in the Saints defense this week with Dennis Allen calling the plays, but it won't be dramatic improvement. The Saints will look more organized on that side of the ball which will help the players make more plays and put up a better performance, but don't expect drastic results and changes with just two weeks to put his stamp on the D. The offensive match up against the Texans defense isn't favorable. Houston leads the league in third down defense, while the Saints lead the league in third down offense. The Saints don't run the ball that well, and that plays right into the Texans hands.
Houston wins 27-17 against the Saints.
Three Saints are OUT:
LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip), LB David Hawthorne (thigh) and CB Damian Swann (concussion) will not play this week. LB Hau'oli Kikaha (ankle) and LT Terron Armstead (knee) are both probable. LB Stephone Anthony (leg), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), WR Willie Snead (knee) and LB Ramon Humber (hamstring) are all probable.
The most notable change in the Saints defense down the stretch with Dennis Allen now calling the defensive plays will most likely be a scaled back set of calls. A dramatic change in scheme is not likely with Allen taking over for the recently fired Rob Ryan.
"Playing the game the right way, playing with effort and intensity that you have to play defense with… That's been more of the focus," Allen explained today, "We're going into week 11 of the season, it's not like you can change everything schematically."
Talking to the players today in the locker room, that seemed to be an over-riding theme.
"Effort and intensity!" We heard that it a lot. So it makes you wonder if the players didn't have enough effort for Rob Ryan and if so, why not? The only thing I can offer is that the players weren't exactly sure of their assignment at times, and that slowed them down. That impacted their effort.
Players taking blame:
"We let him down as players, a good man got fired and it's sad to see," safety Kenny Vaccaro said when he was asked about his reaction to the firing of Rob Ryan before the bye week.
Vaccaro's comments were echoed throughout the locker room, maybe not in the same exact words but basically with the same sentiment.
"This is a result driven league. You still have to perform as a player. When you put on the tape across the league, they don't care who the coach is. They care about performance," Vaccaro added.
The bottom line is this, it's now on the players to execute. They no longer have the benefit of saying it's scheme, or it's too complex.
Four Saints miss practice:
LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip), LB David Hawthorne (thigh) CB Keenan Lewis (hip/knee), and CB Damian Swann (concussion) all sat out of practice today.
According to a league source, the Saints will sign veteran linebacker Phillip Hunt. ESPN first reported the news.
Hunt has bounced around the league since entering as an undrafted free agent in 2009 with the Cleveland Browns. Hunt played at the University of Houston, and spent this season with the Detroit Lions before his recent release.
The Saints worked out today as a "bonus day" coming off their bye week leading up to this Sunday's match up with the Houston Texans.
Please spare me of the argument "Les deserves another year!" He absolutely does not! In three weeks LSU has lost three consecutive games and plummeted out of the AP top 25. The Tigers have gone from No. 2 in the country to unranked in less than a month, and you think he deserves another shot? LSU can't afford another year at his price. Miles is one of the country's top paid coaches at one of the top programs in the country. His team looks like they've checked out on him, and that's a sure fire sign that his $15 million dollar buyout shouldn't be an obstacle.
It's been since 1966 that a Tiger football team has had three losses in a row by double digits. When you start digging into numbers like that it's easy to make the case to get rid of Miles. Truth is he was always viewed as a "keeper of the store" not the architect of the store. To borrow a line from Sean Payton (Saints head coach) i've seen enough. I've seen enough mismanagement of the clock, I've seen enough of the Alabama dominance over the Tigers and I've seen enough to know the players don't believe in Les Miles as the guy to get them over the Alabama hump. That's a problem. I've seen enough from the fans frustrations to keep the fire hot under Miles seat.
To keep Les Miles another year would set the program back another year. Until you get rid of Miles, you're not beating Alabama and therefore not winning an SEC championship and not getting into the college football playoffs. Reports surfaced last week about the possibility of a buyout, so in essence you're a dead man walking if you're Les Miles. You have to consider that if you're a potential recruit of the Tigers. Am I playing for a guy that won't be there when I graduate or leave school after my junior season? Recruits and parents want to know the coach will be there for a while, they want stability. Les Miles in a one year return, wouldn't provide that. In essence you would prolong the inevitable if you kept him.
If you're LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva, you're not without blame or culpability. You gave Miles an extension two years ago when he reportedly flirted with Arkansas about their head coaching gig. Miles doesn't command that kind of over reaction from Alleva. His extension gave him the ultimate leverage to make it harder to part ways with him in a situation like this. The university is facing significant budget cuts, so where would the money come from to buy out Miles contract? From private funds! I know the look isn't good, but in my opinion it's a separate discussion. Education vs Entertainment and stagnanation of your football program.
LSU has long been thought of as a 'dream job' for any coach across the country since Nick Saban divorced LSU for the NFL. LSU can get any coach they want aside from Saban. So the buyout would be worth it. Perhaps Miles does the university a favor and walks away on his own, although I wouldn't count on that. If you're LSU you can't keep him regardless of if he wins against Texas A&M this week. I think it's a move you have to make this week. You heard me right, it's time. The time has come to move on! If he does lose to the Aggies the separation becomes even more clear, Alleva... keeping Miles after this season would be a mistake that might land the Tigers in the company of Miami, and Texas who have fallen on tough times in recent years.
Banged up: I know, every team in the NFL has to deal with injuries, but the Saints have seemingly had more than their fair share this season. Seven players missed practice today for the Black and Gold, including CB Keenan Lewis (illness) and WR Willie Snead (knee). Lewis and Snead both practiced yesterday, and Lewis should return tomorrow. Left Tackle Terron Armstead also didn't practice, still nursing a knee injury that he's played through since week four. The Saints are probably just giving Armstead one more day of rest this week. LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip) also missed practice. See what I mean? While the Saints are searching for consistency, the injury bug has played a role in that, keeping several key players out of the line for different stretches of time this season.
Pressure: The Saints defensive players are harping on that very subject this week leading up to the game against Washington. "The key is 1st and 2nd down, if we get him in some longer situations you can get the quarterback to hold the ball longer, and give our rushers a chance to go get him," explained Saints defensive lineman Kevin Williams. The Redskins have been really good protecting QB Kirk Cousins this season, allowing just 9 sacks in eight games this season. Cousins has been particularly impressive this season at home going 3 and 1 in FedEx Field. Something tells me we might be in for yet another shoot out type of ball game against the Redskins.
Injury notes: Saints linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha was limited in practice for the second straight day. Kikaha is dealing with an ankle injury that the Saints might decide to take a cautious approach with and allow him the proper rest and recovery. I would say he's 50/50 to play this week.
Did Not Practice
T Terron Armstead (Knee)
LB Dannell Ellerbe (Hip)
LB David Hawthorne (Hamstring)
LB Ramon Humber (Hamstring)
CB Damian Swann (Concussion)
WR Willie Snead (Knee)
DB Keenan Lewis (illness)
LB Hau'oli Kikaha (Ankle)
G Tim Lelito (Shoulder)
CB Brian Dixon (Hip)
WR Marques Colston (Not Injury Related)
DT Kevin Williams (Not Injury Related)
G Jahri Evans (Not Injury Related)
Nine weeks: The Saints are 4 and 5 with 7 games remaining on the schedule and a bye week coming after the Black and Gold travel to Washington to take on the Redskins. QB Drew Brees says the team "needs to go on the road this week and play our best football, because we need this win. This is a week we have to pull out all the stops and make sure we get this win." Brees took several big shots including one to the jaw in the loss against the Titans that required some medical attention after the game. "A guy got a clean shot on me - I got hit in the jaw, so I ended up getting stitches," he said, adding that he's fine, and it's a part of the game.
Red-Zone Defense: In Sean Payton's words it's just not very good. "What I mean by that is the ability to force some field goals," he said. Rob Ryan's defense has been really good on third down but opponents are scoring touchdowns on 72% of their red zone trips in the last three weeks. The Saints seemingly have to survive shootouts if they are going to get a win, and Payton says that's a feast or famine proposition. "It's going to be hard to win consistently if it's a weekly deal," Payton added. For the second year in a row the defense is hovering at or near the bottom of the league under Rob Ryan.
Consistency Is The Issue: The play on the field has to be more consistent, but to be fair, the Saints have suffered a large amount of injuries at the linebacker position. Dannell Ellerbe has been banged up for all but two games this year along, with Hau'oli Kikaha, David Hawthorne, and Ramon Humber also all missing at least one game. "We're having different linebackers show up nearly every week," joked defensive end Cam Jordan. "Our defense is still learning from itself and I wouldn't say that's a great thing at this point sitting at 4 and 5," Jordan added. This is exactly what we forcasted for a young Saints defense even when they played well. If you were objectively looking at it you would have to say this has been pretty much expected, and I think that will be the way you should look at the defense going down the final seven games of the season.
Injury Report: Nine Saints players missed practice: LT Terron Armstead (knee) LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip) LB David Hawthorne (hamstring) LB Ramon Humber (hamstring) CB Damian Swann (concussion) CB Brian Dixon (hip) all missed due to injury. Veteran WR Marques Colston, G Jahri Evans, and DT Kevin Williams were all listed as "not injury related" - in other words a veterans day off to limit the reps and keep them fresh for later in the week. This strategy has been employed for a few weeks now with the veteran players.
LB Hau'oli Kikaha returned to practice, officially listed as limited inwith an ankle injury he suffered against the Giants that caused him to miss last week against the Titans. G Tim Lelito (shoulder) and WR Willie Snead (knee) were also limited in practice today.
Saints back up Quarterback Luke McCown will have back surgery tomorrow according to a source close to McCown. He showed up this week on the injury report this week, and as a result the team is signing former LSU Qb Matt Flynn. McCown started and played well for Drew Brees against the Panthers in week three of the season. McCown is likely out for the season hence the signing of Flynn. Just another bizarre twist to a crazy Saints season.
Coach Payton confirmed that Luke McCown has been placed on IR and the Saints signed QB Matt Flynn on his weekly radio show with Bobby Hebert & Deke Bellavia.
Saints defensive back Brandon Browner 'regrets' blowing up at a reporter following the Saints disappointing 34-28 over time loss to the Titans. "Everybody has a job to do - I got a job to do, and you never want to disrespect anyone. I regret calling him out," Browner said in the locker room today.
Browner insisted that he's a human being and that he was emotional after the game, and stressed his desire to remain a leader and win games. That's all well and good, but Browner doesn't have the same luxury of a first or second year player. He's been in the league answering post-game questions for six seasons.
With that said, the blowup with a reporter isn't the big deal. His play and his effect on games is the bigger deal, and honestly, he's not playing well. Saints coach Sean Payton wouldn't verbalize if Browner would be disciplined for the incident, but did stress that Browner remains an asset for the team. "He's a captain. Anything we would do from a team standpoint wouldn't be for announcement here," Payton explained.
I'm sure Payton wasn't pleased to see a veteran player lose his cool, and maybe there is argument to be made that the media shouldn't be in the locker room post game. However, until that changes, as a player, that's what you signed up for. It comes with the job, so when you're in a tough position professionally you're supposed to handle it like a pro. Browner did not, but more importantly if Browner was playing well this would be 'nothing to see here.'
Everyone has their moments where they say something they wish they could take back. I've been there several times. However, when you're leading the league in penalties and blowing up at the local media, it's just a bad look. I would also like to point out that he didn't apologize for the tirade - only saying that he regretted it.
The Saints 34-28 overtime loss to the Titans is certainly disappointing, but the behavior of defensive back Brandon Browner after the game in a verbal altercation with Lyons Yellin of WWL-TV is disgusting. According to Lyons after a group interview with Safety Jairus Byrd, Browner launched into a verbal assault: "As I walked away from Jairus (Byrd) he started yelling at me 'Man you guys are talking about one play and we lost in overtime!'" Byrd was asked about the missed opportunity at an interception on a pass intended for Titans TE Delanie Walker, when Byrd and CB Keenan Lewis collided on the 'jump ball' and Walker collected the deflection for a 65 yard touchdown.
Browner continued his verbal altercation with Lyons, calling him a "f***ing p***y." Lyons reported that the Saints public relations staff and several players restrained and escorted Browner out of the locker room after the tirade. Browner apparently was challenged by Lyons to talk about the entire game. After losing to Philadelphia, Browner challenged reporters "What are you going to ask me?" and declined to be interviewed after losing the Eagles. Browner leads the NFL in penalties, and is a team captain. Let me say that again, he's a TEAM CAPTAIN! His play is disturbing, his behavior is appalling!
Like it or not, when you're a prized free agent acquisition and a team captain, the expectation is higher than the standard Browner has shown on and off the field. With a roster littered with so many young impressionable players, how does Browner's actions help them understand how to be a 'pro?' Look, NFL players get paid well, and it comes with he territory to talk to the media. "I get it, reporters might get under your skin as a player but it's called being a professional. You can't have that happen. I mean, Browner couldn't play in New York or one of the large media markets where the reporters ask really tough questions!" said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
If you're Sean Payton, you have to address Browner's play and behavior at this point. What example is he setting? Maybe Browner should be more concerned about his play on the field, and not committing two penalties per game on average, not getting into verbal altercations with the media and trying to set a positive example for the younger players on this roster. Don't dismiss this incident as 'no big deal' because it didn't get physical between Lyons and Browner. He's paid well to be a leader, talk to the media and make plays. Frankly, he hasn't done either very well. For a team to spend a concerted effort in the off-season to bring in 'high character' players this offseason, how does this speak to high character? Blowing up on a reporter that wasn't even talking to him? Thin skin and rabbit ears don't bode well for athletes. Especially for a player that frankly hasn't even come close to living up to the 3 year $15 million dollar contract he signed in the off-season with the Saints. Be a leader, not a bully! Bullies usually get what they deserve in the end. â
âIf I were Payton I would cut him immediately. Come on - if you think about it he basically did the same thing for Junior Galette who was a team captain for not behaving in a desired manner but never convicted for anything in particular. Come on! This dude is a problem, and by keeping him around you're condoning this behavior and you're enabling this kind of behavior in the future.
I know my take might be over the top, but man, you can't have this kind of behavior - otherwise you'll have a team full of players that think it's ok to behave this way.
Thin LB corps: The Saints will be without LBs Dannell Ellerbe and Hau'oli Kikaha for this Sunday's game against the Titans. Ellerbe is listed with a hip injury and Kikaha battling an ankle injury he sustained in the win over the Giants.
Ellerbe's absence is softened by the return of David Hawthorne, but he's such a difference maker on the Saints defense. The Saints will lose some edge rushing ability without Kikaha in the mix, especially when they teamed him up with Cam Jordan in combo formations. I was told and reported earlier in the week that the ankle injury for Kikaha was 'nothing serious,' but obviously it's enough to keep him out for this game. A week off at this point in the season is the right way to handle ankle injuries in order to keep it from becoming a nagging injury the rest of the season. LB Ramon Humber is also listed out with a hamstring injury.
Grayson In: Rookie Qurterback Garret Grayson will serve as the back up to Drew Brees this week with Luke McCown ruled out with a back injury. Grayson took the reps this week with McCown out this week during practice.
Injury report: LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip) LB Hau'oli Kikaha (ankle) CB Damian Swann (concussion) QB Luke McCown (back) LB Ramon Humber (hamstring) have all been ruled out. LT Terron Armstead (knee) and WR Willie Snead (knee) are probable for this week. CB Delvin Breaux did not practice today listed on the injury report with (Non Injury related) and is also listed as probable this week.
The Process: It's something the Saints have talked about for years - going through the steps day by day that it takes to win games in the NFL. The Saints have tried to focus 'internally' on improving within their building during the week. New Orleans is shooting for their fourth straight win this Sunday against the 1 and 6 Titans. The Saints have the opportunity to get above .500 for the first time this season with a win, and on paper, the Black and Gold should beat the Titans. However, the team isn't falling into the trap of being better 'on paper.' We might not like the cliche' answers, but that's pretty much what you're getting this week from the Saints locker room. That's usually a good sign the team is focused on the opponent.
Time on Task: The Saints offense has really surged in the last three ball games and QB Drew Brees attributes a lot of the recent success to time on task with guys like WR Willie Snead, TE Benjamin Watson and WR Brandin Cooks. "We are starting to become more efficient. We are honing in on our bread and butter and forming an identity, which we didn't have four or five games ago. All those things are really positive," You can see Brees is much more comfortable with several of his offensive weapons and I agree with him that the best still might be yet to come.
Saints Injury Report: Did Not Practice: LB Dannell Ellerbe (Hip) CB Damian Swann (Concussion) LB Ramon Humber (Hamstring) LB Hau'oli Kikaha (Ankle) QB Luke McCown (Back). Limited: T Terron Armstead (Knee) WR Willie Snead (Knee). Full: LB David Hawthorne (Hamstring) CB Keenan Lewis (Hip) T Andrus Peat (Knee) WR Marques Colston (Not Injury Related) G Jahri Evans (Not Injury Related) DT Kevin Williams (Not Injury Related)
Titans Injury Report: Did Not Practice: CB Jason McCourty (Groin) CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Hamstring) WR Kendall Wright (Knee). Full: CB Perrish Cox (Hamstring) WR Harry Douglas (Ribs) QB Marcus Mariota (Knee)
Hau'oli Kikaha: Has been sensational this season as a rookie but missed practice today as the Saints returned to the practice field getting ready for this Sunday's match up with the 1-6 Tennessee Titans. Kikaha rolled his ankle in the win over the Giants. I'm told the injury isn't serious, and shouldn't effect him long term. Defensive back Damian Swann (concussion) also missed practice today. Swann suffered his second head injury of the season against New York and missed two games earlier this year after his first concussion. This one might take a while, with a few concussion protocol hurdles to overcome.
Tennessee: Could be the worst team in the league aside from the Detroit Lions. The Titans are 1-6, and have lost six straight games. Tennessee's offense has been putrid with or without Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Mariota has missed two games with a knee injury but has a chance to play this weekend against the Saints. The Titans are averaging 17 points per game and ranked next to last in the league in total yards. On defense the Titans are very respectable, with a top 5 total defensive ranking and currently rank third in the league against the pass allowing under 200 yards a game to opposing quarterbacks.
Brees: "Everyone on our team is playing one another, like they have something to prove to each other". #Saints
Injury Report: Did Not Practice: T Terron Armstead (Knee) WR Marques Colston (Not Injury Related) LB Dannell Ellerbe (Hip) G Jahri Evans (Not Injury Related) WR Willie Snead (Knee) CB Damian Swann (Concussion) DT Kevin Williams (Not Injury Related) LB Ramon Humber (Hamstring) LB Hau'oli Kikaha (Ankle) Full: LB David Hawthorne (Hamstring) CB Keenan Lewis (Hip) T Andrus Peat (Knee)
Terron has been taking Wednesdays off to rest his knee injury for a few weeks now. Nothing to see here. Colston, Evans and Williams - those are nothing more than a veteran players' day off. The big one that stands out is Kikaha but like I mentioned above, I'm told it's nothing serious and I think he might be back as soon as tomorrow and play on Sunday. Getting Hawthorne back is good insurance in case Ellerbe has to miss another game. It's good to see Peat getting back in the mix after missing a few weeks.
Titans Report: Did Not Practice: CB Jason McCourty (Groin) CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Hamstring) WR Kendall Wright (Knee). Full - CB Perrish Cox (Hamstring) WR Harry Douglas (Ribs) QB Marcus Mariota (Knee). The fact that Mariota is full today is a good indication the Saints will see him play Sunday.
The Saints waived FB Austin Johnson today and officially placed RB Khiry Robinson on injured reserve.
The move to release Johnson is interesting... the Saints have been operating primarily in one back sets in the last three games, and the team could end up promoting Toben Opurem off the practice squad to fill the void at fullback.
Where does that Saints vs Giants game rank on the all-time fun meter? It's gotta be at or near the top. The 52-49 win for the Saints was about as wild as any game that I have witnessed covering the Saints in seven seasons. Saints QB Drew Brees would agree - he said immediately after the game he that it might not have all sunk in at that particular moment.
Brees and the Saints offense were on fire - he tossed seven touchdowns, tying an NFL record. He threw for 511 yards - another career high. "You 're so programmed to not look at the scoreboard... your objective is score everytime you touch the ball," Brees explained when I asked what was going through his mind in a game like that. He didn't fully realize the day he had in the record books. "I'll look at the film tomorrow and scratch my head" he said with a chuckle.
There is no chuckling at the Saints these days, they've won three in a row and are back at .500 with a 4 and 4 record and two winnable games coming up. More on that in a moment, but what did Brees see in the Giants defense that allowed him to perform surgery? "We had a no-huddle package in for this game," he said. Brees was more than prepared for Steve Spagnuolo's multiple-look defense. "He does a lot of stuff, I knew we were going to see a lot of different coverage and packages," Brees added while praising Spags as a great defensive coordinator in the NFL.
So the Saints' three straight wins have been pretty interesting over the Falcons, Colts, and Giants, all three leaders of their respective divisions at the time. "We've won in a lot of different ways. I think there is a lot more where that came from," Brees added. Let's hope so, because on paper the Saints are way better than their next opponent in the 1 and 7 Tennessee Titans but Brees and company won't overlook Tennessee. "This is going to be a huge challenge for us; we're going to need to be at our best to beat the Titans," he said. The Saints are flying relatively under the radar right now and that seems to be fine with them.
To hear Drew's full interview, click the link below.