The New York Jets have been inconsistent to say the least this season at 4 and 4. However, New York is 3 and 0 this season coming off a loss, and 3 and 1 overall in Met Life Stadium.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has a flare for the dramatics leading the Jets to come from behind victories in all four wins this season. Smith has also played poorly in their four losses. "He's had three or four of these come from behind or game winning drives; for a young quarterback that's a big thing to build on. He's got a strong arm, and you can see that. You can see the confidence from his teammates when they're late in games and it's close. It's a pretty good trait," Saints Coach Sean Payton said when asked about the rookie signal caller.
Rob and Rex Ryan have faced each other five times as NFL coaches, Rex has won all five games. Typically in the week leading up to previous match ups one or the other takes a friendly jab at their fraternal twin brother. Rex started it this week.
One reporter this week asked Rex, "Did you worry about your brother just living in a place like New Orleans?"
"What, how big he could get?" Rex Replied .
The reporter added, "It's a crazy place.
"He probably fits right in," Rex chuckled.
When Rex read the injury report to the media Wednesday he added to the sibling rivalry. On the back of the report was a picture of his brother Rob with a caption, "Sorry about that Jets." The photo was the picture taken a couple of weeks ago in New England during the Saints last second defeat at the hands of Rex's biggest rival. Next to Rob Ryan's photo was a picture of Rex Ryan with the caption, "Wish I could look as good as my twin."
It's playful, and I'm sure when we speak to Rob on Friday, he'll have a retort for Rex. In the meantime, the players say Rob has been all business this week.
"Somebody told me that Rob was 0 and 5 against his brother; we have to change that this week," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said.
Ivory gets a shot:
The Saints traded running back Chris Ivory to the Jets back in April, for a fourth round pick that helped them trade back into the third round and select nose tackle Jonathan Jenkins. "I think a lot of Chris, and I think it's an opportunity that worked out well for both sides," Payton explained. After missing most of training camp with a sore hamstring, Ivory has seen an increased workload in recent weeks. Ivory says he holds no hard feelings for Sean Payton and the Saints, "He (Payton) loved everything I did there. I don't think he wanted it to go through. He and his staff thought some things through and felt like that was the best thing for them to do," Ivory said on a conference call with local media. Ivory is averaging 3.1 yards per carry on 74 runs for 230 yards and 0 td's this season.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro sat out of practice Wednesday listed with concussion symptoms and a sore back. The following players also missed practice; G Jahri Evans (hip), S Malcolm Jenkins (knee) WR Marques Colston (knee) and Tyrunn Walker (knee). WR Kenny Stills (knee), TE Jimmy Graham (foot), and LB David Hawthorne (knee) S Roman Harper (knee) were limited in practice. RB Mark Ingram did not even appear on the first injury report of the week.
Take a second to exhale, after reading TE Jimmy Graham (foot) missed his second consecutive day of practice Thursday. WR Lance Moore appears to be headed back to the lineup for Sunday's game with the Bills in the Superdome. Moore practiced for the second straight day. Defensive end Cameron Jordan was limited (ankle) in Thursday's workout, as was OT Zach Strief (ankle). CB Jabari Greer returned to practice after missing Wednesday. S Roman Harper (knee) and RB Mark Ingram remained sidelined, and did not participate in the workout.
Moore is more:
Getting Lance Moore back in the line couldn't come at a better time for the Saints. He's a steady, dependable target for Drew Brees. If Graham can't go on Sunday, Moore figures to get some of the targets and touches that would normally go Graham's way. TE Benjamin Watson says he knows he can't replace Graham's production, but feels confident he can come in and help soften the loss of the Pro Bowl tight end. Watson is no Graham for sure, but he's no slouch. He won't dazzle you by jumping through the Superdome roof to catch a pass, but he's a reliable receiving option for Drew Brees, and I expect him to be a factor on Sunday.
K-Rob Ready to Run:
Kristian's Quick Hits: Graham sits, but Lance looks goodThe more running back Mark Ingram misses games with a toe injury, the more I think it allows undrafted rookie free agent Khiry Robinson to prove he may be the better option at running back. Ingram hasn't played since week 2, and he doesn't appear as though he'll be playing this week. Robinson is proving the fumbling issues that plagued him during the preseason have been corrected. Coach Sean Payton is a "prove it" guy. He's not going to just hand things over to Robinson, but we're seeing the trust level in Robinson increase week by week. When Robinson gets opportunities, he's been impressive more often than not; and he's willing to be that "ice it" running back to finish games late in the 4th quarter.
The Saints were without their biggest offensive and defensive weapons at practice to open preparation for the Bills. Tight end Jimmy Graham (foot) did not practice. Graham suffered a foot injury in the week 6 loss to the Patriots. Defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle) also sat out of practice. The good news? Wide receiver Lance Moore took every rep in practice Wednesday for the first time since week 3 against the Cardinals. He's been recovering from a hand injury. The rest of the Wednesday injury report had the following players sitting out: Offensive tackle Zach Strief (ankle), running back Mark Ingram (toe), defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker (knee), and safety Roman Harper (knee). Cornerback Jabari Greer also missed practice, listed as "Non injury related".
Moore is glad to be back on the field: "It's funny; you get so excited to be back around your teammates. My hand feels good, that's definitely a positive and encouraging sign," Moore said. The Saints (5 and 1) had an extra week to stew on that loss to the Patriots, but Coach Payton says he's pleased with how his team handled the down time. "I thought they did a good job during the bye taking care of themselves. We had a few guys who were injured that had to be here for treatment. Generally when you go through a week like that, no news is good news. I thought they handled schedule pretty well."
Mario's world: The Saints are paying extra attention to Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams who has tallied 10 sacks in 7 games this season. "They get a lot of pressure from just their base. In the nickel snaps he's more to our right. He's had an exceptional season. He's someone who's comfortable on either side of the tackle," Payton explained. The Saints typically do a good job neutralizing a team's pass rusher, with some chips from the running backs and tight ends on their way to passing routes. I would expect a similar approach with Williams.
The Payton coaching tree: Sean Payton has had a number of coaches under his tutelage go on to become college and NFL coaches. He faces a member of his original staff Sunday against the Bills in head coach Doug Marrone. Marrone served as the Saints offensive coordinator and line coach from 2006 to 2008 before leaving to take of the Syracuse head coaching position. Marrone was hired this past spring to coach the Bills. Payton reflects back on the initial contact he had with Marrone while assembling his first coaching staff in New Orleans. "We needed a coordinator, someone with experience coaching the offensive line. The challenge at that time... we were shortly removed from Katrina. Doug was someone who I had met before. He was able to get out of his contract with the Jets, and I had a chance to interview him and felt really comfortable with his expertise." Payton said he's stayed in constant contact with since he left in 2008.
The Saints are coming off their bye week. They are sitting pretty at 5 and 1. While they would like to be at 6-0, the Saints are still very much in control of their own destiny as the playoff push begins. Right now the Seattle Seahawks and Saints sit atop the NFC with the best records and an inside track on the top two seeds in the conference for the playoffs. New Orleans has the Buffalo Bills (3-4) coming to town Sunday. The Bills are scrappy, but inconsistent this season. The Saints should be energized and anxious to get back on the winning side of things. The next four games set up nicely for the Black and Gold before entering a brutal stretch at the end of November and early part of December.
Following the Bills, the Saints go on the road to New York (Jets) and host back to back home games against the Cowboys and 49ers. The Saints could be 8 and 1 entering that match up with San Francisco. The Saints are better suited for the 49ers physical style of play this season than last or in 2011. Like the Seahawks, the Saints want and need home field advantage in the postseason to make it to New York for the Super Bowl. Under Sean Payton the Saints simply haven't gotten it done on the road in the playoffs. It started in 2006 with a loss to Chicago in the NFC Championship game. In 2010, the Saints lost a wildcard playoff game at Seattle. In 2011 they lost at San Francisco in the divisional round.
The playoff push typically starts in November, but for the Saints it starts this week. The teams that are playing their best from around Halloween on usually make the most noise in the playoffs. It's not exactly the easiest of schedules after San Francisco, and the Saints could build a nice cushion with two conference wins over Dallas and San Fran. New Orleans buckle up, it's time to start thinking about making a run.
At his Monday press conference, Saints Coach Sean Payton gave credit where credit is due in the Patriots' victory over the Saints. Payton didn’t second-guess the coverage on the play of the last drive and the comeback by Tom Brady and his squad.
Payton noted that the Saints are 5-1 and still haven’t played their best football. That’s encouraging, indeed.
On one hand, I don’t expect the team to dwell on the loss too long…they’ve always had their 24 hour rule to either celebrate or commiserate on a win or loss…but heading into the bye week, two weeks is really a long time to chew on such a tough loss. The team is completely off for a week, and won’t be back until next Monday.
Refs: Yes, there were some bad calls. Do I think it changed the outcome of the game? No. The Saints just didn’t make enough plays on offense in the final moments. Despite the bad calls, they still had an opportunity on offense to ice the game, but didn’t do it.
Jimmy: A lot of fans are asking about how Jimmy Graham is doing. We won’t know officially for some time, especially since they’re in the bye week, but the NFL Network reports he’s going to have an MRI on his foot. I was really surprised by how the Patriots held him in check, given how he’s played the last few weeks, but then again, Bill Belichick is masterful and game-planning and scheming. He hasn’t won three Super Bowls for nothing. And even though people say, “well, the other teams couldn’t hold Jimmy in check,” those other teams don’t have the same personnel as the Patriots.
All in all, the Saints are still in really a good position at 5-1, still 1st place in division, 1st place in the NFC. In the preseason, most fans would have been happy with a 4-2 team at this point. With the NFL being what it is, it’s not realistic to expect any team to stay undefeated. And, to lose to the Patriots is not exactly as if they lost to Jacksonville. They lost to another great team that is also 5-1 in a road game that went down to the wire.
The Saints have every reason to feel good about themselves at 5 and 0 and atop the NFC standings. Still, quarterback Drew Brees is in no way letting his foot off the gas.
“There is a lot of football left to played, while we are happy to be 5 and 0 that doesn’t guarantee us anything for this week or the rest of the season,” Brees said.
The Saints Brees are preparing for an angry Patriots team that is coming off a loss last week to the Bengals “The tide shifts and changes at any moment for teams, and divisions. All I know I’m just worried about us. I know if we take care of our business; whatever anyone else does won’t matter.”
The Saints have been here before…unbeaten, staring at the New England Patriots on the schedule. In 2009, New Orleans crushed the Patriots in primetime 38-17 in week 12, running their record to 11 and 0. It was a game made even more memorable by the fact that the Patriots pulled Tom Brady in the waning minutes of the game, effectively throwing in the towel. Brees says that was a landmark win that season. “We knew we were good, but you need to have another test to confirm that, that was a big win for us at that time,” Brees said.
The Patriots are 31 and 3 at home in the last three years, and Brees is gearing up for another road test. “You are only as good as your next performance number one. Going on the road, in a hostile environment.” The Saints have been hesitant to compare the 2009 team to the start they’re off to this season. Though the comparisons are interesting, they’re also very different. The offense isn’t as explosive, but still very capable of scoring a ton of points. The defense is vastly improved and living by the mantra of “Operation Feed Drew Brees,” meaning get Drew Brees the ball back as much as possible. Several players in the locker room spoke about the level of importance this game holds headed into the bye week.
Four players missed practice Wednesday for the Saints. Offensive Tackle Zach Strief (ankle) sat out of practice today. WR Lance Moore (hand) DL Tyrunn Walker (knee) S Roman Harper (knee) also missed practice. RB Mark Ingram was limited in today’s workout still battling a toe injury that has kept him out since week 3. Broderick Bunkley (calf) S Malcolm Jenkins (neck) and CB Keenan Lewis (knee) were limited in practice.
Following the Saints’ victory over the Bears at Soldier Field, I talked with quarterback Drew Brees for our weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” feature.
Drew, one stat that just jumps out: The Saints possessed the ball for 36 minutes. That’s very telling.
“Yeah, the two key stats in this game, offensively at least, 36 minutes of possession and zero turnovers. If you’d told me those two stats prior to the game, I’d have said, man, we’ve got a great chance of winning.”
All week, you’ve talked about ball security, and you came out of Soldier Field with no turnovers, against a team that’s so good at creating them.
“That’s what they’re known for, that’s what’s gotten us beat (at Chicago) before, and we knew that was a huge emphasis coming into the game.”
And, the best outing we’ve seen in the Saints running game so far.
“I think yardage wise, it was not a lot of yards in any way, but we kept getting the third and short, and we were able to convert a lot of these. You kept throwing the ball, you kept possession, you kept matriculating the ball down the field…keeping your defense off the field, getting points, taking every advantage of every opportunity to get points. We followed the formula to a T, as to what it takes to win.”
The chemistry between you and Jimmy Graham just seems to keep growing.
“You know, he’s a young player who wants to be great. He just continues to work at it, and he kind of thrives on the opportunities to showcase what he can do. Every team we play is going to have a plan for him. They’re going to try to rough him up, they’re going to talk a lot of smack to him during the week. I think that fuels his fire, and that’s what you love about him. “
He says he plays better angry. Do you want an angry Jimmy Graham?
“Yes, absolutely. I don’t play well angry, he plays well angry.” (Laughs)
Can you talk a little about the screen play with Pierre Thomas?
“We had pressure coming from the slot, and we were running the screen away from it. You just feel like, you got lucky, calling it at the right, where everybody’s moving toward the field, they’re bringing pressure and you’re able to dish the ball towards the sideline to Pierre, and get alignment out in front of him. We just had more blockers than they had tacklers, and Pierre was able to navigate his way through and find the end zone.”
Your TD streak still stands. I know you say records are made to be broken, but it’s still a lot.
“I think I just assumed “That thing’s going down,” and that Brady was going to be the one to do it…but it’s crazy how things happen. I guess I’m still a bit shocked, but that is what it is. And obviously, that a special record, because of all the people that were involved, in the way we broke it last year…I guess it’s safe for at least another few years.”
You’re the only 5-0 NFC team…too early to think about conference standings?
“Yes, it is way too early. There’s still a lot of football to be played. Listen, we’ve got one of the biggest tests that we’ve faced here in a long time at New England. So, that’s all we’re thinking about. “
Next week with the Patriots…they’re a team that’s coming off a loss now, obviously always a tough matchup.
“They’re a tough matchup for anybody. They’re one of the most winningist organizations in the last decades. A big part of it is that defense, it’s Tom Brady, it’s their formula for winning. They know the formula for winning, and it’s playing great defense…it’s a quarterback that takes care of the football, who makes you pay when you make mistakes. Obviously, they’re coming off a tough loss, so we know they’re going to be ready to play us at their place, with a lot on the line…we just want to continue to play great football. We just want to get better every week, and this is our opportunity. “
Coaches and players break down the season into four quarters. Through the first quarter of the season, the Saints are 4 and 0, and look as though they’re getting incrementally better each week. After two nail-biters to open the season the Saints have won by 24 and 21 points. So look at the first four games as sort of a midterm progress report:
Offense: The Saints are starting to really heat up, but early struggles in the red zone have left some points on the board. Nonetheless, New Orleans is averaging 27 points per game with 419 yards of total offense, good enough for 4th best in the NFL. The Saints are controlling the ball, averaging 34 minutes in time of possession per contest. 12 sacks allowed and 81 yards per game rushing takes the shine off the offense. Offense’s grade: B
Defense: I figured the defense would be much improved, but I didn’t think they would get this kind of production this fast from Rob Ryan. New Orleans is plus 5 in the turnover ratio. They’ve bagged 12 QB sacks while allowing 13.8 points per game, and rank 5th in the NFL against the pass (192.2) and 6th in total D (304.5). 3rd down defense for the Saints has been outstanding; opponents are 16 of 46. Defense’s grade: A
Special teams: The Saints haven’t had a big return on kick offs or punts, but also haven’t allowed one either. Thomas Morstead’s powerful leg has limited opposing teams return teams on punts and kick offs. Garret Hartley has been pretty solid connecting on all but two field goals this season. His two misses have come from 40 yards and beyond. Darren Sproles is averaging a solid 9.3 yards per return on punts, and 20.5 on kick offs.
Special Teams grade: B-
Coaching: It’s pretty evident the impact the return of Sean Payton is having on the Saints. New Orleans is a much more disciplined team than they were a year ago in his absence. Payton knows how to get his team prepared. He’s a masterful in-game manager, and it played out more so in weeks 1 and 2 with close victories over Atlanta and Tampa. Rob Ryan has done some of his best work, getting great results from a very young defense. Coaching grade: A+
I caught up with Saints quarterback Drew Brees for our “Monday Morning Quarterback” feature, which falls on a Tuesday this week.
Drew, congrats on the big win. Can you talk about the complimentary game, with the D getting the ball back.
“Defense did a great job of getting turnovers, and getting big stops…all those things create momentum and get the crowd involved…really get us gave us some field position to start the third quarter, and we were able to go down and get two consecutive touchdown drives and blow the thing wide open.”
How about the night Darren Sproles had?
“He had a big night rushing the ball, and receiving,” Brees said. “And just so active in everything we do, draws a lot of attention. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he’s opening up opportunities for others.”
The Saints are 4-0. What’s different about this team this year?
“This offseason is so much different…it’s all about football, being able to focus and prepare. The defense goes out and we get Rob Ryan and add some pieces to the puzzle there. We end up playing with so much confidence now…Offensively, we’re kind of able to tweak a little bit, and add some nuances that have paid off for us. I think just the overall work ethic and mindset of this offseason, preparing to go out and have a great season this year.”
How difficult is it to keep the one-game-at-a-time mentality?
“Well, it doesn’t get any easier,” Drew said. “You can’t look ahead. We’re going to Chicago, they’re coming off a tough loss, they’ll certainly be ready to play us. Then we go to New England, and we know what type of team they are…our focus is all about this week, on a short week, where we’ll have to go to Chicago, where we’ve never won since I’ve been here, and go get a tough win over a great opponent.”
As the season started, you said a goal was to keep progressing, playing better and better each week
“I think we’ve gotten better each week in what we’re doing, and that’s just a confidence builder. We still have a little ways to go, and we certainly left some opportunities out there…but when you score 38, take care of the football, kind of hitting on all cylinders, and still miss out on some opportunities…I mean, that’s OK, but you still have to shore up some things.”
Kind of hard to nit-pick when you score 38.
“Yeah, but it should have been in the 40’s, for sure. We had our opportunities. When it’s really crunch-time, we’ve got to make those plays.”
Your thoughts on the Chicago road trip…They’re coming off a tough loss.
“There’s no doubt. They’re a really good team, and they’re well-coached,” Brees said. “Their defense is just a turnover machine, playing at home…just all those things we’re just going to have to be prepared for, have a game plan for. But it’s a great opportunity to go on the road, and make sure we’re battle-tested, because these road wins are hard to come by, and we’re going to need our best.”