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Kristian Garic

Talk sports and more with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

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Twitter: @kristiangaric1
Posts from September 2014

Kristian: Saints problems need more than a simple fix
What’s wrong with the Saints?  Can it be fixed?  Can they turn it around?  Surely the Saints aren’t as bad as their 1 and 3 record indicates?  I’ve been hammered with those questions on Twitter, Facebook, email and on the air.  The reality is, the Saints may be as bad as their record indicates.  What’s wrong? 

Let’s start with a lack of leadership in the locker room.  Not only did the Saints lose two safeties in Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins this offseason, they lost two captains, two veterans on that side of the ball who would stand up in front of the media and take the blame, own up to their mistakes and take the pressure off their teammates.  That characteristic can’t be underestimated! 

This team lacks focus, with simple missed assignments, dropped passes and miscues that have cost them two games (Dallas just beat their tail).  That’s a direct reflection on the head coach (as he readily admitted).  Sean Payton isn’t driving the point home well enough.  The players aren’t hearing the message. 

Now let’s get to the…can they fix it question?  Sure, in theory they can, but what I believe about the NFL is once you’ve established a trend, good or bad, it tends to stay with you throughout the season.  There is no magic wand Payton can wave over the team and fix all that ails them.  It goes back to leadership in the locker room.  Who’s going to be the guy that says, “I need to play better; I haven’t played well and I’m letting my team down.” 

The Saints lack passion that has carried this team to unprecedented heights.  The feeling on the sideline is one I could only describe as lifeless at times.  They can fix it, but my guess—it won’t be until next season.

Can they turn it around?  At 1 and 3?  That question and answer kind of goes hand and hand with what I just wrote.  Sure they can, but will they?  My bet…probably not.  It’s too big a hole to climb out of, with way to many deficiencies to correct.   When teams fall into ruts like this, it typically takes so much effort to get back to .500 that once they’re there they have another let down, because it’s so taxing.    
I agree with Sean Payton when he said, “There were a lot of muddy hands.”  Adversity reveals character.   We’re about to find out the true character of this team, not the Saints that won the Super Bowl.  This team. 
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Topics: Sports
Locations: Dallas
People: Malcolm JenkinsSean Payton

Kristian: Brees says "leadership is what it's all about"
1 and 3 is not where anyone expected to be in through the first quarter of the season, and after the Saints woodshed beating at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Drew Brees says the leaders in the locker room have to stand up: “Everyone has to be accountable with no finger pointing, everybody’s gotta look at themselves and understand that for us to get better as a team we all have to get better individually.”  The leadership will certainly be tested with the heart of the schedule still in front of the 1-3 team. 

The good news for the Saints; no team in the division is better than 2 and 2 and there is still time, but the deficiencies on this team are glaring. “We have not played the way I know we’re capable of.  You live and learn and hope that you are able to take the lessons you’ve learned through some of these losses and apply them to future success,” Brees said.  It’s puzzling for a number of reasons, and simply put, the Saints just seem like a team that lacks focus, intensity, and urgency despite their acknowledgement that it’s getting pretty urgent. 

The Saints are back home this Sunday in against the likewise 1 and 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers before they head into their bye week.  At best, the Saints are trying to get to 2 and 3 before the break: “That’s all we can control at this point is beating Tampa, a division opponent at home and start feeling better about ourselves going into the bye week” Brees explained.  I asked Drew what the mood of the locker room is at this point and “disappointed” is how he summed it up.  The football team isn’t the only one’s feeling that emotion right now.  The Saints are who we thought they weren’t, a team with a bad defense and no rhythm to speak of on offense, and virtually no special teams to speak of.  Coach Sean Payton is widely thought of as one of the best coaches in the NFL, we’ll find out just how good he is in the final 12 games.  

To listen to Drew's full interview with Kristian, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Kristian talks to Drew Brees after Saints loss to Cowboys
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Kristian: Saints work on forcing turnovers
Forcing turnovers:  Turnovers are emphasized in nearly every NFL meeting room each week,   and the Saints have just one forced turnover in their first three games.  Safety Jairus Byrd forced a fumble of Julio Jones in week one…since then--zero, zilch, nothing.  And, for the most part not even an almost or close sniff at another.  Saints head coach Sean Payton says the team will continue to focus on forcing more, “You have (practice) periods where it’s the emphasis of the period…in individuals, you name it and you can think of 10 or 11 different ways to secure the football and make sure it’s secured offensively.  And, then defensively you set up tip drills, balls on the ground, strip drills and then reinforce it throughout every snap in practice.”  Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo is a gunslinger and the Saints will have a chance to get their hands on the football.

Ryan’s take:  Rob Ryan’s defense has come under a lot of scrutiny after getting shredded in week 1 against Atlanta…then some busted coverages in the week 2 loss to the Browns.  Ryan decided to simplify things and it seems the players are responding. “I think we do a better job when we have less checks,” said Ryan.  “Sometimes we did fine, but it was all about the system.  Here it is all about the players. It’s not a check balance…this is the way it is. I think I was hired and came into something special here. I am not going to screw it up.  I am going to work hard and make sure we get it right,” continued a determined Ryan.  As for the lack of turnovers Ryan had pretty sharp words, “We keep emphasizing it and all of that, but that’s lip service; we need to start getting turnovers and it needs to start happening this week.”

Injury report:  Three players have been ruled out for Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys RB Mark Ingram (hand); FB Erik Lorig (ankle) and S Marcus Ball (hamstring).  TE Benjamin Watson (groin); C Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) LB David Hawthorne (knee/ankle) were all limited in practice today and are listed as questionable for this week.  DB Patrick Robinson (hamstring) did not practice and is also listed as questionable. 
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Kristian: Can the Saints stack up enough wins?
Race to improve:  Saints head coach Sean Payton used that phrase countless times during his nearly nine seasons in New Orleans.  Payton is talking about week to week improvement as the team tries to stack up enough wins to qualify for the post season.   The Saints put together two solid back to back weeks of work getting ready for the Cowboys Sunday.  “Our players understand the importance of this game.  The preparation is ongoing.  I think the balance they (Dallas) have offensively…and I think collectively defensively they’ve done things that are different than years past.  You see some scheme changes and a lot of new faces playing some positions,” Payton explained.   
Fullback love:  The Saints have enjoyed really good early success in the running game averaging 140.3 yards per game on the ground, good for sixth best in the NFL.  Fullback Austin Johnson has been a big part of their success.  “One of the things he provides is the versatility in the kicking game, and so when the game is over, you’re not just looking at snaps of fullback offense when he’s in.  You’re also looking at the special teams snaps he’s playing.  When you have offensive players, who can contribute in the special teams core, that’s a plus,” said Payton.  Sixth best in the NFL has been the magic number in terms for rushing the football under Payton.  In 2009, the Saints were sixth in the league, and finished with a Super Bowl win.  And, in 2011 the Saints finished sixth in the NFL in rushing average and also went deep into the play offs.
8 years ago:  I remember watching the reopening of the Superdome from section 136 on September 25th 2006, a full year after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city and the dome.  It was electric, an atmosphere that was far bigger than just football.  That night Steve Gleason won the hearts of thousands and seemingly restored hope to a city and the Saints in one fell swoop.  Gleason slipped through the Atlanta Falcons punt coverage team and blocked Michael Koenan’s punt, which was recovered for a Saints touchdown by Curtis Deloatch.  I’ve seen some really special games in that building, “Hakim drops the ball” against the Rams, and the first ever NFC championship game held in the Superdome against the Vikings.  NOTHING beats that moment!  Coach Payton recalls the play that will forever be linked to the re-birth of the city and the Saints, “Half the team hadn’t played a home game there, and just working through the logistics of traffic, and all the unusual events that were going on there.  That came up I think on their first punt.  The timing was perfect for him (Steve Gleason) and he executed it just right.”
Injury report:  Tight End Benjamin Watson (groin) returned to practice on limited basis today.  The following players did not practice:  Center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle); running back Mark Ingram (hand), linebacker David Hawthore (knee/ankle), safety Marcus Ball (hamstring), full back Erik Lorig (ankle).  Linebacker Curtis Lofton was limited for the second consecutive day. 
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Kristian: Payton declares - this year’s Saints haven’t beaten Cowboys
Big D:  The Saints feasted on the Dallas Cowboys 49-17 last year in the Superdome, setting an NFL record with 40 first downs. “This team, this year hasn’t beaten Dallas,” declared Saints head coach Sean Payton.   The similarities between the teams statistically are interesting.  New Orleans is seventh in the NFL in scoring average (26.0 P.P.G).  Dallas is just a shade under (25.7 P.P.G), good for eighth best in the league.  Conversely, in total defense, the Cowboys rank 21st and the Saints 24th.  This game has shootout written all over it. “Both teams are entirely different.  The makeup of their defense is different.  You see them doing things differently (scheme),” explained Payton.

Murray’s law:  Cowboys running back Demarco Murray is off to an impressive start, leading the NFL in rushing with 75 carries and 358 yards (5.1 avg), with three touchdowns.  Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton was his college teammate at Oklahoma. “He’s very special.  I took him on his recruiting trip at Oklahoma.  He’s really matured into one of the top backs in this league.  He has great speed, and can take it the distance,” Lofton explained.   The Cowboys offense has seemingly shifted identity a bit this year, with Murray off to such a hot start, but QB Tony Romo is still a big time threat.  “He’s definitely a top tier QB in the league.  He has a cannon for an arm, and is well respected among defensive players,” said Lofton.

Dez-tructive:  In 2012, WR Dez Bryant abused the Saints pass defense with 9 receptions, 224 yards, and 2 TD’s in an OT thriller in Dallas won by the Saints 34-31.  It was Bryant matched up against Patrick Robinson for most of that game.  In 2013 the Saints held Bryant to one catch for 44 yards in the lopsided 49-17 win in the Superdome.  In that game corner back Keenan Lewis shadowed Bryant on nearly every snap.  “He’s physical; he’s exceptional with the ball in his hands.  You can see he plays the ball well over his head.  He’s tough to press,” said Payton. 

Six players miss practice:  Center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), tight end Benjamin Watson (groin), running back Mark Ingram (hand), linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle/knee), safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) and full back Erik Lorig (ankle) missed practice.  Goodwin injured his ankle in the first half of the Saints 20-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings last week.  Tim Lelito stepped in and played well in Goodwin’s absence. 
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Kristian: Brees is glad he was slammed to the turf
The Saints notched their first win of the season 20 - 9 over the Minnesota Vikings yesterday in the Superdome.  It wasn't pretty, but the Saints will take it. 

After jumping out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, the offense sputtered until the 4th quarter when Vikings defensive back Captain Munerlynn slammed Drew Brees to the turf.  He was flagged for a personal foul penalty.  Brees said while he could have been seriously injured, it actually helped the Saints.

"It was a straight up suplex, that could really hurt somebody.  I'm glad he did it because it gave us a free set of downs, and we went down and scored a touchdown,"  Brees explained.  After the penalty the crowd was re-energized and so was the team. 

Click here to listen to Brees...

The QB says after starting fast, the Saints sputtered.

"I felt like the first drive we had it going with great balance.  After that penalties shot us in the foot, and we missed some opportunities here and there," said Brees.

The "suplex" pumped up Brees and the offense.

It was a win, but sitting at 1 and 2 is not where the Saints want to be.  You can call it an ugly win, but the first one is the hardest to get sometimes . 

Brees also added that it was good to see Marques Colston back to his usual clutch self with a touchdown reception that sealed the game.

"He's always on my radar, that made it a two possession game."  

Colston dropped a pair of passes earlier in the Vikings game, and until the TD strike had not caught a pass since fumbling the ball in overtime in the loss to Atlanta.

Overall, Brees and the Saints were extremely balanced on offense Sunday with 35 passing attempts and 32 rushing attempts.  The game wasn't perfect, but New Orleans won't be able to play that way against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday on the road and expect the same result.

Photo by Chris Bennett
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Locations: AtlantaMinnesotaNew Orleans
People: Chris BennettDrew BreesMarques ColstonMunerlynn

Kristian: Saints are focusing on the details
The little things: The little things get you beat.  A play here and a play there in the NFL really is the difference between being 0-2 and 2-0. The Saints say the harsh reality of their 0-2 start is about paying attention to the little things: “We just haven’t finished in the last two games.  There is a sense of urgency around here to get it fixed. We have to pay attention to the small things,” said safety Rafael Bush.  

Coach Payton said the team is calling attention to the situational aspect of the games this week in practice: “The biggest thing is the preparation, and when you have a good week of practice and the players know what to do, obviously they’re able to play faster and with more confidence.” For the Saints, the team is trying to eliminate the mental questions in the game plan and in the scouting report. 

Complex defense:  After Sunday’s loss the Browns, I wondered if the Saints D was too complex, and maybe the players are confused by the scheme, and perhaps the play book got a little thicker. “It’s the same as last year, the mistakes we’ve made you learn in day one of training camp,” explained safety Kenny Vaccaro.  So what has caused the mistakes and breakdowns on defense?  “Lack of concentration,” Vaccaro offered.  In two games I’ve seen several Saints defenders in pass coverage look at each other with their arms raised gesturing “What happened?” A clear indicator the players weren't on the same page.  

SJ-B:  With Patrick Robinson falling down the depth chart, reduced to nickel snaps in the defense last week after getting beat on a couple of passes and committing two penalties, is it time to start the countdown clock on Stanley Jean-Baptiste at cornerback?  Remember last year?  Coach Payton didn’t hesitate throwing rookie Terron Armstead in the fire at left tackle. Do you think he would do the same at cornerback if Robinson continues to struggle?  What’s the tipping point to make Payton say “I have seen enough” like he did last year with left tackle Charles Brown? It might be sooner than the team hoped.  I think it’s time to start thinking about it.  Back in training camp, I thought that if SJ-B had to see the field, it would have been a bad situation, or injuries to have really taken a toll.  

Injury report:  Saints center Jonathan Goodwin (elbow) returned to practice today in a limited role, taking less than 100% of his usual reps.  LB Curtis Lofton (Shoulder) was also limited today.  LB Kyle Knox is the newest addition to the injury report (ankle) and was also limited.  RB Mark Ingram (hand), LB David Hawthorne (ankle), FB Erik Lorig (ankle), and S Marcus Ball (hamstring) missed practice. 
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Kristian: Saints RB Ingram played most of Browns game with broken hand
Ingram Update:  Saints coach Sean Payton announced running back Mark Ingram had surgery to repair a fracture in his hand. “There was a fracture, it was displaced, so it wasn’t something he could put a cast on.  Everything went well. He’ll be a week to week player,” explained Payton, adding that Ingram had two screws inserted “above his thumb.”  Ingram sustained the injury in the first half of the Cleveland Browns game last Sunday.  “It’s obviously impressive that he played that long with it. You could see on film his exchanges were a little different. He’s a tough player,” said Payton.  Ingram has been the Saints' most consistent running back this season, averaging 6.0 yards per carry on 24 attempts in the first two games. 

No AP for Sunday:  Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is out for Sunday’s game against the Saints following felony child abuse charges that surfaced last week.  That’s one less weapon the Saints will have to defend against Minnesota. “I think as a defense, we have to stop this run and make them one dimensional and then get after the quarterback,” explained Linebacker Curtis Lofton.  Without Peterson in the line up, it certainly makes it a little easier to slow down the Vikings rushing attack. “Anytime you don’t have an elite running back in the backfield, not saying that the other guys aren’t any good, but Adrian is one of the top running backs in this league so it allows us to do different things,” Lofton added.  

Injury report:  The injury list grew just a tad today.  Linebacker Curtis Lofton was limited in today’s workout (shoulder).  Lofton injured his shoulder in week 1, and played last week.  I don’ t think there is anything to be concerned with here.  Center Jonathan Goodwin (Elbow) missed practice.  Goodwin is a veteran, if he’s not practicing by Thursday it might be a little worrisome.  RB Mark Ingram (hand) LB David Hawthorne (ankle) S Marcus Ball (hamstring) FB Erik Lorig (ankle) also did not practice. 
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Hokie: Saints 0-2 start "sucks, it really does"
The Saints are off to an 0-2 start to the season, and color analyst Hokie Gajan puts the blame at the feet of the players.

“You can’t continue to have the breakdowns that you have seen,” Gajan said.  “I am putting it on the players. When you make boneheaded mistakes like I’ve seen that are coming from the players, it’s something that has to be corrected, or else you gotta put some new names out there.”  

One player specifically Gajan said needs to be “changed out” or benched is Patrick Robinson.  The 5th-year corner has been largely inconsistent with the Saints and committed two costly penalties in the loss to Cleveland and was the frequent target in the Browns passing game.  

Now the question becomes, can the Saints turn this around? “I think they can, if the talent is what I give them credit for, then I think they can,” explained Gajan. "It’s not panic button time, but let’s get them in the Superdome next Sunday. Regardless, it needs to be corrected immediately.”  

The Saints have the talent to turn things around, but Hokie wonders if the energy the team will spend trying to climb out of this hole will eventually be their undoing.  

Click the link below to listen to my full interview with Hokie:

FULL AUDIO: Hokie Gajan talks with Kristian Garic about Saints' poor performance Sunday
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Monday Morning QB: Brees says "we have to stick together"
Sure, it’s not the start the Saints envisioned, but as many have said in the past, you are what your record says you are in the NFL - and the Saints are 0 and 2 for a reason. "Typically a play here, a play there, you can’t describe.  A lot of these games are close at the end.  We have to find a way to be on the other end of these kind of games,"  Saints quarterback Drew Brees explained. There is plenty enough blame to go around.  The offense got off to a slow start and picked it up late in the second quarter against the Browns, the defense couldn’t get off the field in critical situations, and couldn’t generate a pass rush, yielding just one sack. 

Where do the Saints go from here?  Brees says they’ll rely heavily on the leaders and high character players on the team to pull out of an 0 and 2 hole. “You can’t overreact, but you have to have urgency.  You have to focus on the process.  We gotta get a win.  All I know is to continue to focus on the process.  We have high character guys, we have the right type of people to weather these things.”  The Saints are at home this Sunday against the Vikings, and while that should benefit them, it won’t be enough by itself to get a win.  The Saints have to pay attention to the little things to win.  It’s been something the team has been very good at under Sean Payton, but right now the details are getting them beat. 

Listen to my full interview with Drew by clicking the link below:

FULL AUDIO: Monday Morning QB with Drew Brees
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Kristian: Reality check! Saints are 0-2
Uh-0 and 2:  In July when the Saints started training camp, nobody thought they would start the season 0 and 2, but it’s reality after a pair of gut wrenching losses in the final second of regulation and overtime. Now the Saints face an uphill battle to get back to .500 let alone the play offs. Only twelve percent of teams that have started 0 and 2 have made the playoffs.  The Panthers from 2013 are the latest team to do so.  “We’re going to stick together and get if fixed, there is no doubt in my mind we have the talent to turn it around,” said linebacker Junior Galette.  Therein lies the frustration - the Saints have maybe the best talent they’ve had under Sean Payton, yet they sit at 0 and 2 after two weeks of the regular season.  Let me be clear, there is a world of difference between 1 and 1 and 0 and 2.  
Patrick Robinson:  Saints fans have been all over defensive back Patrick Robinson, especially after two weeks.  Some of the criticism is deserved.  He’s been less than adequate covering receivers as the Saints second CB opposite of Keenan Lewis, but let’s be honest; where is the pass rush? Where is the the ball hawking defense that we were expecting?  LB Junior Galette and DE Cameron Jordan have a combined 1 sack (Galette) in two games.  The Saints as a team have collected just two sacks in two games.  Furthermore the Saints have just one turnover forced in the first two weeks of the season.  Going back to Robinson, he was a part of two big plays in the loss to the Browns.  He committed a pass interference penalty that led to a TD in the first quarter, and lined up in the natural zone drawing a penalty that sustained a drive that resulted in points for the Browns in a 26 to 24 loss for the Saints. 
My take:  I’ve been asked countless times since the game went final: What’s wrong with them? Can they fix it?  The answer to the first question is, they just can’t finish games, they haven’t learned how to win yet. And the little things are killing this team right now.  The margin for error in the NFL is so small, and the Saints aren’t doing those little things well enough to win.  Also, the team might have bought into the hype a little too much.  The hype that this was supposed to be the best team ever assembled on paper in the Sean Payton era.  As to if they can fix it, well, yeah they can and probably will.  Will it be in enough time to salvage a play off spot?  I don’t put anything past Drew Brees and Sean Payton, but if they do it will likely be yet another beating-the-odds effort to do so.  There are some good things going right with the team, but just not enough little things.  The energy that it will take to climb out of this hole is tremendous, and I wonder if that will eventually make for another stumble down the road. 
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Kristian: Rob Ryan guarantees Saints D will be better this week
Defensive Coordinator:  Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn’t sugar coat his defense's performance last week today when he spoke to the media. “You have to obviously fix something, when you give up that many points and that many yards. It’s shocking, but we’ve all been there before.   At the end of the day, that wasn’t a real good game by us and we’re going to fix it. We’ll be better, you watch.  I guarantee we’ll be better,” Ryan explained.  

The Saints will likely be better this Sunday when they face the Browns.  The truth is, it’s hard to get much worse than last weeks abysmal performance against the Falcons, not to mention the Browns don’t have the assortment of weapons on offense that the Falcons do.  Ryan does expect to see an up-tempo offensive attack from Cleveland: “I’m sure they will, they're at home so they can operate even more effectively.”  The Browns used a lot of “hurry up” offense last week to erase a huge second half deficit against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Saints vs Browns:  New Orleans is favored by 6.5 points on the road against the Browns.  I know the defensive performance has some concerned, but I’m not in that camp yet.  If the Saints struggle on defense against this offense, then there is reason to pull the fire alarm.  Yeah, I picked the Saints in a blowout win in week 1 against the Falcons, but did you anticipate the D missing 23 tackles?  I didn’t!  Did you see Matt Ryan playing the game of his life?  I didn’t!  If the Saints hadn’t dropped the opener, I could make a case for this one being their slip up game; the Saints are usually good for one or two of those a season.   I don’t see that happening now, after last week’s wake up call.  I expect a hungry and angry football team Sunday in Cleveland.  The Browns are at home and that crowd will be fired up, but in the end the defense just doesn’t have enough to slow down the Saints. New Orleans 31 Cleveland 20. 

Injury report:  Saints WR Kenny Stills (groin) is listed as probable on the final injury report of the week.  CB Keenan Lewis (knee) is listed as probable along with LB Curtis Lofton (shoulder).  FB Erik Lorig (ankle) and S Marcus Ball (hamstring) have both been ruled out this week.  On the flip side for the Browns,  RB Ben Tate has been ruled out for Sunday.  TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder) is listed as questionable for the match up against the Saints. 
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Kristian: Payton blows off Goodell, says "our focus is on Cleveland"
No-Goodell:  Saints coach Sean Payton would have every right to lash out and pile on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell following the Ray Rice video debacle that has swept the league since Monday.  “Our focus has really been on Cleveland,” he said, stopping a reporter in mid-question asking about Roger Goodell. “When you look at our workweek, and our workdays, our time and energy from morning till evening is on the opponent,” Payton added.  Payton was suspended by Roger Goodell for the 2012 season as a part of the team’s bounty scandal.
Stills getting better:  WR Kenny Stills is working his way back from a quad injury that has plagued him the entire preseason, and forced him to miss the opener against Atlanta “I felt I could have played last week.  I think coach wants to be cautious and make the right decision so it doesn’t happen again,” Stills said after practice today.  Stills suffered the initial injury in the offseason working out with Drew Brees in San Diego, and re-aggravated it on the first day of training camp, and suffered a setback in the third preseason game against the Colts.  Stills admitted he’s not a very patient person and suggested it’s probably a good thing the trainers and coaches are keeping such a close eye on his progression so he wouldn’t try to come back to early. 

Injury report:  LB Curtis Lofton (shoulder) and CB Keenan Lewis (knee) were back on the practice field today taking every rep in practice.  Lewis and Lofton were both listed as limited participants on Wednesday.  WR Kenny Stills (quad) was limited for the second consecutive day, but is making strides working his way back and hopes to play this Sunday vs the Browns.  FB Erik Lorig (ankle) and S Marcus Ball (Hamstring) did not practice.  
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Kristian: Saints were all about tackling today
Tackling:  That singular word came up several times today in the locker room in discussions with the players and Coach Sean Payton. “Tackle!” “Tackle!” “Tackle!” Cornerback Keenan Lewis said it several times when asked a question, regardless of the topic.  Lewis went outside after practice today and worked on a tackling dummy after the Saints missed 16 tackles against the Falcons.  “We have individual periods out here where it’s strictly fundamentals.  You’re working location, landmarks, leverage; the number one thing is population to the ball.  So all of those things we work on.” Coach Payton said tackling was an emphasis on the first practice of the week, but nothing out of the ordinary. 

Memory lane:  The Saints notched their first win of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era in 2006 on the road against the Cleveland Browns 19-14.  “We came out of training camp with a lot of questions I think.  It was kind of a one possession game, back and forth we were able to make a couple of plays in the end,” Payton said. “It seems like a long time ago.” 

Road Woes:  The Saints have been one of the best road teams in the NFL since 2006, but not recently.  New Orleans has lost four straight regular season games going back to 2013.  The Saints spent the offseason focusing on a handful of areas; improved running game, increased turnovers, playing better on the road, and handling the crowd noise.  For the most part the Saints handled three of those tasks pretty well in the opener, with a good effort running the football.  Payton isn’t ready to mix up the pregame itinerary: “I think one of the things you gotta do when you evaluate a loss is making sure the adjustments or corrections aren’t one you’re chasing ghosts”.  

Injury report:  Wednesday’s participation report looks fairly good for the Saints.  WR Kenny Stills (quad) was officially listed as a limited participant in practice.  CB Keenan Lewis (knee) was also limited, along with Linebacker Curtis Lofton (shoulder).   Keep in mind if a player receives treatment on an injury they have to be listed on the injury report.  I wouldn’t read too much into Lofton and Lewis being on the injury report.  Lofton banged up his shoulder in the first half of the Atlanta game and later returned.  Lewis worked after practice on the tackling dummy so I would say he’s fine if he’s taking extra work.  FB Erik Lorig and S Marcus Ball both missed practice today.
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Kristian: Saints humbled after loss to Falcons
Humbled:  The Saints were left scratching their heads after losing to Atlanta in the season opener yesterday in the Georgia Dome.  “Last year was last year, it’s a new year.  We’re not panicking, but we have a little sense of urgency,” explained linebacker Junior Galette. Perhaps the Saints bought the hype of best team on paper, or the sexy super bowl pick among experts. The Saints allowed over 500 yards of offense to the Falcons in the overtime loss 37-24.  New Orleans became the 21st team since the NFL/AFL merger to allow at least 500 yards in a season opener.  Of the previous 20 teams, only 6 ended up making the playoffs. Cause for concern?  Maybe, but it’s still very early.  

Galette says the defense will not play that poorly again. “We just didn’t get it done.  It was terrible; I know we’ll never rush like that again. That’s a fact.  The Saints vaunted pass rush generated just 1 sack against the Falcons. “Definitely ate that humble pie last night.  Only good I can take out of it is; that it happened early in the first game of the season let’s get this out the away and never have this feeling that I have right now,” Galette continued. 

Wake up call:  It sounds very much like the loss to the Falcons was a bit of a wake up call for a team that has very high expectations.  Typically in a season, every good team has a hiccup, a loss that is bit inexplicable.  Unfortunately for the Saints it happened in week 1.  “We’re focused; we gotta get on it now.  We have to go out there and take it,” Galette said.  We’ll see if the sense of urgency is increased this week as they travel to Cleveland Browns squad in their home opener.  
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Kristian: Saints are ready for the Falcons
Kick-off:  We’re just 48 hours away from kick off between the Saints and Falcons in week 1 of the season in Atlanta. “I think we’ve got a team that is figuring out what we’re doing and we have to play like we want to be perfect,” said defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was noticeably excited about the match up.  The Saints have enjoyed tremendous success against Atlanta in the Sean Payton era going 13-3 since 2006.  

One of the best offenses in the league:  Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said just that about the Atlanta Falcons offense today, despite losing tight end Tony Gonzalez to retirement in the off season. “They have all these weapons, these receivers are special and so is their quarterback.  They’re an excellent offense.  We’re going to have our hands full,” explained Ryan.  The chief concern for New Orleans is WR Julio Jones. “He’s really that special.  He looks like he’s at full speed of the four minutes I saw on Hard Knocks,” Ryan said with a smile.  Last year in the opening game against the Falcons the Saints doubled Jones nearly every play and he still caught 7 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. 
Prediction:  Conventional wisdom and experience would tell me this is going to be a close game between the Saints and Falcons, but I’m ignoring that. I’m going with what I've seen out of the Saints in the preseason and training camp.  The Saints offense reminds me so much of the 2011 attack that set numerous offensive records (broken last year by the Broncos). Atlanta just has too many questions on defense and the offensive is a concern for the Falcons. I like the Saints 38-17 in a big opening win.  I know it’s a rivalry, I know it’s the opening game for the both squads, but the Saints are that much of a better team. 

Injury report:  Wide Receiver Kenny Stills (quad) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s season opener against the Falcons.  .  Fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and Safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) are both out for week 1. 
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Kristian: Saints trying to put road woes in rear view mirror
Road Struggles:  The Saints had a nice rebound season in 2013, going 11-and-5 and 1-and-1 in the playoffs before falling 23-15 to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.  The Saints were unbeaten on the road but surprisingly struggled on the road on their way to a 3-and-5 mark away from the Superdome.  Three of the Saints five road losses were by six points or less.  “One of the points of emphasis in the offseason on offense was finish and securing a game, there were times where we got into our four minute (offense,) and you need a first down, and we have to do a better job with that,” explained Sean Payton.  The Saints rank top three in the NFL on the road under Sean Payton at 35-29 since 2006, and second by New England at 23-17 since 2009.  
Griffin back on the practice squad:  The Saints officially announced the re-signing of QB Ryan Griffin to the practice squad today, also waiving LB Todd Davis from the practice squad.  Griffin said he was a little caught off guard after initially making the final roster on Saturday “Yeah, when it happened it happened I didn’t know it was coming!” Griffin said.  While it might be harsh, it’s reality of the NFL.  Aside from a very few players, nobody's roster spots is completely secure, especially on roster cut-down day, and the days after.  The really good teams like the Saints have mastered the art of manipulating that bottom part of the roster and practice squad.  
Uh-Oh Julio:  The Saints don't have to defend Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez this Sunday, as he retired at the end of 2013.  That's a welcome change for the Saints and Payton: "He's a guy that did it forever, it seems like.  We sent him his retirement card."  Now the problem becomes wide receiver Julio Jones, who's coming off a foot injury that kept him out of the final eleven games last season. "You have to be aware of where he is on the field every play. He's got great size, great athleticism, he can run, and has fabulous hands."  Payton said they'll mix up the coverages and try and keep Atlanta guessing as to how they're covering Jones. 

Stills a no go:  Saints WR Kenny Stills did not practice today, and he was limited in practice on Wednesday.  Stills injured his quad on the first day of training camp, and played briefly in the preseason against the Colts and re-aggravated the injury in that game.  Safety Marcus Ball and fullback Erik Lorig both sat out of practice again today.  Ball and Lorig are yet to practice this week.  Lorig is listed on the injury report with an ankle injury.
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Kristian: Saints put Griffin back on practice squad
The Saints rolled the dice and it payed off.  A league sources says QB Ryan Griffin has been signed to the 10 member practice squad.  

Griffin was waived on Tuesday by the club, after initially making the final roster on Saturday.  

At this time we don't know the corresponding practice squad spot roster spot to make room for Griffin.  Another NFL team can still sign Griffin off of the Saints practice squad, but would have to add him to their active roster. 

Photo via Chris Bennett
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Kristian: Galette signs extension, Meachem is back
Fear the beard:  Linebacker Junior Galette has gone from undrafted long shot to team captain, and is signing another contract extension with the Saints.  Galatte’s deal is 4 years reportedly worth $41 million with $23 million in guaranteed cash. “This is the best week of my life” Galette said after he was also voted a team captain by his teammates earlier this week.  "I know what it feels like have a chip on your shoulder. I believed in that,when people didn’t believe in me; I believed in myself” Galette explained.  Don’t worry, Galette says he’ll continue to have a chip on his shoulder: “I’m motivated by pride, not money.” Galette arrived in New Orleans in 2010 as an undrafted player out of Stillman college, and now has his sights set on reaching the pro football hall of fame in Canton.  Hey most doubted he could make the roster, and look what happened.  It’s possible.  

Roster roulette:  The Saints continued their game of roster roulette today, announcing WR Robert Meachem has resigned with the team, after releasing him on Saturday in the final roster cuts.   Meachem’s roster spot could be manipulated later in the season but Sean Payton says Meahcem still brings something to the table “He’s someone that knows what we’re doing. We were able to get through the transactions and make that move”.   Kicker Shayne Graham was also brought back to the roster yesterday “You know what happened happened, I just think this is what the team wanted and what the team did. It is what it is”.  Graham said he spent the three days prior to re-signing with New Orleans relaxing with his fiancé and didn’t pack up all the while remaining in New Orleans.  

Injury report:  Ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Falcons, the Saints are relatively healthy outside of WR Kenny Stills (quad).  Stills was limited in today’s practice.  FB Erik Lorig and Safety Marcus Ball missed practice today.  
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Kristian: Saints bringing back Robert Meachem after all
The Saints have re-signed WR Robert Meachem to the active roster after releasing him in the final roster paring on Saturday.  

This might be an indication that WR Kenny Stills might still be hampered by a quad injury that has kept him out almost the entire preseason. I originally was told Meachem would make the final roster on Saturday.  I guess I was right after all!

At this time, we don't know the corresponding roster move for Meachem yet.  I'll keep you posted, check back here.  
Click here to see Meachem's stats
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