Saints vs Falcons
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Kristian Garic

Wake up to live, local sports talks with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

Weekdays 6am-9am on 3WL 1350-AM

Twitter: @kristiangaric1

Kristian: Saints vs Falcons "It's a war"

Falcons week: The fans from these two teams feel the rivalry, and so do the players. Defensive back Keenan Lewis described this Sunday's match up with Atlanta, "It's a war; they know what time it is, we know what time it is. We definitely remember what they did to us last time." He said, referencing the Saints week 1 loss to the Falcons in overtime 37-34. "They don't like us, and we don't like them," Lewis added. The Falcons face elimination against the Saints Sunday and are banged up at wide receiver with Julio Jones nursing a hip injury that held him out last week against the Steelers. Lewis expects Jones to be on the field Sunday. "Why not, there is just as much at stake for them as it is for us".

Part II: Regardless of record, this is a huge game for both teams. Sure, back in the spring when the schedule came out I don't think anyone had the Saints sitting at 6 and 8, and for the most part the analysts had the Falcons tapped to be better than their current mark of 5 and 9. They are facing elimination with a loss to the Saints. Atlanta holds bragging rights for the time being, after their week 1 overtime win over New Orleans. "When the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints get together, you can throw out the records, throw out what the situation is. It's two teams that love to compete against each other. I'll leave it at that. It's a great feel for the fans of New Orleans and the fans of Atlanta when those two teams play," said Falcons Coach Mike Smith.

Banged up birds: Three of the Falcons top receivers missed practice today. WR's Harry Douglas (foot), Julio Jones (hip) and Roddy White (knee) sat out of practice for Atlanta. White might have been given a 'veterans day off'. Jones did not play last week against the Steelers after injuring his hip in week 14 against the Packers. Safety William Moore (foot) was also listed on the injury report, missing practice as well.

Saints injury report: Only three players were listed on the initial injury report of the week for the Saints; DE Akiem Hicks (ankle) did not practice. OT Terron Armstead (neck) and S Jarmarca Sanford (hamstring) also missed practice. Sanford started at safety against the Bears in place of Kenny Vaccaro, who played a role as the team's nickel back.

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Brees: We showed resolve against Bears

The Saints had their backs against the wall heading into Monday night's game with the Chicago Bears. After an embarrassing loss to Carolina, the players and coaches vowed changes were coming, and that leaders needed to step up and the team needed to mature. After Monday night's win over the Bears, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the team responded: "We handled the adversity, we showed some resolve, a lot of togetherness." The hallmark of a Sean Payton/Drew Brees team has always been how they handle a tough loss, or a tough stretch of games. The Saints of 2014 haven't been good in handling big wins or setbacks.

Now the question becomes, can the Saints handle success? Are they focused on this three-game stretch that will decide their fate in the 2014 playoff picture? "The tendancy is to relax, and say we have the formula. We know what it takes to win in this league, but you have to continue to harp on it and exercise it each and every week," Brees said. The Saints now have to prove they can win three in a row, because if they do that, it doesn't matter what any other team in the NFC South does.

The Saints take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday in the Superdome. It's hard not to use the adjective "huge" to describe this matchup, considering New Orleans is 6-8 and the Falcons are 5-9, but heck it is huge for a number of reasons. The Saints could eliminate the Falcons with a victory over the Dirty Birds, more importantly with a win over Atlanta and a Panthers loss to the Browns, the Saints would lock up the division and make their week 17 match up against Tampa Bay obsolete. Two games left in the regular season. How well will the Saints handle the success of Monday night? Ask me on Monday morning.

Click the player below to hear my conversation with Drew Brees following the Bears win.
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Kristian: Ryan vows his defense is ready for Bears

Saints defense: Rob Ryan's defense clearly played their worst game of the season last Sunday against the Panthers. Ryan says his side of the ball will be ready to go: "We have to come out with a great game this week playing a high-powered offense with a great quarterback, a great receiver and a great running back. We have to be ready to go and we will. We are ready." The Black and Gold defense has given up thirty-four points or more in that last three games. Like Sean Payton, Ryan also shot down reports on the 'benching' of Safety Kenny Vaccaro. "We are not benching him. You guys benched him. However, it is I know one thing, last year we had him doing a lot of different things and in my opinion Kenny (Vaccaro) was the best safety in football. I think this year, hell like all of us, me included, we haven't been that same person." Ryan also shouldered the blame for the defensive breakdowns at the end of games this season. "That is completely on the defensive coordinator," Ryan said.
Payton to Michigan (rumors): There is has been some speculation that the University of Michigan might target Sean Payton to fill the school's head coaching vacancy. I know it sounds way out there, but he was asked about that speculation today. "I have two kids right in Dallas. That was with regards to another report but I have no interest in any other job but this one. I know you guys will preface all of that by well he has to say that. It seems like every three years I answer that question and every three years sure enough he is the head coach here. I did answer it earlier. This is the job I am most interested in, only interested in," Payton said at his press conference. I just can't see Sean Payton as a college coach, just doesn't seem like it would be the right fit. He's a pro guy.
Galette & Armstead: The Saints listed OLB Junior Galette (knee) as questionable for Monday night against the Bears. "I'm going to work out Monday (before the game)and see how it feels. Right now, I'm preparing like I'm not playing." Offensive Tackle Terron Armstead (neck) was also listed as questionable for the game against Chicago. Bryce Harris would play in place of Armstead if he can't go Monday night.
Prediction: Everything tells me the Saints aren't a good pick here, but the Bears have their own set of issues as well, and in fact they're probably worse issues than the Saints face. These are two of the league's bottom feeding defenses and I like Drew Brees way more than Jay Cutler in terms of making more plays. I'm picking the Saints in close one in Soldier Field and relatively lower scoring than we might expect.

28-24 Saints win over Chicago.
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Kristian: Vaccaro meeting with Payton "career changing"

Humbling: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro was hesitant to call his meeting with Sean Payton humbling, but did describe it as career changing: "When I shook his hand in that meeting, it changed my career from that point on. I needed that, in times like this. I needed that tough love from him," Vaccaro said. Keep in mind Drew Brees was benched with the San Diego Chargers, and has carved out a Hall of Fame career. Vaccaro says Payton just wants the best for him "He wants me to be a Pro-Bowl Hall of Famer. He told me that. He just wants me to get there," said Vaccaro. I fully expect Vaccaro to play in this game Monday, and the phrase 'benching' in the truest form isn't entirely accurate, it sounds like more of a demotion than benching.

Shake up: Saints coach Sean Payton described the report that Safey Kenny Vaccaro would be benched this Monday night against the Bears as "inaccurate" and added "he's going to play a ton for us." It's important to note, Payton didn't say directly that Vaccaro would or would not start. Payton wouldn't go into detail as to what was said in the meeting with him and Vaccaro: "We're going to need him to play and play well and he's going to be a huge factor for us in this game. The idea that we're putting him on the bench is a little silly," Payton added.

Consider the source: Sean Payton said in response to Sports Illustrated's Peter King's opinion column that Sean Payton might have worn out his welcome in New Orleans and might consider moving on after the season: "It's silly, it won't happen. You gotta consider the source. There is absolutely no way," Payton passionately explained.

Being a pro: Saints offensive captain Zach Strief used the word 'professional' several times in his post game press conference on Sunday following the loss to the Panthers. Strief touched on the proper way to prepare for opponents, and the message that Sean Payton is sending is loud and clear, and the Saints responded this week: "Today was an uptick in tempo and intensity. Everyone's been put on alert, and I think ultimately when you put a guy in a situation where he has to realize he has to play for his job everyday, you're going to see an increase in intensity," Strief said. "It was way more physical than you would be used to in week 14 of a season" added Strief.

Hard work pays off: WR Seantavious Jones was promoted to the active roster after the team released Joe Morgan yesterday. Jones arrived to the Saints as undrafted rookie free agent out of Valdosta State, and landed on the Saints practice squad after the preseason. "I was actually headed to Waffle House and they called me and told me to come meet with the coach. After I got the news I couldn't stop smiling." The Saints will likely ease Jones into action in the final three games of the regular season, but Payton said he's earned his way up to the active roster "he's been real impressive in practices. He's picked things up quickly. Every Wednesday and Thursday you're watching him be productive. It's typically what happens with a practice squad player when it keeps repeating itself each week" added Sean Payton.

Junior Galette: Missed practice today (knee) and Offensive Tackle Terron Armstead (ankle) also missed practice. Armstead and Galette both suffered injuries in the loss to the Panthers. LB David Hawthorne (hip) and DL Akiem Hicks (ankle) were both limited in practice ahead of Monday's night's prime time game against the Chicago Bears.
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Kristian: Payton says "We are THAT team"

The Saints are THAT team, that team that will turn the ball over, that team that will commit stupid penalties, and that team that can't get out of their own way. It's pretty hard to believe right? For so long the Saints were known as a smart, sound disciplined football team.

"I don't rule out any changes with regards to who we're asking, and what we're asking asking them with or what we're asking them to do," Sean Payton explained after having a chance to watch the film of his team's dismantling at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, 41 to 10 in the Superdome. Payton isn't just looking at the players with a critical eye: "It starts with me, it starts with our coaches and we'll get that cleaned up and then we clean up who's doing it".

Payton shared a bit as to what he and the team discussed in the meeting room: "It's been a while, but we are that team," Payton said, as in, that team that beats itself. The Saints have traditionally been a team that you have to earn the win against, a team that won't have a ton of mental busts, or silly penalties. The Saints have been flagged on two separate occasions this season on special teams to extend scoring drives for opponents.

"Before you go out and win a game, you have to prevent yourself from losing a game," Payton added.

In the NFL, where the talent is so equal throughout, the teams that can do just that are often the most successful. Every team has good coaches, and players. "I saw alignment problems, I saw execution problems, I saw guys not aligned with leverage the way they're supposed to be; I saw poor tackling, dropped passes. Those are the things that stand out," Payton said. Payton also pointed to busted coverages in the secondary. "There is a guy loose in man to man, and it's their top receiver (Kelvin Benjamin), something's wrong."

What is the issue? Why are the saints having blown assigments this late in the season? "If it's not happening on tape, we're not covering it enough or we need to look at who we are asking to do it, those are the two things that you go through" said Payton. The Saints have played well at times this season, but haven't displayed the ability to battle tough situations and adverse situations in games. "We have some success early and then all of a sudden there is a certain way you see us play, but I don't know how mentally tough we've been when getting hit in the mouth early on."

The Saints have three games remaining, with no margin for error. Can we dispense with a possible play off conversation until THAT team turns into a mentally tougher, sharper and mature team with consistency?
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Kristian: Saints bring Hartley back for a workout

The New Orleans Saints today are working out a familiar face today. Kicker Garrett Hartley, who the Saints released last year, is at Saints camp.

The team let him go last year in a different effort for Sean Payton and the Saints to shake up the line up.

The current place kicker, Shane Graham took Hartley's spot. Could the reverse happen now?

Graham missed a field goal in Sunday's loss to the Panthers in the Superdome.

Hartley kicked the winning field goal to send the Saints to the Super Bowl in the 2009 season.

Photo by Chris Bennett
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Kristian: Report says Saints are benching Vaccaro

The ball keeps rolling... the NFL Network is now reporting that Kenny Vaccaro is benched.

What's interesting is that Vaccaro was praised by Payton after the blowout loss to the Bengals for his passion and his care. And now, according to this report, he'll be benched! Another odd twist in a very strange season for the Saints.

Vaccaro played so well in so many positions as a rookie... it just goes to show you, Payton is not messing around. He's serious about possible lineup changes coming for his football team, and I don't think we've seen the end of it.
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Kristian: Do the Saints have enough REAL pros?

The Saints surely sound like a team splintered to its core. After getting off to an 0 and 2 start in the beginning of the season; the catch phrase was "stick together" and not point fingers. The team was able to avoid that for the most part this season until now. After a 5 and 8 record through 14 weeks the players are becoming more pointed with their comments, "It doesn't feel like we have a playoff chance, all the players walking around with sad faces, the coaches are worrying about next year; it's bad right now," said defensive back Corey White. "Luckily enough we still have a shot at the playoffs, and that's what we're going for," continued White.

Coach Sean Payton suggested after the team's 41-10 loss to the Panthers that line-up changes are possible, and reiterated that point again Monday. "I'm not ruling it out," Payton said. "It's their job, if it's not happening over a long period of time we are going to look at other options." That message resonates with the players, "Each game you gotta go out there and know that someone is watching. Not one time can you take it for granted; we're in the business of winning," confirmed White.

We've heard a lot about what it's going to take to resurrect what looks to be a lost season. Sean Payton said it today, "This is where you find out who your guys are."

Who are his guys? Sean Payton wants unselfish players; players who put the team before themselves; players who work tirelessly to get better and help the team win above individual stats.

When the Saints jettisoned veteran leaders Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Will Smith they lost key pieces to the leadership puzzle. "This team is inconsistent, that's not ok. That's not professional, that's not up to the standards that we've set here," explained offensive lineman and Captain Zach Strief. Drew Brees had some pretty strong words after the game against Carolina as well, "Maybe we need to be more professional, and I say we as it's the entire team."

The Saints just don't have enough professionals on the team right now. Guys don't know what it means to face adversity, and go through tough times. Coaches coach, and players play. We've heard that before, right?

There have been some great leaders in the Sean Payton era in New Orleans. Zach Strief and Drew Brees continue to carry the torch with Curtis Lofton also in that mix. However, this team has has an issue with selfishness and until that gets fixed, we're likely looking at the same results week in and week out…and we're looking at an up and down final three games with a likely earlier than expected sunset on the season.
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Kristian: Patrick Robinson a much more confident Saint

P-Rob: Saints defensive back Patrick Robinson is coming off his best game in a Saints uniform Sunday in a win over the Steelers. Robinson nearly had a huge interception in the first quarter of the game and helped slow down a very potent Steelers offensive attack. Robinson has been through peaks and valleys since arriving in 2010 as the teams first round draft choice out of Florida State. He lost his starting job early in the season, and regained it again after Corey White struggled opposite of Keenan Lewis. "I was playing not to get beat (early in my career), my mindset was not right," Robinson said of his early struggles.

Sean Payton sat down with Robinson a few weeks ago and gave him a vote of confidence. "I think that made a huge difference, I had more confidence in myself. If Sean had confidence in me, and he's the top guy, than I should be fine," Robinson added. Confidence can be a powerful thing for a player, and if Robinson continues his strong play, Keenan Lewis might start seeing more action his way on the other side of the field.

Time to take over: Saints defensive captain Junior Galette says he and his teammates still remain very confident they can salvage a season that started with high expectations and transpired into a 5 and 7 record "We got a lot of guys that have a chip on their shoulders, and a lot to prove. Guys aren't really down. We might make one of the best stories ever and turn this thing around and end up winning," Galette explained. The Saints have three out of their next four games against NFC South rivals starting this Sunday with the Carolina Panthers in the Superdome. New Orleans can ill afford to drop another divisional game and win the division. "No excuses about it now, you can't blame anybody else it's on us. We're 5 and 7, we're very fortunate to be where we are. We have to finish and take over," said Galete.

Injury report: Running Back Mark Ingram (toe/ankle) was limited in practice today for the second consecutive day. RBs Khiry Robinson (forearm) & Travaris Cadet both returned to practice field on a full time basis after being listed as limited yesterday. Since week 8, Ingram leads the NFL in rushing with 608 yards. While it is troubling to see Ingram on the injury report this week, I'm still very optimistic he will be able to go on Sunday against the Panthers. Ingram had a career high 30 carries in the Saints 28-10 victory over the Panthers in Charlotte to close out the month of October. Ingram finished that game with 100 yards on the button.
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Kristian: Saints looking to build off Steelers win, Ingram limited

Inconsistency: It has been the problem this season for the Saints. Coming off Sunday's 35-32 win over the Steelers, the Saints are trying to put together a string of games and make a run at the post-season. Sean Payton's team hasn't put together more than two wins in a row all season: "I think being able to do a lot of the little things that we were able to do last week; understanding the opponent so by the time game time comes making sure you can play 100 miles per hour because you know what you're doing. Obviously we're playing for a lot," Sean Payton explained. With four games remaining and a 5 and 7 record New Orleans has virtually no margin for error, and with a win Sunday vs Carolina can pretty much make it a two team race in the underachieving NFC south race between themselves and the Falcons.

Full strength at RB: The Saints are nearly back to health at the position that early in the season saw injuries to Pierre Thomas, and Khiry Robinson at the same time. Mark Ingram has done a nice job shouldering most of the running game in their absence. Running Back Khiry Robinson (forearm) returned to the practice field today: "I had a little boo-boo, and I got it fixed," Robinson said today after practice. Robinson had surgery on his forearm a few weeks ago and says this is the week he was told he would return following the procedure. How will Robinson's return effect Mark Ingram's carries? "They'll be enough carries, and we'll be smart about it. I don't envision it really changing, what Mark has been able to do," Payton explained.

Injury report: The Saints are relatively healthy heading into Sunday's game with the Panthers, only four players were listed on today's injury report and all of them were limited: RB Travaris Cade (hamstring) RB Mark Ingram (ankle/toe) LB Kyle Knox (hand) and RB Khiry Robinson (forearm). CB Keenan Lewis looks fully healthy along with LB Curtis Lofton as neither player showed up on the first injury report of the week.
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