Saints study reasons for early-season deficiencies

METAIRIE – As they do each year, the Saints coaching staff took a long, hard look at their team during the bye week in trying to identify the good and bad from the first five games of the season.

To no one’s surprise, interim coach Aaron Kromer said Wednesday their self-scouting sessions revealed a couple of obvious areas they need to improve on going forward.

No. 1, he said, is a running game that’s been stuck in neutral as the Saints rank 30th in rushing offense with just 75.2 yards per game after finishing sixth last season with 132.9 yards a game.

“We looked back at those schemes, where we put people and how we executed the plays,” said Kromer, the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. “You’re working situational running game. You’re working technique and things, and getting the running backs and offensive line put together timing-wise.”

Two other areas of concern for the coaches: tackling and penalties. The Saints had 10 penalties in each of their last two games, pushing their total for the season to 38.

“We had too many penalties in our last game, especially at home,” Kromer said. “Defensively, we need to tackle better. We need to have confidence that we can and do it and play fast.”

SLOW START: Quarterback Drew Brees was asked if he had done a little self-scouting of his own to find reasons for poor offensive performances in the first two games against Washington and Carolina.

“If I wanted to (vomit), I would have,” he said. “We put those to bed a long time ago. What we’ve seen is we’ve gotten better here. We’ve improved. We still have a long way to go, but it gets you excited about the possibilities and the potential of this offense and this team.

“For us, last week was, ‘Hey, let’s get rested, healthy, rejuvenated here and prepared to make this run.’ We have quite a mountain to climb, but that’s OK because we have a bunch of climbers in our locker room.”

BACK TO WORK: After a bonus practice Monday, when the team reconvened after a six-day break for the bye, the Saints were back on the practice field to prepare for Sunday’s game with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

“I thought the guys responded well,” Kromer said. “We’re getting our mindset back to where we were before we hit the bye week. They responded by coming out and practicing hard. You can see the freshness in their legs.”

PRACTICE REPORT: Only three players did not take participate in Wednesday’s practice — tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) and linebackers Scott Shanle (illness) and David Hawthorne (hamstring).

Graham sprained his right ankle in the Oct. 7 game with the San Diego Chargers and while he didn’t practice, Kromer said he was able to run around a little.

CB Jabari Greer (groin) and G Jahri Evans (toe) were limited, while WR Lance Moore (hamstring), LB Jonathan Casillas (neck), DE Turk McBride (ankle) and RB Travaris Cadet (shoulder) all had full participation.

NICKS CHECKS IN: The only player listed on the Bucs practice report was former Saints guard Carl Nicks, who was limited with a toe injury.

That didn’t stop Nicks, who got a five-year, $47.5 million contract from the Bucs last March, from participating in a conference call with local reporters.

When he played with the Saints from 2008-11, Nicks’ engaging personality and friendly demeanor made him a go-to guy for quotes.

When asked if he missed his old teammates, Nicks said he did. Then, he chuckled when asked if he missed the media.

“I definitely don’t miss you guys,” he said, “you’re always asking about money.”

BETTER AFTER BYE: While the Saints are 6-1 since Sean Payton took over in the game before their annual bye, they’re only 3-3 in their first game following the bye going into Sunday’s matchup with the Bucs.

They were 0-3 from 2006-08 before defeating the New York Giants in 2009 and ’11 and Seattle Seahawks in 2010. They won each by double digits with an average victory margin of 20.3 points.

“We’ve done a good job over the last three years of playing well after the bye because we’ve let the guys rest,” Kromer said. “We’re not trying to tear them down.”