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After late meltdown in Detroit, Saints’ Rob Ryan says mere improvement on defense means nothing without wins

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan watches from the sidelines against the Detroit Lions during a NFL football game in Detroit Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan watches from the sidelines against the Detroit Lions during a NFL football game in Detroit Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan addresses the media once a week; so, when he talked to reporters Friday, five days had passed since his subordinates had melted down late in a 24-23 defeat at Detroit.

That had not been enough time to get over the disappointment of that experience.

“I’m telling the truth — it was execution,” said Ryan, in his second year with the Saints. “That’s what it is.”

To build up a 23-10 lead with fewer than four minutes to go in their visit to the Lions, the Saints (2-4) had intercepted quarterback Matthew Stafford twice and sacked him three times. It was the first multiple takeaway game the Saints defense had delivered since an Oct. 27, 2013, victory at home against Buffalo; and the sacks represented a season high.

But then, on a third-and-14 from Detroit’s 27 with about 3:52 to go in the game, Stafford threw a short pass to the right to receiver Golden Tate. Saints cornerback Corey White leapt up for the ball, but Tate cut in front of him and hauled the pass in.

When White landed, he was out of position to wrap Tate up. Tate scored a 73-yard touchdown after evading White and the two other Saints who had any possibilities of stopping him: cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro, who had each picked off Stafford earlier in the contest.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw an interception on the ensuing drive, and Detroit took over at New Orleans’ 14. Stafford soon helped the Lions win the game after throwing a touchdown pass on a third-and-goal to unheralded receiver Corey Fuller in the back of the end zone.

“That is not good defense,” Ryan said in a matter-of-fact monologue on Friday. “We are in this thing together — nobody points fingers on our defense, and no one ever will.

“(But) we are not one of these teams that are OK with, ‘Well, we are getting better.’ … Bull crap — we are here to win, and that’s how it has to be.”

After holding opponents to the fourth-fewest yards in 2013 and helping New Orleans clinch an appearance in the divisional round of the playoffs, Ryan’s defense was 21st in the NFL in that category as it began preparing to host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night. The Saints were also 28th in points allowed after being fourth in that category in 2013 as they started readying themselves for an opponent led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s been incomprehensibly effective while throwing 18 touchdowns and just one interception this year.

“They are going to have some success,” Ryan said of the Packers. “We have to have our own success; and when we get that chance to make that play, we need to cash in and do it.”

They didn’t against Detroit, and they’re two games below .500 because of that.

Returning Eric Olsen relieved to learn he hadn’t merely imagined that the Saints liked him

Eric Olsen felt good about his chances of making the Saints for a second season in a row as a backup offensive lineman until he stepped on someone else’s foot during training camp in 2013 and suffered a Lisfranc injury.

Eric Olsen

Eric Olsen

Olsen then wondered whether his odds of cracking the roster were all in his head when the Saints soon waived him with an injury settlement — and he was relieved to learn that they weren’t when New Orleans re-signed him Tuesday, about 13 months later.

“I always had the feeling they still liked me here, and that it was an injury-related thing that ended up happening,” Olsen said Wednesday. “It was good to know that I wasn’t just imagining that and that they still know what I can do and still feel comfortable enough to bring me back.”

Olsen — a guard and center in college — entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice in 2010 for Denver out of Notre Dame. He was active for one game in Denver and was waived.

He then spent some time on Washington’s practice squad in 2011 before signing with the Saints for the postseason that year, and he was active for 16 games with the Saints in 2012 as an extra blocker.

The Saints then waived Olsen with an injury settlement in early September 2013 after he hurt his foot in the summer. The settlement provided him with money through the seventh week of the 2013 regular season, but he would’ve rather remained a member of the team on injured reserve.

“It’s frustrating to be (let go) — I would’ve liked to have been on IR for the year as a worst-case scenario,” said Olsen, who had been a free agent after brief stints with Pittsburgh and Tennessee following his initial tenure in New Orleans. “The circumstances were tough.”

But Saints center Jonathan Goodwin has left three of the last four games early with leg injuries. He may not be able to play when the Saints (2-4) host Green Bay (5-2) on Sunday night, and New Orleans turned to Olsen to add depth under Goodwin’s backup, second-year guard/center Tim Lelito.

Olsen had worked out for the Saints earlier this regular season.

“He has experience,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday when asked about repatriating Olsen. “He’s a versatile player.”

Giving offense good field position twice in Detroit, Saints defense focused on ‘Operation: Feed Drew’

The Saints offense twice experienced a luxury they haven’t experienced all year during Sunday’s 24-23 defeat at Detroit.

They started in their opponents’ territory.

New Orleans converted those opportunities into a touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Bees and a field goal that both nearly gave the team their third victory of the season. And the obvious benefits of creating takeaways that set up the Saints’ offense in enemy territory were cause enough for safety Kenny Vaccaro and his teammates to intensify their focus on what he dubbed “Operation: Feed Drew.”

“We have to keep taking those,” Vaccaro said Wednesday. “The more chances he gets to score the ball, the better chance we have at winning.”

The Saints (2-4) have a paltry four takeaways this season. Only Jacksonville (1-6) and Washington (2-5) have fewer than that.

Making things worse is that two of the Saints’ takeaways didn’t do much to improve New Orleans’ field position. A fumble recovery by cornerback Corey White in a Week 1 loss at Atlanta at the goal-line set up the Saints at their 20, though New Orleans then went on an 80-yard touchdown drive. An interception by cornerback Patrick Robinson in a Week 5 win at home against Tampa Bay set the Saints up at their 4, and they punted on the ensuing drive.

When the Saints got their best starting position of the season off Lewis’ interception, at Detroit’s 29, they scored a touchdown. Vaccaro’s pick had the Saints’ offense starting at Detroit’s 49, and it led to a 36-yard field goal.
But Lewis’ and Vaccaro’s interceptions didn’t do much to improve the Saints’ 31st-ranked average starting field position: between their 22 and 23. That isn’t conducive to the quick scoring drives that can make winning easier for any team.

Brees said the Saints’ offense never expects needing short fields to succeed.

“If anything, we’re going to expect to start at the 10-, 20-yard line and have to march it,” said Brees, who’s completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,916 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. “We always have to be ready to march the ball the length of the field. … We don’t control how we get the ball. We control what we do with it once we get it.”

Nonetheless, a second-year player with two interceptions, Vaccaro called it his goal to give the ball back to Brees more often and in much better positions than the quarterback has been getting it.

“Every time I get a pick, I might run and give it to Drew (myself) from now on,” Vaccaro said.

Following up on Saints coach Sean Payton’s criticism of the officiating in 24-23 loss at Detroit

DETROIT — My newspaper story on Saints coach Sean Payton’s objections to the officiating in New Orleans’ 24-23 defeat to the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday didn’t permit me enough time or space to highlight all of the calls with which he likely took issue.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is seen on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is seen on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

So I wanted to follow up with a post that touched on a couple more of the plays that probably prompted him to criticize the performance of referee Terry McAulay’s crew in his news conference with the media afterwards.

The most obvious one I missed live from the press box was on a third-and-10 for the Saints at Detroit’s 18 with 5:35 left in the game and New Orleans leading 20-10. As quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass, Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley charged into the Saints’ backfield, grabbed Travaris Cadet by the helmet and yanked the Saints’ running back to the turf.

With no one open further up the field, Brees checked down to Cadet and looked to dump it off to him. But Cadet was on the ground, and Brees threw the ball away to avoid being sacked by Fairley. Readers viewing the game on television pointed out that both Payton and Brees were irate when Fairley wasn’t penalized, which would’ve given the Saints a new set of downs closer to the goal-line the Lions (5-2) were defending.

Instead, Brees’ incompletion stopped the clock with 5:29 to go, and the Saints settled for a 36-yard field goal by kicker Shayne Graham that gave New Orleans a 23-10 lead.

Of course, after surrendering a 73-yard touchdown reception, throwing an interception that set up Detroit at the Saints’ 14, giving up another TD catch (this one from five yards out), and then ceding the ball to the Lions on downs with 21 seconds left, New Orleans lost by a point and dropped to 2-4.

Another moment where the officials upset those in New Orleans’ corner was on a punt from the Lions’ Sam Martin with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. The ball hit the pylon after the punt, and many thought it’d be a touchback that would give the Saints the ball at their 20. But, as Lions players pleaded with them, officials ruled the ball went out of bounds at the Saints’ 1, leaving New Orleans to face a 99-yard field.

The Saints still drove to Detroit’s 30 to set up a 48-yard field goal by Graham that armed New Orleans with a 20-10 lead with 13:38 left in the game.

Payton remarked that the officiating wasn’t the only reason his team lost in Detroit, but he did make it a point to criticize the refs post-game.

“I wasn’t happy with the way that game was officiated,” Payton said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”

The trip to Detroit marked the end of what many considered to be the easy part of the Saints’ schedule. Their first six opponents had a winning percentage of .475, and none made the playoffs in 2013.

The Saints lost to four of those teams, all of whom they visited: aside from Detroit, New Orleans suffered setbacks in Atlanta (2-5), Cleveland (3-3) and Dallas (6-1).

They beat Tampa Bay (1-5) and Minnesota (2-5) at home.

The Saints’ next four opponents have a winning percentage of .593, and all made the playoffs in 2013. Of those, the Saints will host three — Green Bay (5-2), San Francisco (4-3) and Cincinnati (3-2-1) — and travel to one, Carolina (3-3-1).

(H/T @steven3210 on Twitter)

Saints’ five-game winning streak coming out the bye is done for; their vaunted winning streak at home may be next

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is seen on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is seen on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT — Many had circled the Saints’ trip to Detroit on Sunday as a victory because it was the first game coming out of New Orleans’ bye for this season.

The Saints had gone 5-0 since coach Sean Payton in 2009 grabbed a page from NFL colleague Andy Reid’s book and allowed players to take the full bye week off. Granted, only one of those contests had been on the road, where the Saints are a frightening 1-9 in their last 10 regular-season away games; but many felt it was a good bet New Orleans would find a way to win with extra rest and time to prepare.

They didn’t, and Sunday’s 24-23 defeat at Detroit (5-2) brought a quiet end to that oft-cited streak, dropping the Saints’ record this season to 2-4.

“The tough thing about it is the work and the preparation leading into the game is everything we wanted,” said Payton, whose team has also lost at Dallas (6-1), Atlanta (2-5) and Cleveland (3-3) while winning at home against Minnesota (2-5) and Tampa Bay (1-5).

Before the game was over, All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham played in only 30 of the Saints’ 74 offensive snaps because of a shoulder injury and was unable to catch a pass on either of his two targets. Second-year running back Khiry Robinson lost a fumble.

But the Saints got 214 of their 342 pass receiving yards from Marques Colston (six catches for 111 yards) and Kenny Stills, who had five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. They got another touchdown catch from first-year fullback Austin Johnson, and kicker Shayne Graham was 3-for-3 on field goals.

On defense, the Saints had their first multiple takeaway game since Oct. 27, 2013, after interceptions by safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Keenan Lewis. Pass-rusher Junior Galette, linebacker Parys Haralson and cornerback Corey White each had one quarterback takedown behind the line of scrimmage to give the Saints a season-high three sacks, and the Saints seized a 23-10 lead with 5:24 to go.

Then, New Orleans surrendered a 73-yard touchdown reception by Golden Tate on what seemed to be a low-risk third-and-14 situation. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw his seventh interception of the season on the ensuing offensive drive, and Detroit took over at New Orleans’ 14. The Lions soon scored a touchdown that helped give them a 24-23 lead, and the Saints lost the ball on downs on their final offensive drive.

Thus ended one streak. And another may soon suffer the same fate.

The 5-2 Green Bay Packers this upcoming Sunday night are set to visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Saints have won each of their last 19 games with Payton has coached them there (including the playoffs). That excludes home games played in the 2012 season, when Payton was suspended in the wake of the bounty scandal and the Saints were 4-4 in New Orleans.

The Packers have won four consecutive games. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdowns and a sole interception. Rodgers’ top target, wideout Jordy Nelson, led the NFL with 712 receiving yards and had six touchdowns (twice as many as anyone on the Saints has scored).

In Green Bay’s way at the Superdome will be a host that struggled to beat a bad Minnesota team 20-9 and then needed overtime as well as a favorable coin flip to finish off an even worse Tampa Bay squad 37-31.

“We … have to go out there and … win in our preparation during the week and come out against Green Bay and execute,” veteran Saints right guard Jahri Evans said in the visitor’s locker room after the Lions game.

If not, it’ll be time to bid adieu to Payton’s winning streak at the Superdome just seven days after the Saints’ five-game winning streak coming out of the bye was snapped.

Live updates: Saints at Lions

Live Blog Saints at Lions live updates

Saints at Lions pregame chat

Live Blog Saints at Lions pregame chat

Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus no longer on Saints solely because of roster numbers, Sean Payton says

Sometimes, remaining on the Saints’ roster is a matter of mathematics. And Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus is no longer in New Orleans simply because those didn’t fall to his benefit at the end of the 2013 season, Saints coach Sean Payton said Friday, two days before his team visits Detroit.

Isa Abdul-Quddus

Isa Abdul-Quddus

“He was a real good special teams player for us and someone that played in our defense when we got nicked up a little bit at safety,” said Payton, whose Saints were 2-3 as they prepared to clash with Abdul-Quddus and several other former New Orleans players. “I thinking more than anything else it just came down to numbers.”

Abdul-Quddus had 12 tackles and a pass-break up in 11 games last year, his third with New Orleans. In 42 games since 2011, the undrafted free agent out of Fordham had 47 tackles on defense, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two interceptions. The forced fumbles were in 2011; the turnovers he accounted for were in 2012.

The Saints also used Abdul-Quddus on special teams.

“When you watch him, he is a smart player,” Payton said of Abdul-Quddus, who missed some time in 2013 hurt. “He knows what to do. He plays well in the kicking game and then can play snaps in the base (defense).”

But, on the Saints’ defense, he had fallen behind safeties Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush; and he was cut after New Orleans’ wildcard playoff victory at Philadelphia in January, for which he was inactive.

The Lions acquired Abdul-Quddus off waivers the day after Seattle won the Super Bowl in February. Harper and Jenkins moved on to Carolina and Philadelphia, respectively; and, at safety, the Saints currently count on Vaccaro, Bush, rookie pro Vinnie Sunseri and first-year NFLer Marcus Ball. Another safety — veteran Jairus Byrd — is on season-ending injured reserve with a hurt knee.

In Detroit, which is 4-2, Abdul-Quddus has started in three games this year, filling in for injured strong safety James Ihedigbo. He has two pass break-ups and 20 tackles (10 solo) for the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and he’s recorded another two stops on special teams, indicating that the change worked out for Abdul-Quddus in the end.

Nonetheless, Abdul-Quddus told on Friday that he was “kind of mad” he’d been let go after a playoff win and had to fly to his home region of New York-New Jersey to speak with his mother and friends to accept what had happened was just business.

“It was weird because you know you kind of get to the playoffs and you assume everything is locked in,” Abdul-Quddus said to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein. “So it was kind of like a shocker. I didn’t want to take anything personal. They need to make their business moves and I know it is a business, so I didn’t really take it (personally).”

Abdul-Quddus said to Rothstein that it helped him when it his supporters pointed out that the Saints had given him his first NFL opportunity.

Set to face his old teammates and coaches, Abdul-Quddus was named captain of the Lions’ special-teams units. He’s one of several former Saints on the Lions — others include offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, running back Reggie Bush, fullback Jed Collins and running back Joique Bell.

Bush was also named a team captain. According to Rothstein, Abdul-Quddus said it was his first time being recognized as such in the NFL.

Former Saints offensive linemen Wally Williams implicated in a Washington Post story on NFL wives asked to keep quiet about abuse

Dewan Smith-Williams, wife of former New Orleans Saints’ offensive tackle Wally Williams, alleges that former Saints coach Jim Haslett and an attorney for the National Football League urged her not to go to the media about allegations of abuse from her husband in 2001.

Smith-Williams’s allegations are the centerpiece of a Washington Post story by Simone Sebastian and Ines Bebea, “For battered NFL wives, a message from the cops and the league: Keep quiet”

Smith-Williams, who is separated from Wally Williams, has been on various talk shows talking about alleged abuse from her husband, which consisted of pushing and grabbing during their 16-year marriage.

Smith-Williams says in the story that police officers appeared to help cover up the player’s abusive actions: ” ‘When the cops would come, they just said we needed some time apart, and they would talk to [Wally] about football…. ‘The police tell you, ‘You don’t want this in the news.’ I have things that happened in my life that there is no record of.’.”