"He's an easy target. I'm sure there's a ton of stuff he'll want to clean up. But there's a lot of muddy hands just to be singling out one player," Payton said. "He's gonna work to improve, and we've gotta look overall at how we're helping not just him, but the rest of those guys."
Payton later added he understands why the media had questions about Robinson. And the mid-game switch was reminiscent of Payton yanking left tackle Charles Brown from the starting lineup late last season.
But when asked if he might make a permanent switch, Payton said, "I'm not gonna discuss changes on Sunday after a game."
The Saints have other options -- but no sure things at a position that has become a much bigger concern than hoped this summer, when Robinson, Champ Bailey and Corey White were fighting for the role.
White was the one who replaced Robinson in base defense Sunday -- which could potentially become a permanent switch. And Bailey remains unsigned on the open market, so he can't be ruled out as a possibility.
The Saints have two rookie corners on the roster in Brian Dixon and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, though both are still developing players. Jean-Baptiste has been inactive for both games so far, while Dixon has been used on special teams.
Or the Saints could continue to show the faith in Robinson that they showed in him when he beat out Bailey for the starting job in the first place this summer.
Robinson, a first-round draft pick in 2010, has had a roller-coaster career because of inconsistent play and injuries. But players and coaches have always raved about his raw talent and athleticism.
It's Robinson's confidence and consistency that need work. And it's hard to imagine these first two weeks have helped with Robinson's confidence. He also got beat for two deep balls last week at Atlanta.
"Just got to keep working," Robinson said Sunday, according to The Advocate. "You've got to keep working to get it right. Well, I'm not sure it's going to come overnight -- just have to keep working on my assignments, my technique. Simple as that."
Robinson's struggles began on the Browns' second series, when he was flagged for a 19-yard pass interference penalty on a third-and-7 play, even though the pass intended for receiver Taylor Gabriel was overthrown. Then, five plays later, Robinson got beat by a double move on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin.
On the next series, after he had been demoted to nickelback, Robinson was flagged for a neutral zone infraction, which nullified a missed field goal by Cleveland.
Robinson did settle in better for the rest of the game -- at one point making a great play to bat away a deep pass. But he added one more defensive holding penalty on the Browns' final offensive penalty (which would have been more egregious if the Browns hadn't declined the penalty because of an even worse coverage breakdown across the field).
It may seem like a moot point, since the Saints ultimately lost 26-24 to the Cleveland Browns in the final seconds. But Graham was the single biggest reason why the Saints were in a position to win after starting in a 16-3 hole.
“That’s why they’re paying him so much money. That’s why he’s asking for that much, he’s that kind of impact player,” Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby said, referencing the four-year, $40 million deal Graham signed this offseason. “We held him in check for a little, then he got loose and made his plays.”
On a day when nothing else seemed to be working for the Saints’ passing offense, Graham delivered time and again. No matter who was covering him -- including Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, whom Graham beat twice for big plays in tight man coverage.
“When you’re 6-7, 260 and you can run like a deer and jump out of the gym, you’re hard to cover,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “So obviously you saw him make some plays today. I thought he played exceptionally well.”
When asked if he ever gets in one of those zones where he feels like no one can stop him, Graham said, “You know, I’m not that cocky. But I’m confident that if Drew throws it up, I’m gonna try to get it for him.”
Graham certainly helped to dispel the myth that he can be taken out of games by a top cornerback.
Two of his biggest plays came when he was being blanketed by Haden – a 9-yard TD pass with three seconds left in the first half and a 20-yard pass to the 3-yard line that set up another TD in the fourth quarter.
The notion that Graham doesn’t have the same impact when covered by cornerbacks became popular when the New England Patriots’ Aqib Talib had success against him last year. And it was oft-mentioned when Graham was trying to be declared a receiver for franchise-tag purposes this summer.
But Graham proved that his size advantage can still prove too much for even top cornerbacks.
When asked if he invites teams trying to cover him that way, Graham said, “Yeah, I guess. If they’re gonna cover me with a cornerback, I’ve gotta find a way to get open.”
Graham also added high praise for Haden, who certainly had a successful day aside from those two plays.
The Browns’ passing defense did an outstanding job of frustrating Brees and his receivers throughout the day. At times, they had seven defensive backs on the field, leaving no one open -- and sometimes leading to costly results.
That pass coverage led to Brees being sacked against the goal line in the first quarter when he held the ball too long. It led to an interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter when Brees heaved one over Graham’s head under pressure. And it kept receiver Marques Colston without a catch (or even a single target) for the first time in 87 games.
But the Browns couldn’t find an answer for Graham.
“Jimmy Graham is a special player that has a special talent,” Haden said. “I ran up to him after the game, and we just both paid homage. He was telling me how good I was at corner, but he is just a really big target. Sometimes it is really hard to make plays on the ball; you have to try and get under him. Once he gets that big frame in front of you, it’s kind of hard to hit that ball.”
CLEVELAND -- "Finish Strong."
It's one of the most famous expressions in the history of the New Orleans Saints -- the slogan for their 2009 Super Bowl season.
Well, it might be time to dust off those old T-shirts again. Because the Saints are a stunning 0-2 after losing each of their first two games in the final seconds.
Yes, everyone recognized that the game was filled with plenty of ugly moments, including cornerback Patrick Robinson's early struggles and Brees' interception that was returned for a touchdown and an early 16-3 Cleveland lead.
But for the second straight week, the Saints were leading the game when the clock was down to single digits.
And there were no bigger regrets than the blown coverage that set up Cleveland's game-winning field goal or the sack that knocked the Saints out of field-goal range three minutes earlier.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing. A fine line," said Brees, who pointed out that last year, the Saints also had two up-and-down games to start the season but they made those plays in the final seconds and started 2-0.
"The challenge in this locker room this week is going to be to stay together, to be tight, to understand that the difference between us being 2-0 and 0-2 is making plays at the end. And that's both sides of the ball," insisted veteran offensive tackle Zach Strief, who pinned the loss as much on the offense as the defense. "We had opportunities two weeks in a row to close that game out. And we didn't do it either time."
There were no innocents in the Saints' loss Sunday. As coach Sean Payton said when asked specifically about Robinson's series of costly mistakes in the first quarter, "There's a lot of muddy hands to just to be singling out one player."
But in the spirit of not being able to finish, most of the blame from this one will fall on the secondary, which saved its ugliest miscue for last.
Cleveland won the game with a 14-play, 85-yard field goal drive after starting on its own 4-yard line. The dagger was the final pass -- a 28-yarder to wide-open receiver Andrew Hawkins with six seconds left at the Saints' 11-yard line.
The Saints went with a blitz and man coverage on the play, which Browns players said surprised them. And at least one Saints defender missed his assignment. Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Corey White both went to cover receiver Miles Austin out of a trips formation on the right side.
No one covered Hawkins.
To make matters worse, Robinson was also flagged for defensive holding across the field on the play -- a penalty the Browns declined.
"Little things like that are troubling," Payton said in the understatement of the day.
White said after the game that the Saints were still "trying to figure out" what went wrong on that play, but he didn't shy away from the responsibility.
"When it comes down to the last play, you've got to make it," White said. "It doesn't matter what happens before that. We always talk about, 'Next play.'"
There were some positives for the Saints' defense. Those missed tackles that plagued them last week at Atlanta were cleaned up quickly. And the Saints gave up a total of only 202 passing yards on Sunday.
But 76 of those yards came on the final drive.
"Obviously we've gotta fix something. That's two losses where we didn't finish," Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "We've just got to get together and do more, man."
Payton-Ryan exchange: The TV cameras caught Saints coach Sean Payton shouting and pointing at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on the sideline early in the Browns’ game-winning field goal drive. When asked afterward if that was normal, Payton responded, “Every game. Yeah, every game.” … Obviously we don’t see (or notice) that exact type of exchange on a weekly basis. But it certainly matches with Payton’s animated, emotional persona on game days -- especially considering the circumstances of the game.
Dansby’s secret info: According to ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon, Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby said he heard the Saints’ line call on a crucial third-and-5 play at Cleveland’s 31-yard line late in the fourth quarter (that they were going to protect outside right). So Dansby said he knew he could get a free lane up the middle for a sack against Brees. Indeed, Dansby flew in untouched and knocked the Saints out of field goal range.
CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns in FirstEnergy Stadium.
What it means: Disaster isn't the right word, but disappointment would also be a huge understatement. Maybe disgust fits?
I’m sure the Saints will insist that they aren’t in panic mode after their 0-2 start that came down to two last-second field goals. And they shouldn't be -- yet. But now they'll be in scratch-and-claw mode to dig themselves out of an unexpected hole. This isn’t where anyone -- including the Saints -- expected them to be in a season that started with Super Bowl expectations.
The Saints' offense has shown a ton of promise, which offers hope for the future. But both units can share equally in the blame after a game that started with a disastrous 16-3 deficit thanks in large part to an interception return for a touchdown by the Browns. In the end, though, it was the defense that allowed the Browns to march 14 plays and 85 yards for the winning field goal drive in the final minutes.
Stock watch: The Saints' secondary still has issues, but it was much-improved for large stretches of this game. Cornerback Patrick Robinson struggled mightily early in the game, with two costly penalties and allowing a short TD pass. He was demoted to the nickelback spot. Then the final drive was capped by an assignment breakdown for a wide-open pass to set up the field goal.
The good news is that the Saints were better with their open-field tackling, especially Kenny Vaccaro. But this was supposed to be more of a shutdown unit, especially against a Browns passing offense that didn’t have Josh Gordon or Jordan Cameron at its disposal.
Game ball: On a day when nothing else was working, the Saints could still rely on go-to tight end Jimmy Graham in a huge way. He didn’t have a catch for the first 26 minutes but finished with 10 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He did it no matter the matchup, even beating Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden on two big plays.
Running strong: The Saints also relied heavily on their run game while patiently coming back on a day when the Browns weren’t letting the Saints get the ball down the field to receivers. Mark Ingram was outstanding with 11 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown plus three catches for 21 yards. The Saints want more balance, though. They didn’t complete a pass to receiver Marques Colston and completed only three short passes to receiver Brandin Cooks.
What’s next: The best news of all for the Saints is that they’ll be back in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next week, where they went 8-0 last season. And they’ll be hosting the Minnesota Vikings. It’s a must-win if ever there was one in September.
LSU didn't handle the clash of styles well at first, with the Badgers outrushing the Tigers 182-17 in the first half and jumping to a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. But LSU's superior talent and athleticism eventually won out, with the second half looking like a blowout.
Another good comparison: the Saints' last meeting against Browns coach Mike Pettine, who was the Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator last year. The Saints beat Buffalo 35-17, but here's what I wrote in my Rapid Reaction following that game: "Oddly enough, the Saints' offense started a little slow and sloppy in this one. Yet it still wound up with 35 points and five touchdown passes from Drew Brees."
Here's What 2 Watch 4:
Browns' stout defense: Saints players and coaches have widely praised Cleveland's underrated defense. And the subject they point out most is how big and physical the Browns' front seven is with a true 3-4 front in the style of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, etc.
"Their guys are huge," Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said. "They're big and strong and athletic. You look at them on film, they're just massive guys. So you're gonna have to be disciplined and know that it's gonna be a fight."
The Browns have proven talent throughout the defense, from Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner to linebacker Karlos Dansby and nose tackle Phil Taylor, among others. Pettine's former team is a great comparison. The Bills' underrated defense sacked Brees four times last year and held the Saints to less than three yards per rush.
Browns' stout offensive line: Likewise, the Browns have an underrated offensive line, led by perhaps the league's best tackle in Joe Thomas and the league's best center in Alex Mack. Cleveland features a zone-blocking scheme under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in the mold of his father, Mike Shanahan, and the Browns will stubbornly stick to it even with top running back Ben Tate sidelined by an injury this week.
They'll run a lot of play-action out of that front. And they'll also probably trot out some of the no-huddle offense that was so effective for quarterback Brian Hoyer in the second half of their near-comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. So they'll force the Saints to be disciplined on defense -- which was already a huge point of emphasis after the Saints struggled so much with missed tackles in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Ripe for the picking: Enough about the problems the Browns will cause. How about the monster problem the Saints will cause -- their deep and diverse passing offense, which looked as good as ever in Week 1. Rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks emerged as yet another matchup nightmare for a Saints offense that is loaded with them (Graham, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and possibly the healthy return of Kenny Stills).
Haden is an outstanding corner for the Browns, and No. 2 corner Buster Skrine is solid. But the Browns' own first-round draft pick, cornerback Justin Gilbert, struggled as the nickel back in his debut last week. As Pettine learned last year, even when the Saints start sloppy, they have a deadly quick-strike ability.
@MikeTriplett: That honor definitely belongs to Deuce McAllister. But Thomas is absolutely in the conversation for second-best - for all of the reasons you mentioned. He's displayed consistency and reliability over a long period of time in a lot of important games, including the Super Bowl. I didn't get to watch Dalton Hilliard play, but he seems like an obvious comparison since their career numbers are practically mirror images.
Others, such as George Rogers and Chuck Muncie might have been more talented, but they didn't get the same kind of long-term results. Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush were similar dual threats, but they weren't here as long.
Thomas is fourth on the Saints' all-time rushing list (3,554 yards). And he just passed Hilliard on Sunday for the most receiving yards by a running back in Saints history (2,288). He's seven catches away from passing Bush for the most receptions by a running back (294). And none of those numbers speak to how good Thomas has been as a pass protector.
I think Thomas is a lock for the Saints Hall of Fame, where he'd join fellow running backs McAllister, Rogers, Hilliard, Tony Galbreath and Reuben Mayes.
@MikeTriplett Mike, I read the falcons used a lot of four wide receiver sets. Do you think the saints were unprepared for that formation?— Ross Ruello (@BabyRu) September 12, 2014
@MikeTriplett: I'm not sure I'd use the word "unprepared." But Saints players definitely said it was a new wrinkle for the Falcons, who lost tight end Tony Gonzalez in the offseason and added a dynamic fourth receiver in Devin Hester. On Sunday, the Falcons used four receivers on 19 plays. They only did it 11 times all of last season.
Regardless, the Falcons' four-receiver sets definitely caused some problems. New Orleans was clearly intent on not getting beaten deep by top receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, so they had their safeties hanging back more than usual in deep coverage. And it worked in one sense - the Saints didn't get beat over the top much. However, they did a poor job of covering the underneath stuff, leaving too many open cushions in zone coverage and tackling poorly in the open field.
The good news is that not many offenses will be able to spread the Saints so thin. But they'll obviously have to execute much better when they face more deep and versatile offenses such as the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers next month.
@MikeTriplett do we expect more blitz packages besides just the 4 man rush. Lack of pressure was frustrating last week— Jordan Chiasson (@JChiasson1121) September 12, 2014
@MikeTriplett: I'm sure the Saints will blitz a little more than they did against Atlanta (another result of devoting so many defensive backs to coverage). But I don't think they need to blitz more to get pressure. I still have high expectations for the Saints' front four pass rushers, which was a huge strength of the team last year. And I still expect Rob Ryan to rely heavily on them this year.
As much as I know Saints fans hate to credit Matt Ryan, he was outstanding on Sunday, and he was the biggest reason for the Saints' lack of QB hits. Ryan has always been good at getting rid of the ball quickly, and he was especially good at throwing on the run or outside the pocket when needed in Week 1.
@MikeTriplett Should we be really excited for Brandin Cooks after one game? Because I'm REALLY excited for him after one game.— Brad Friedman (@BradFriedman713) September 12, 2014
@MikeTriplett: Of course, expectations should be tempered a bit for any rookie receiver - and for any player in the Saints' offense, since they spread the ball around so much. For instance, Cooks wound up with just one catch in the second half last week. So there will be some slower days. But other than that, feel free to send those expectations through the roof.
Cooks has really been impressive in every way, from his speed to his hands to his consistency to his work ethic and character. And the Saints are going to love his versatility most of all. He lined up at least six different ways just in the 11 plays where he was targeted or touched the ball last week. And it was the same kind of thing we saw throughout summer practices.
I never really worried that I was overhyping Cooks this summer, because we were consistently seeing the results every day. But I did worry for a second that he might come out and catch just three balls for 30 yards in Week 1 or something, making everyone think the hype was overblown. Obviously that wasn't the case.
Yes, problems need to be fixed. But no, confidence hasn’t wavered.
- "I know we’re a better tackling team than that. I know we are going to play great and will be great."
- "You watch. I guarantee we will be better."
- "Look, that was a stinker for all of us, but nobody has to hit the panic button around here. We’re gonna work hard. We’re not used to losing, and we’re not gonna get used to it."
The Saints allowed a franchise-record 445 passing yards, and Atlanta’s total yardage of 568 was the second-highest in Saints history. Missed tackles were the biggest culprit, as players said after the game and throughout the week. According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints missed 16 of them in Week 1.
Ryan said part of the problem was that in games like those, "when the momentum is going bad, the first thing to do is try to do too much. I think that as a play-caller, and I know that our guys did that on the field. We were diving at tackles instead of stepping to them."
Ryan, however, said he remains confident because he believes the Saints are "one of the best teams in the league fundamentally on defense." And he said no dramatic changes will be required. Ryan said the Saints have always stressed fundamentals in practice and will continue to do so.
"You obviously have to fix something. With that many points and that many yards, it’s shocking," Ryan said. "But we’ve all been there before. This isn’t new territory for any of us. I’ve been in this league a long time. Stick with what you do best. You prove it, you work on it. That wasn’t a real good game by us, and we are going to fix it and do better."
Although it's unclear what had Ingram so upset, his outburst came at a time when he hadn't touched the ball for nearly two full quarters of game action. Then Ingram got back in on the next series and proceeded to gain 49 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries for the rest of the game.
"We all get hot-headed and we all get upset during the game," said Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who talked with Ingram on the sideline after the episode. "If you were to be on the sidelines and hear what's going on, it's a circus. And then 10 minutes after the game everything is kind of let out and there's no grudges held. Guys say 'I can't believe I said that to you, I was totally out of my mind.' That's all it was."
Ingram has always shown a lot of emotion -- and sometimes frustration. It has now helped fuel him on the field at least twice. He came back after a poor start against the Dallas Cowboys last season to have a career game.
"I think everybody is fueled by emotion. Some guys show it in different ways," Watson said. "I would definitely say that Mark is a guy ... that's how he plays. He has to be able to rein that in and use it in a positive way."
As for Colston, he's always a man of few words with the media. But it's still a little unusual for him to decline media requests for a full week. Colston declined to speak with the media after fumbling during overtime in the loss to Atlanta. Then he turned down media requests twice this week.
It’s always possible the Saints could stay cautious with Stills, as he suffered two setbacks with the quad injury when trying to come back too soon this summer. But Stills said the Saints already played it cautious by holding him out last week. He said he feels ready to go, and it’s just up to the coaches to give the green light.
If Stills does play, it’s possible they could de-activate either Joe Morgan or Robert Meachem if they want to stick with just four active receivers. So stay tuned the Saints’ pre-game list of inactives.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) and linebacker Curtis Lofton (shoulder) are also listed as probable after fully participating in practice both Thursday and Friday. Both of them should be good to go Sunday.
Fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) have been ruled out for the Saints.
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham expressed his "love" for quarterback Drew Brees on Friday when asked about a recent ESPN The Magazine story that described some tension in their relationship this summer.
When asked if that was real, Graham said, "Nah. No, Drew's my guy. I love Drew."
According to the story, a source close to Graham said he was extremely annoyed by a comment Brees made to USA Today during his contract negotiations, suggesting the team would be ready to go with or without Graham.
There have been no outward signs of any tension with Brees and Graham since -- and their on-field rapport seems fine after Graham caught eight passes for 82 yards in Week 1.
Earlier this summer, however, Graham was open about how tough it was for him to deal with the emotions of being isolated from his team during the contract negotiations -- which included an arbitration hearing in which coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis testified against Graham's claim to be considered a wide receiver.
And Graham reiterated that when he was specifically asked at the start of training camp about Brees' comments.
"Yeah it's tough [to deal with the emotions of all those things]," Graham said at the time. "I didn't get into football to learn litigation. That's just the truth. Just being in an uncomfortable position and really not wanting to deal with it. I just wanted to move on and play. That's all I do, that's all I want to do, and I'm just glad all of that is over with."
Graham hit on a number of interesting topics during his weekly visit with the media Friday, including his blocking ability and the way young tight ends are following his lead in more ways than one.