It was back to work for the New Orleans Saints with Wednesday’s practice as they get ready for their prime time game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday night. The first quarter of the season is over with in the NFL and the Saints are still seeking their first victory. What’s the message to the team this week?
“Listen, you guys are right on the cusp of winning these games,” Interim head coach Aaron Kromer said following practice and of the opportunities lost the last two weeks to win a game. “You have to finish the game. You have to win it. You have to catch a flat route, you have to block a guy, you have to make a kick, you have to stop a run or a pass but you have to make the play when you get yourself set up to win the game. That’s what we've done the last two weeks but we've come up short so we’re right on the cusp. Now, we are in a hole. We are not in a hole in our play. We can continue right at that edge and just win these games at the end. We feel confident we can do it.”
“We've been in this situation before. We started off 0-4 and then rattled off four in a row,” quarterback Drew Brees said of the chance to go on a winning streak bringing up the point the Saints in 2009 won 13 straight. “We can get on a roll. We can get on a streak. In order to get on a streak we got to win the first one. That’s what we’re focused on doing especially before we go into the bye. We can get healthy, rejuvenated and get ready to roll but man it’s all about Sunday night.”
The Saints started the 2007 season 0-4 before winning those four straight games and finished the season 8-8 out of the playoffs.
RUNNING GAME STUCK IN NEUTRAL
The Saints in 2011 rushed over 100 yards in a game in 12 out of the 16 regular season games. This season through just four games, the ground game is no where to be found.
The team says there really isn’t one reason as to why the Saints have only rushed for 323 yards in four games. Reasons given on Wednesday ranged from execution, to situations in the game, to having more confidence in pass plays in certain situations, to good old fashion blocking better. “We just need to get in sync with our running backs and our line together and it’ll start clicking,” said interim head coach Aaron Kromer. “We just got to get that done.”
“We do need to step up the run game,” says center Brian De Le Puente. “Just be more thorough in our assignments in what everybody needs to do and everyone being on the same page. I think we’ll fix that problem.”
In the drive to open the second half, the Saints got a mulligan after a penalty during a field goal gave them a first down at the Packers 1-yard line. The Saints threw the ball three straight times. This apparently was due to the team having more confidence in the passing plays than the run plays in that situation. “We knew going into the game that that play was going to be called first and unfortunately we lost a yard on it. So then we had to go to our next best plays,” says left tackle Jermon Bushrod who detailed that plays are called depending on the type of match-ups they think they can win against. “That team is pretty good on defense and especially on the goal line. We all know what happened the year before. We went into the game with a certain mindset and we just go to with whatever play is dialed up and we go to go and try to execute.”
Running back Mark Ingram was the player who caught a pass in the right flat that went for a loss of a yard. Ingram has 90 yards rushing on 32 carries, “We’re just working at it. Everybody is trying their best. The line is trying their best, receivers are trying their best, Drew is trying his best, the running backs we all are trying our best,” says Ingram of the Saints run game. “We’re all going out there fighting hard. We’re working hard at practice and we just got to get out there and execute and all 11 guys have to get on the same page.”
“We've thrown it a lot,” says Brees. “At times with the run game, it was a result of being down by a lot in the second half and trying to play catch up, so then you’re getting into a two-minute offense and it’s going to be exclusively passing and not much running. Maybe abandoning it a little bit soon. I think it’s been a combination of a little bit of everything.”
It’ll be tough to get the ground game on track this week as Sunday night the Saints will face the sixth ranked run defense of the Chargers. “San Diego is very good against the run,” says Kromer. “It’s an early stat but they are very good against the run. We still need to be able to run the football on them and I think we’re capable.”
There was a lengthier list this Wednesday then that of a week ago. Five Saints players missed practice due to injuries. Linebacker David Hawthorne (hamstring), safety Roman Harper (hip), defensive end Turk McBride (ankle), receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), and running back Travaris Cadet (shoulder).
McBride and Hawthorne did not practice all of last week. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas who didn’t practice or play last week due to a neck injury was listed as limited participation.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring) and defensive tackle Akiem Hiks (ankle) were listed but practiced fully.
STILL BOTHERING HIM
“It’s a game changer,” Sproles says of the play. “If I would have just caught it we had a first down. We could have run a little more time off the clock.”
Sproles sought out Brees three days after the game to work on the play that still had the speedy back troubled. “He’s one of the quieter guys but a fiery competitor. I know that play upset him,” Brees said of Sproles. “He came to me and said ‘that’s not going to happen again’. After practice, just for the sake of getting it out of our minds, we went out there and ran the same play a couple times in a row and complete it like we always do. It just says a lot about him and his mindset."
“I put that all on me especially when I feel like I let my team down,” Sproles said after practice on Wednesday. “That messes with me. So I spent a little time after practice.”
Sproles may have gotten down on himself but Brees hasn’t lost confidence in him. “He’s a go to guy in all situations especially critical situations,” says Brees. “It doesn't change my opinion of him one bit. Just lets’ you know the type of guy he is that he cares. He cares a lot. He wants to be that guy and he is that guy.”
Thursday and Friday will be normal practices for the Saints as they prepare for Sunday night’s kick off against San Diego. Three of the next four games including the Chargers will be in prime time.