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New Orleans Saints' ability to overcome injuries key to 3-2 start

'I hate being around this idea of we're missing (a certain player), with the excuse already built in'

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Coaches and staff of the New Orleans Saints take in Week 5 from the sidelines against the Washington Football Team on October 10, 2021.

Whether it happens during the preparation leading up to a game or during the game itself, there isn't time to mope, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said.

When a player is injured – starter or backup – the process of figuring out how to win continues. So when the Saints lost receiver Deonte Harris to a hamstring injury in the first quarter after he caught a 72-yard touchdown against Washington in the 33-22 victory on Sunday at FedEx Field, and lost jack-of-all-trades quarterback Taysom Hill in the second quarter after he sustained a concussion, all that remained was to keep plugging with the players available.

The Saints already entered the game without center Erik McCoy, left tackle Terron Armstead, receiver Michael Thomas, defensive tackle David Onyemata, defensive end Marcus Davenport, linebacker Kwon Alexander and kicker Wil Lutz, all starters and significant contributors.

The victory raised New Orleans' record to 3-2 entering the team's bye week.

"I think the first thing is attitude," Payton said. "I hate being around this idea of, 'Well, we're missing (a certain player),'with the excuse already built in. I think that can be extremely contagious in a negative way.

"Obviously, your job is to prepare and teach and then your job then is to look at who you have and try to put them in the best positions to be successful. I just think that's what we're paid to do. And in this league, there's no utopia. It's ever changing and you hope your numbers at the right time are reduced rather than increased, but I think it's important each week.

"We talk about it, sometimes it seems like a cliché but all of these guys – the guys that are on the active roster, the guys maybe on the practice squad – they're going to play. They have to be ready to play and if they're not progressing where you don't have a vision, then you need to turn that part of the roster and keep looking for guys that can help you if the time comes."

On the fly Sunday, Payton said the offensive play-call list received a trim minus Hill and Harris.

"When you have an injury to a player, there are some plays that you just aren't going to call because it might have been just a focal point of that player," he said. "And then, there's a good portion of your offense – where Deonte's backup, whether it's Kenny Stills or one of the other receivers is learning that package, the tight ends or the Fs – are learning some of the stuff Taysom's doing. But there are a few plays that you just take a sharpie through.

"I think probably there's seven or eight plays – a handful of the quarterback run/pass packages that we would carry each week with Taysom, and there were two or three plays that Deonte had gotten the work on during the week."

STROLL ON THE SIDEWALK: Running back Alvin Kamara made a reference to the "sidewalk" while describing Sunday's Hail Mary pass, a 49-yard touchdown from quarterback Jameis Winston to receiver Marquez Callaway as time expired in the second quarter, giving the Saints a 20-13 halftime lead. Payton explained.

"If you check the numbers, you see numbers painted on the field, and if you pretend the numbers just continued into the end zone, that's the sidewalk," he said. "There's a lot that goes into it – obviously, you have to have fortune to throw one up in the air and catch it. But it's not random, go down there and just get open.

"There's a series of things that have to take place. If they press the point receiver, which they did on that play, then we switch the release. Those three (receivers) travel, knowing that the ball is going to land – in a perfect world – on the sidewalk in the end zone. The split end receiver, Marquez, is going to join the group.

"There's four locations and the most important part of a Hail Mary is when the eyes begin to turn back and locate the football, and that generally happens between the 10-, 8-yard line. And the mistake sometimes is the receiver is on the 5 and they begin to look – it's too late. You have to be tracking this ball and you have a landmark and what I think what Alvin was referencing, the landmark of the sidewalk into the end zone, that would be the coaching point."

Successful ones don't often happen, and as Payton said, a series of things have to go right.

"When you get one, it's rewarding because you're always practicing it and you're talking about the attention to detail," he said. "The most important thing are just the landmarks, and then the quarterback being able to – there's generally a second or third hitch or escape or a flush, so the receivers can get further down the field. And then the ball is thrown.

"And so, Jameis was able to do that; there was a climb and then an escape from the pocket and then once that happens, you know that there's going to be a better chance from a timing standpoint. So he was outstanding, and then the landmarks were good. If you watch Marquez, he's tracking it, probably his eyes turn at the 11-yard line I'm going to say, because he's coming from a little bit farther away."

KICKER ISSUE: The Saints have had kicking woes this season without Wil Lutz. First, Aldrick Rosas went 1 of 4 on field goals, missing his final three, in the first four games. On Sunday, his replacement, Cody Parkey, missed a pair of point-after attempts.

"Hopefully, Wil is close to getting back, and I think he is," Payton said. "In the meantime, we'll make sure we evaluate each of our options and all of our options. The good news is, we have an additional week to do that."

THIS WEEK: Payton also laid out the schedule for this week. "There's three or four different groups of players. The injured players will be here getting rehab/recovery. We'll do some self-scout as a staff. The non-vaccinated players, which are few, will stay right here and the other players will have a good majority of this week.

"Obviously, we have an additional day because we don't play until the following Monday night. So it's jumping ahead on Seattle, looking at ourselves, and then really spending a lot of time with these guys that are in recovery and rehab and hopefully getting a number of these starters back in the next game or two."

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