The secondary is primary. Along with the pass rush.
When a defense surrenders the kinds of numbers the New Orleans Saints did in a season-opening, 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it’s a natural flash point entering the second week.
Numbers like, the opposing quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, completing 21 of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, while not being sacked.
And, two receivers – Mike Evans (seven catches for 147 yards and a touchdown) and DeSean Jackson (five catches for 146 yards and two scores) – combining for nearly 300 yards and 24.4 yards per catch.
And, five pass plays of at least 35 yards, and seven of at least 20 yards.
So, entering Sunday’s game against Cleveland in the Superdome, the Saints know exactly what needs to be corrected before they play the Browns.
“We watched the film and it was a lot of, just, technique,” cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. “It wasn’t really, like, nothing to panic about. It wasn’t nothing to panic about from watching the film, stuff we can correct and it’s small things, too.
“You watch the film and see the things we gave up and it’s just small things. If we would have just did what we worked on, as far as press and everything like that, then that wouldn’t have happened.
“(Fitzpatrick) was slinging it around but when you really look and dissect the tape, it was just little technical things. Things at the line, they were winning every 50-50 ball. That’s just us being competitive. That’s not something to be, ‘Aw, man, they suck,’ or, ‘They’re the worst DBs.’ It’s nothing like that.”
Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins agreed with Lattimore’s assessment, which echoed Coach Sean Payton’s deductions.
“We played physical, we played hard, we played aggressive,” Rankins said. “But those little things, whether it be peeking in somebody else’s gap or a corner getting too hands-y out there in his technique, those little things go a long way, especially when you’ve got a team like that with those type of dynamic play-makers. (They) get hot early, they got confidence and then once they were rolling, they were rolling. Those things are all fixable, that’s what we’re doing this week. Each and every practice, each and every rep, we’re going out and trying to fix those things and trying to get a win this week.
“Obviously, it’s the first game and nothing’s going to be perfect. But all in all, we definitely expected more out of ourselves, to be able to come out and execute the game plan better, be able to make more plays and get more stops. Obviously, we didn’t do that. So this week, just getting back to the basics – technique, fundamentals and executing the game plan. And we look forward to trying to right this ship this week, so to speak.”
It won’t be an easy task to accomplish against Cleveland, a franchise that was winless last season and hasn’t experienced victory since Christmas Eve of 2016. The Browns lost 15 of 16 games that season.
However, Cleveland is entering the game off a 21-21 tie against Pittsburgh, a result partly achieved because the Browns scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. And the quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, is more mobile than Fitzpatrick, who gave the Saints fits with his ability to move and evade in the season opener.
However, the Saints had success against Taylor last season, when he quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills. The Saints beat the Bills 47-10 on the road; Taylor completed just nine of 18 passes for 56 yards and an interception, and ran three times for 27 yards.
“When you talk about Tyrod Taylor, definitely one of the best running quarterbacks in the league,” Rankins said. “You’ve got (Seattle’s) Russell Wilson, (Carolina’s) Cam Newton – Tyrod Taylor is right there in that mix. It’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis to be able to corral him, keep him in the pocket, keep him in the trap, not allow him to break contain.
“His best runs are usually those broken plays where things break down and he’s able to go use his feet to make things happen. So, definitely an emphasis put on being able to corral him, make him be a pocket passer, make him go through all his reads, his progressions. And I think we can have success doing that. We showed last year against Buffalo we could have success doing that. So we’ve just got to be able to execute and the rest will take care of itself.”
Lattimore said, too, that the defense couldn’t allow its confidence to be shaken.
“You’ve got to take your lumps like you take your wins,” he said. “You can’t get down off a loss. You’re going to lose. You’ve just got to learn from it. You’ve just got to get back out there and have confidence. You can’t be up all the time, you can’t win all the time, so you’ve got to know how to bounce back from a loss. I feel like we’re going to do that this weekend. We have to do that this weekend.”