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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; After a review of Sunday's victory over the Falcons, it's a little easier to gauge where the Saints stand and what they still must do to compete for the NFC South title Tuesday, October 23, 2007 By Mike Triplett After ...

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Old 10-23-2007, 01:40 AM   #1
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Cool Tape Measure

After a review of Sunday's victory over the Falcons, it's a little easier to gauge where the Saints stand and what they still must do to compete for the NFC South title

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
By Mike Triplett

After consecutive victories, the Saints have climbed their way onto the bottom rung of the middle of the pack.

Their 22-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Superdome wasn't perfect, but it let the Saints know where they stand.

In the mediocre NFC South, they still have hope.

Up next is a trip to San Francisco, where they'll meet the floundering 49ers. It's a great opportunity for the emerging Saints. Both teams are 2-4, but San Francisco has lost four in a row.

"The big thing is understanding that at this point of the season, you're still wanting to see improvement and wanting to get better from week to week," Saints Coach Sean Payton said Monday. "I think when our players have a chance to watch the tape and we make the corrections, they'll understand that there's improvement on the field and there are still areas that we can improve on.

"Nonetheless, I thought we played with real good energy, I thought we played physical, and that was encouraging."

Payton gave his players the day off Monday. They were asked to come in on their own time to review the video from Sunday's game.

Here are some of the highlights, and lowlights, they dissected:

-- The Saints played well up front.

Payton said he was pleased with the offensive and defensive lines. He handed out game balls to offensive tackles Jammal Brown and Jon Stinchcomb, and praised Brown several times.

That's huge for the Saints. Brown, a first-team All-Pro selection last year, was struggling earlier this season, admittedly "rusty" after missing most of the preseason with a knee injury.

"One of the goals was to do a good job in our protections and manage (Atlanta defensive end John) Abraham, and we were able to do that," Payton said after the Saints didn't allow a sack for the third consecutive game. "Our offensive line has improved."

On defense, the Saints got good pressure from ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, as well as tackles Brian Young, Hollis Thomas and Kendrick Clancy. Grant got a game ball, and Payton said Young especially did a great job of finishing his rushes.

-- The offense needs to convert more third downs.

The Saints converted four of 12 third-down attempts. Converting third downs is a huge key to the Saints' West Coast-style offense, because they like to chip away with short passes and runs, creating a rhythm as they move the chains.

"We had too many three-and-outs, and we need to get rid of those," said quarterback Drew Brees, who missed an open Marques Colston on one third-down attempt Sunday and failed to connect with an open David Patten on another. "I think we showed that once we get that first first down, here we go, we go right down the field.

"I look back on all the scoring drives and say, 'Why did that seem so easy?' It's because we're getting in and out of the huddle, plays are coming in quick, we're getting up to the line, guys are just seeing it and reacting and we're playing ball."

Especially after a great first half at Seattle two weeks ago, you can see this offense is getting close to returning to its 2006 form, but it's not quite there yet.

"We'll try to emphasize that more this week," Payton said of the third-down conversions. "I felt as a play caller yesterday between the second and third quarter that I got in a rut and I was struggling. We got going in the fourth quarter and made some big plays on that last drive and converted when we needed to, and that was important."

-- The defense was "outstanding" in the red zone.

The Saints let Atlanta convert too many third downs [9-of-18], but they tightened up in the red zone. The Falcons scored one touchdown and settled for three short field goals.

Payton, who called the red zone defense "outstanding," especially was pleased with the way the Saints' defense responded after allowing a 32-yard pass early in the fourth quarter that put the Falcons on the 7-yard line. Atlanta gained 4 yards on two run plays, then threw incomplete and kicked a field goal.

-- Several guys stepped up.

Payton praised safety Josh Bullocks, who got the other game ball on defense.

Bullocks had two quarterback hurries on blitzes, and he also had a nice pass break-up in coverage.

Lance Moore got the game ball on special teams, because of a 48-yard punt return that helped set the tone in the first quarter.

Payton said he likes the way Reggie Bush is "starting to find his niche as a running back" as he continues to get more carries.

Payton also complimented Brees' performance and said it was good to see receiver Devery Henderson come back with a 37-yard touchdown catch after his recent struggles with dropped passes.

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