After a victory in which Coach Jim Haslett says he saw progress, the Saints are working non-stop toward becoming the team they believe they can be
Tuesday October 14, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
wasn't a typical Monday at Saints headquarters.
At the suggestion of Coach Jim Haslett and several veteran leaders, the players reported to the team facility to review the film of Sunday's 20-13 win against the Chicago Bears.
Players traditionally have been given the day off after wins during Haslett's four-year tenure. Instead, they reported to camp Monday and evaluated their performance as a group and by position. Haslett rewarded them by canceling the mandatory running sessions. Most of the team was gone by noon.
"They know that we're 2-4, and not 4-2," Haslett said. "We're not where we want to be yet. I like the stance that they're taking. I think it's a positive stance. If you could take a day off, you'd take the day off. But they want to come in and work and they want to get better."
Haslett said he saw progress in Sunday's win, even if it came against one of the league's worst teams. The Bears (1-4) are ranked No. 31 in the NFL in total offense and No. 25 in total defense.
Haslett singled out the play of the defense. The Saints held a second consecutive opponent to one offensive touchdown. They also held an opponent to less than 20 points for the third time in six games.
The Saints sacked the Bears' Kordell Stewart three times, the third time they have made three or more sacks in a game this season. Their 14 sacks are tied for seventh in the league. They rank fourth in sacks per pass play.
"You can see that they are more solidified," Haslett said. "They are doing a nice job on the running game. That's the one area that you are always worried about. If you get teams in third-and-long you have a chance to rush the passer."
Linebackers Orlando Ruff and Derrick Rodgers played their best games of the season, Haslett said. Rodgers made a game- and season-high 10 tackles. Ruff made six tackles in his second start. Haslett also praised the work of rookie defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, who had a season-high four tackles.
"He played like a No. 1 draft pick," Haslett said.
Haslett, however, said he was not pleased with his team's kickoff coverage or the offense's passing efficiency.
After allowing their fourth return of 45 yards or more this season, the Saints are ranked last in the NFL in kickoff return defense. On average, opponents are starting after kickoffs at the 32.1-yard line, fourth worst in the league.
Haslett said part of the problem is the presence of new players because of injuries. However, Haslett said "poor execution" is the main culprit.
"I'm concerned," Haslett said. "That's something that we've got to get squared away this week."
The same can be said for the misfiring passing attack. The Saints had several opportunities to make big plays against the Bears but failed for various reasons, among them dropped passes, poor throws, bad reads and penalties.
"We threw the ball downfield in the passing game," Haslett said. "We threw deep and vertical. We would have liked to have gotten more big plays. . . . You have to cash in on your opportunities when you get them. When you get a chance to make a big play, your playmakers have to make them."
At this time last season, the Saints had 24 gains of 20 yards or more, including six for touchdowns. This year they have made 19 "big plays." Three have gone for scores.
The lack of big-play production shows in the statistics. Receiver Joe Horn is averaging 10.6 yards per catch, well below his 15.1 career average . Quarterback Aaron Brooks is averaging 6.25 yards per pass attempt, 23rd among starting quarterbacks and behind his 6.77 mark of a year ago.
The Saints also aren't getting big plays in the running game. Though they rank No. 4 in the NFL with six rushes of 20 yards or more, running back Deuce McAllister's longest run of the season is 31 yards. Last year at this time he had three runs of 46 yards or more.
"He'll get those," Haslett said. "They'll come.
"Teams are trying to stop the running game. Everybody plays you different. We had great field position last year because of special teams. We haven't really gotten that field position to this point. I think when we get Michael (Lewis) back that'll change a little bit."
Haslett said he is encouraged by the progress the Saints have made the past two weeks. And it comes at a critical time. Sunday's game against Atlanta is the first of four consecutive games against NFC South Division opponents sandwiched around the team's bye week Nov. 9.
Saints coaches planned to watch Atlanta's game against St. Louis on Monday night at the team facility. They'll prepare the game plan for the Falcons today.
"(The players) should be happy because wins are hard to come by in this league," Haslett said. "They shouldn't be satisfied because there is always room for improvement. We need to get better, especially in some phases of offense and special teams. If we can get better as a football team and everybody improve individually, then we'll be OK."
I highlighted the above because I know how much some of you like stats.
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