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Looking to 2019, stingy Saints secondary knows what it must do to avoid another slow start

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Old 01-30-2019, 09:06 AM   #1
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Old 01-30-2019, 09:08 AM   #2
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Re: Looking to 2019, stingy Saints secondary knows what it must do to avoid another slow start

BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Jan 25, 2019 - 2:28 pm

The Saints expected to have one of the best secondaries in the league.

How could they expect anything different? Marshon Lattimore was coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory by a rookie cornerback, and safety Marcus Williams drew comparisons to Ed Reed throughout training camp for his playmaking prowess. Beyond that, the team added Patrick Robinson at slot cornerback and Ken Crawley was coming off of a solid year.

And then Tampa Bay lit this team up during the season opener, Robinson got injured and Crawley got replaced by Eli Apple. It took several weeks before the secondary settled in and looked like the group everyone was expecting to dominate after playing so well the year before.

“We weren’t what we were supposed to be,” cornerback P.J. Williams said. “I guess we weren’t doing the right things and we weren’t focused enough like we should have been. We had to lock in to get on point to not be going through losses like we did that first game.”

Why did that happen?

“I guess we were too overconfident and not prepared enough,” P.J. Williams said. “We just thought we were going to win, just hearing everything in the offseason and stuff, everybody saying how good we were and how good we were going to be. That might have got to us a little bit.”

The Saints eventually turned the corner and became the team they wanted to be in the secondary. Getting Apple was significant in achieving that goal. The New Orleans defense allowed an average of 311 yards passing per game during the first half of the season, and 226 during the final eight games, which would have placed the Saints ninth in the NFL if carried out for a whole season.

The members of the secondary readily admit the issues that led to the slow start. Lattimore was open and honest throughout the year about his practice habits and how not taking things seriously enough during the offseason contributed to him having a rough game against Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans during Week 1. But he also feels the New Orleans secondary did not receive the respect it deserved, especially during the second half of the season.

“Everybody hates on us for some reason, especially the DBs,” Lattimore said before last week’s NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. “I don’t know why they hate on us like that. It’s crazy how people are down on us so much in the back end. Analysts on TV, ESPN, all that. Their secondary is blah, blah, blah, but they praise everything else.”

Lattimore does not agree with the notion that he endured a slump during his second season. The cornerback was targeted 72 times and gave up 46 receptions for 748 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions during the season. Last year, he allowed 40 catches for 538 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions on 73 targets, according to Sports Info Solutions.

His quarterback rating against as a rookie was 54.48 compared to 96.3 this season. But as Lattimore points out, many of the criticisms against him evaporate and his quarterback rating against drops if he has a few more interceptions.

The problem is that those plays are sometimes created by luck, like the ball landing on a teammates backside for someone to pick up. This year, the ball didn’t find him the same way, at least not until he intercepted Eagles quarterback Nick Foles on a tipped pass during the playoffs, one of Lattimore's two picks during the playoffs.

Sometimes a player ends up in the right place at the right time. But outside of a few missed interceptions, Lattimore often played well once he got on the other side the rough opener. Still, the cornerback said he continued to hear criticisms throughout the season.

“I don’t know what they expect from me. Zero catches every game?” Lattimore said. “I would love that, but it’s the NFL. They get paid just like I get paid to go out there and do my thing. I just don’t understand what they be talking about, ‘He had a slump this year.’ I don’t really understand it.”

The secondary appears poised for a solid season in 2019. Lattimore, Apple, Marcus Williams and safety Vonn Bell all played well this season and should continue to maintain that level of play next year. P.J. Williams is a free agent, but if he leaves, Robinson should be healthy after spending most of the season injured reserve and could be an upgrade covering the slot.

But the key will be starting the season the right way.

“We always start slow for some reason,” Lattimore said. “I don’t know why. It just happens. We thought we were going to come in and be dominant from the get-go, but we didn’t. We had to get back to Ground 1, try to get things done, practice harder, just do the little things so we could to get better.”

That could be the difference next season. If the secondary starts the season the right way and doesn’t take as much time to settle in, it should get the respect it expects throughout the year.

Will we ever learn? Never let it come down to the officiating...
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