Saints aim to correct fundamental errors

by Patrick Flanagan

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro rattled off some of the basics of tackling that are taught in youth football as he discussed where the focus of New Orleans' defense should be this week.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro rattled off some of the basics of tackling that are taught in youth football as he discussed where the focus of New Orleans' defense should be this week.

"We've just got to get back to fundamentals," Vaccaro said Monday. "Keep your eyes up. Wrap up. Take it back to Pop Warner."

Vaccaro was not alone in suggesting that New Orleans' season-opening, 37-34 overtime loss at Atlanta had a lot to do with the basics.

"As far as game-planning, schemes, it's not about that," pass-rushing outside linebacker Junior Galette said. "It's high effort and tackling better.

"It does not matter who we're playing, we've got to go out there and take it," Galette added. "We've got to have that same mentality every week - and we'll have that."

This Sunday, the Saints (0-1) will play at Cleveland (0-1), which is also coming off of a close loss to a divisional foe, 30-27 at Pittsburgh.

With so much season remaining, the Saints don't want to blow last weekend's setback out of proportion, but they also made it clear that there's a sense of urgency to clean up the areas that cost them what was very nearly a valuable road victory.

"You can look at it as, there's enough time to improve," Saints defensive tackle Akiem Hicks began. "But there's also enough time to get worse.

"We're still the New Orleans Saints," Hicks added. "We don't expect to ever lose, especially the first game of the year. So that's definitely going to touch you and that's definitely going to make you want to come in the next week and perform better."

The Saints have high hopes this season for a defense that ranked fourth in the NFL in 2013, allowing 399.4 yards per game. The unit has most of its top young players back and added star safety Jairus Byrd in free agency. The defense is also in its second season under coordinator Rob Ryan, so players are expected to be more comfortable with their scheme.

Yet New Orleans allowed the Falcons to pile up 568 total yards on Sunday. Matt Ryan set a Falcons franchise single-game record with 448 yards passing.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis said that in addition to working on their tackling, Saints defenders need to communicate a little better.

"We'll get it fixed," he said. "First game - sometimes they go like that."

He added that Ryan and his receiving corps, featuring Julio Jones, Roddy White and Devin Hester, deserve some credit.

"They're one of the best in the league as far as their receiving corps and their quarterback," Lewis said.

The Saints also struggled to get pressure on Ryan, registering just one sack.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Ryan has "always been a difficult sack," but added, "With the amount of times he threw the football, we'd like to see more disruption than that. I think we need to be better in that area."

Payton wasn't too critical of his offense, which gained 333 yards in the air and 139 on the ground, and produced some big gains, such as Marques Colston's 57-yard reception. But the coach lamented the fact that New Orleans could not do better than field goals on a pair of early drives inside the Atlanta 35, and that the offense committed a pair of costly turnovers.

The Saints were inside the Atlanta 20, looking to build on a 20-17 lead, when Drew Brees threw an interception in the end zone in the third quarter. Then in overtime, Colston fumbled away a first-down catch in Saints territory, setting up Atlanta's winning field goal.

"We felt like we were pretty balanced and moved the ball well," center Jonathan Goodwin said. "Of course, you want to eliminate the two turnovers, and in those first two drives, get touchdowns instead of field goals. Things like that can come back to haunt you."

Indeed, they did.