Saints start bye week looking for improvement

by Patrick Flanagan

When Saints players gathered at team headquarters Monday for a film review session before getting the rest of their bye week off, coach Sean Payton had a request.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - When Saints players gathered at team headquarters Monday for a film review session before getting the rest of their bye week off, coach Sean Payton had a request.

While his team was relieved to head into the break coming off a victory over Tampa Bay, Payton wanted to be sure his players were able to still harness the same analytical focus they had a week earlier, when they watched video of their blowout loss at Dallas.

"We try to look at where we've got to be better and one of the messages today was, 'Hey, make sure when we're looking at the tape, we're looking at it with the same fine eye we looked at it with last Monday,'" Payton said.

"In other words, a very critical perspective as to how we can be better, not only players but coaches as well. How can we correct these things that we're seeing."

Throughout the locker room, players agreed there have been plenty of mistakes from which to learn during the first five games of the regular season, three of which ended in losses.

On one hand, a 2-3 start is disappointing for a club that went 11-5 last season, made the playoffs, and expected to be even better in 2014.

Still, the Saints were not that far from being 4-1. They lost leads in the final 10 seconds of each of their first two games.

"We can't get back games that are already gone. All we can do is learn from those mistakes that were made in those games and hopefully prevent them from happening once we get off the bye," center Jonathan Goodwin said.

"The record is 2-3. Do I think we're better than that? Yes. But that's what our record is and we can't change that. But I've still got a lot of confidence in this team, still think we can get some things done this year."

For Goodwin and several other players, the bye is coming at a good time. Goodwin played on a sore ankle in Dallas and then bruised his right knee in the Superdome on Sunday, leaving the game for the second half.

Goodwin said he expected to be ready to return at Detroit after the bye week. Jimmy Graham left Sunday's game with a sore shoulder.

The injury did not appear serious, as Graham briefly tried to play through it, but Payton declined to give any specifics on his condition Monday.

For the most part, the Saints have performed well on offense, ranking first in yards per game (442.8) and 10th in points per game (26.4) after Sunday's games.

The defense, however, has struggled to meet expectations after ranking fourth in the first year under coordinator Rob Ryan one season ago. The Saints are allowing nearly 380 yards per game, which ranks 25th, and 28.2 points per game, which ranks 28th

New Orleans has been unsatisfied with its pass rush. The Saints have six sacks.

A season ago, defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galatte, combined for 24 1/2. So far, Galette has three sacks and Jordan one.

"Quarterbacks are just getting the ball off a little faster these days," Jordan said. "It's frustrating."

Jordan said the Saints have still been unsettling quarterbacks with pressure, but that is not the ultimate goal.

"Sacks truly affect quarterbacks' mindsets," Jordan said. "If you put pressure on him, he's uncomfortable. If you sack him, it can change games."

The defense also had a setback last week when three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd damaged knee cartilage in practice, requiring what Payton said was season-ending surgery.

Fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro said the Saints still have the talent to improve dramatically on defense. He saw proof of progress in Sunday's 37-31 overtime victory over the Buccaneers.

The Saints shut down Tampa Bay nearly all of the fourth quarter, even getting a safety on a sack by Galette. The defense also got its first interception, by defensive back Patrick Robinson.

"We played fast," Vaccaro said, recalling recent conversations he had with Ryan about the game plan. "I just told Rob ... 'Just let us play, man, let us fly around. You don't have to overthink it.'

"We've got so many talented players, there's no reason for us to be where we're at right now as far as on defense," Vaccaro added. "So let us loose, man. It's like dogs on a chain, really."