Saints urgently aim to shore up defense against deep throws
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore said he's heard the term "sophomore slump" applied to him early this season.
The 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year sounds certain his critics will have to eat those words as the season wears on.
But he also agrees the numbers haven't been pretty for New Orleans' pass defense the past few weeks, and as one of the stars of the secondary, he has to answer for that.
"We've been doing some stuff out of character," said Lattimore, referring specifically to mistakes in technique and ineffective communication among defensive backs.
"We've just got to get on the same page and do certain things, like, together. And once we figure that out, we're going to get it right. But it's just got to start with playing with more swag. That eliminates everything. Playing with that confidence and going out there and getting it done."
New Orleans, which visits the New York Giants this week, ranks 30th against the pass, allowing 336.7 yards passing per game.
Even more concerning to Saints coach Sean Payton is that the Saints rank last in the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt, a result of some of the deep passes they've given up in all three games.
There were touchdowns passes of 58 yards to Tampa Bay's DeSean Jackson and 50 yards to Mike Evans in the opener; Tyrod Taylor's 47-yard, game-tying touchdown to Antonio Callaway in the final minutes of a Week 2 matchup with Cleveland that the Saints ultimately pulled out; and a 75-yard scoring pass to Atlanta's Calvin Ridley in Week 3.
And those are just the scoring plays. Other deep throws produced big gains either on catches or pass interference penalties.
Altogether, the Saints have yielded 45 or more yards on six different pass plays — one of them due to pass interference called on cornerback Ken Crawley.
"If there's only two things happening — a pass interference or completion — and there's no interception opportunity, then teams are going to take multiple (deep) shots more and more and more," Payton said this week. "I don't like the fact that we've had one takeaway after three games.
"There are a handful of things that need improvement fast."
Saints defensive backs took no issue with Payton's criticism.
"It ain't like he's not telling the truth," Lattimore said. "They see they can go deep and get a positive play out of it. I'd do the same thing playing us. But we're going to turn it around. We're going to get it right. I'm not really worried about that."
Safety Vonn Bell said he saw Payton's expressions of concern as motivational.
"We've got to change that — stop the deep balls, keep everything in front, make them throw the check-downs and get off the field," Bell said.
"And we've got to change that on the back end. Challenge accepted. Go out there, step up to the challenge and my cat don't catch it. That's all you got to do and we've got each other's back."
And the improvement will have to come without top nickel back Patrick Robinson, a veteran acquired from Philadelphia in free agency who was placed on injured reserve after injuring his ankle last week.
Giants veteran quarterback Eli Manning sounded hesitant to read too much into the small sample size of failure New Orleans' secondary has put on video during the season's opening three weeks — particularly because New Orleans has gone up against elite receivers such as Evans, Jackson and Atlanta's Julio Jones, not to mention Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
"They've just gone against a couple of high-powered offenses that have good receivers and guys have won some battles," Manning said.
"They do a lot of different looks on defense, so we have got to be prepared for all of them and make sure we can hold up and hopefully give our guys some opportunities to win those one-on-one battles."
The Giants present the Saints with the challenge of covering another elite receiver — one who is all too well known in his native New Orleans. That would be Odell Beckham Jr., who went to the same high school as the Mannings before starring at LSU, and who had nine catches for 109 yards in New York's victory over Houston last week.
"Got to bang him up. Got to hit him. Got to get him frustrated, get him out of his game," Bell said.
If the Saints can't slow down Beckham, expect Manning to be the latest to try his hand at the deep ball against the Saints.
Notes: Saints rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport (hip) and linebacker Manti Teo (knee) both missed practice on Thursday. Left guard Andrus Peat was limited by his sore ankle.
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