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Saints’ sins are too much like last season

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Thanks to too much déjà vu, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton sees plenty of work ahead for his defense.

In Thursday night’s exhibition-opening 30-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Saints showed too many of the same problems that left their defense No. 31 in the league in both yards allowed and passing yards allowed last season.

The problem areas weren’t limited to just the first-team defense, which gave up touchdown drives of 80 and 68 yards on the Ravens’ first two possessions, then watched Baltimore add field goals on their next two drives.

The Saints had too many penalties on that side of the ball and they couldn’t get off the field in a timely fashion — especially on the Ravens’ final drive that produced the game-winning touchdown with two seconds to play.

It had to bring back bad memories of last season when the Saints couldn’t get off the field time and again that contributed greatly to their 7-9 record. Like last season, the video didn’t lie.

“The very first thing here, I wrote it down, was we were plus-two in the takeaway margin but we were minus 211 yards in hidden yardage,” Payton said on Saturday. “When you are calculating yards, like we do, you’re getting off the field on third down. But if there’s a penalty, the yards made after that penalty is hidden yardage.

“Offensively, when you make a first down, it comes back. There’s ways to calculate that, but that (211 yards) is a really high number.”

It didn’t help that the Saints, who were already playing without free safety Jairus Byrd, who remains on the active/physically unable to perform list, lost four key defenders to injuries — including cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux on back-to-back plays in the first quarter.

Neither injury is believed to be serious, but the Saints also lost inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a probable toe injury and backup inside linebacker and special teams cover ace Ramon Humber.

In the end, Payton was asked if he was surprised that his retooled defense had struggled so much while going against a base offense for the majority of the game.

“It is what it is,” he said of the base offense. “A lot of it was things that we were not doing well. All those things we have to clean up though.”

–Two of the team’s high-profile free-agent pickups this past offseason — cornerback Brandon Browner and running back C.J. Spiller — are out for an unspecified period of time. They join Byrd, their top signee in free agency last year, on the sidelines as they near the halfway point of camp.

Byrd, who missed most of camp last season when he was rehabbing from back surgery, had knee surgery last October — forcing him to miss the final 12 games — and has yet to practice this summer.

Then, Browner hurt his leg in the first quarter of Thursday night’s loss, an injury that may not be serious, and Spiller had arthroscopic knee surgery the next day, according to media reports.

They were added to a growing list of at least a dozen players who missed practice time last week or will miss some time this week.

“With regards to injured players at this point in camp, I think you could go to any training camp and see numbers that are similar,” Payton said on Saturday. “We had a handful of guys that came back last week who played in that game.”

While Browner’s injury isn’t believed to be serious, Spiller’s is a different story.

Expected to be a key in the backfield-by-committee approach that Payton uses, Spiller reportedly underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday and will be sidelined until the season opener on Sept. 13 at Arizona.

Spiller, who received a four-year, $16 million contract from the Saints this offseason, did not play against the Ravens and didn’t participate in the final practice open to media on Tuesday — two days before the contest.

Spiller was listed as the backup to Mark Ingram on the first depth chart released by the team last Monday, ahead of Khiry Robinson and Tim Hightower. But Spiller is expected to be a big contributor as a runner, receiver and kick returner.

–One thing that Payton knew had to change before he even left the field Thursday night was the penalties his team incurred — 16 for 143 yards. That was reminiscent of an exhibition game a year ago against the Tennessee Titans when New Orleans drew 22 flags.

One of the penalties, a pass interference call in the end zone on rookie cornerback Travis Manning, put the ball on the Saints’ 1-yard line with half a minute to play and the Ravens were able to score the game-winning touchdown with just two seconds remaining.

“I think if you’re honest, if you grade the tape of both players and coaches, I get upset when there are 15 penalties, because I feel that’s a reflection on us,” Payton said. “We’ll get that cleaned up.”

The Saints and New England Patriots will hold join practices on Wednesday and Thursday at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

Notes: Among those injured against Baltimore and who did not practice Saturday were inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe), cornerback Delvin Breaux (undisclosed injury), inside linebacker Ramon Humber (left arm or wrist), guard Cyril Lemon (undisclosed injury), nose tackle Lawrence Virgil (undisclosed injury), tight end Benjamin Watson (undisclosed injury). Among others who did not practice Saturday for unknown reasons were outside linebacker Anthony Spencer and safety Jamarca Sanford, who was held out of Saturday’s workout when the Saints returned to practice. … Outside linebacker Ronald Powell did not play in the game or practice, tackle Nick Becton, guard Sean Hickey and cornerback P J. Williams didn’t play against the Ravens and remained out of practice Saturday for undisclosed reasons. … Outside linebacker Davis Tull is still rehabbing a torn labrum that required surgery in March.


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