New Orleans Saints have big problems to tackle

By Les East, The Sports Xchange   |   Sept. 12, 2017 at 11:12 PM
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints entered the regular season without the services of starting left tackle Terron Armstead.

During the first half of the season opener at Minnesota on Monday night they lost starting right tackle Zach Strief.

After opening the season with no true tackles among their backups, the Saints find themselves scrambling to bolster their offensive line going into the home opener against New England on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"We'll look at our options," head coach Sean Payton said Tuesday.

When Strief went down with what has been reported to be a sprained MCL, he was replaced by Senio Kelemete, who normally plays guard or center. The team released reserve tackle Bryce Harris just hours before the opener, then re-signed him Tuesday.

"I give tons of credit to Senio," center Max Unger said. "Not too many guys in the NFL can come in and play five positions on the offensive line and play well."

Even with the return of Harris, the Saints still need a replacement for Strief for at least a few weeks.

The Saints have a short week of preparation before facing the Patriots, who opened with a loss to Kansas City four days before New Orleans played.

"We have a lot to clean up," Payton said. "You can't sugar-coat it. The challenge in a short week is to make sure that we see this tape. This isn't one that you can just put away and move. It might mean a longer practice on Wednesday and maybe Thursday, but we have enough to clean up that we have to see it because these mistakes can't happen again."

--The opener didn't provide any evidence that New Orleans has a featured running back among Mark Ingram II, Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. Peterson started in his return to Minnesota and finished with six carries for 18 yards as all three runners had nearly identical rushing stats. Ingram had six carries for 17 yards and Kamara had seven carries for 18 yards. All in all, New Orleans had 60 yards on 21 rushes. In the passing game, Ingram had five receptions for 54 yards and Kamara had four for 20 yards. Peterson didn't catch a pass.

At one point in the third quarter, an ESPN camera caught a brief exchange between Peterson and Saints head coach Sean Payton in which Payton turned toward Peterson, apparently in response to something Peterson had said, and Peterson glared back at him.

"There's no conflict," Peterson said when asked about the episode. "We weren't in any heated exchange," Payton said.

--The lack of an effective run game often left the Saints with difficult to manage third downs and they converted just 4-of-11. The average distance on the 11 third downs was six yards and New Orleans twice faced third-and-15.

"You want to keep third downs manageable," center Max Unger said. "At times, we weren't able to do that and you can't afford to do that, especially against a team with a good pass rush. We had third-down issues because we didn't run the ball well on first and second down."

--The Saints allowed the Vikings to convert 9-of-14 third downs even though several times it was third-and-long. On Minnesota's first possession, which resulted in a field goal, the Vikings converted on two third-and-5s and a third-and-6 before failing on a third-and-6 immediately before kicking the field goal. Minnesota scored one touchdown on a third-and-2 play and another on a third-and-9. The defensive performance didn't match the way the defense played in the preseason. The third-down conversions were aided by a weak pass rush that yielded one sack on 32 pass attempts after New Orleans made 12 sacks in the preseason.

"The preseason is the preseason," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "We're in live bullets now. This is the regular season. We've got to get better from this -- clearly."

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