Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cleveland Browns befuddle New Orleans Saints defense on game-winning drive

It was a long Sunday for the New Orleans Saints' defense.

It was a particularly long day for cornerback Patrick Robinson.

On the heels of the Saints' 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Robinson was speaking quietly to a reporter in the locker room. When he looked up and saw a crowd forming, he shook his head.

"Man, I'm done," he said, after speaking less than a minute. Then he walked out of the locker room and down the hallway by himself.

It was that kind of day.

Robinson entered the game as a starting cornerback. By the end of the first quarter, after being flagged twice and giving up a touchdown to Miles Austin, he was yanked in favor of Corey White and then reinserted at nickel back, where he played the rest of the day.

However, Robinson's play stood out after collecting two of the Saints' five penalties in crucial situations.

Robinson was flagged for pass interference on a third-and-7 play in the first quarter that fell incomplete. The Browns, who were on the Saints' 33-yard line, were awarded a first down on New Orleans' 14. They scored five plays later to go up 7-0.

Robinson later was flagged in the quarter for a neutral-zone infraction on a missed field-goal attempt by the Browns. The Browns again were awarded a first down and made a field goal four plays later for a 10-0 lead.

Robinson also had a holding penalty that was declined on a busted play with 13 seconds left that set up the final margin of the Browns' victory.

Saints coach Sean Payton declined to discuss personnel changes so soon after the game. But he did say that Robinson was an easy target in a game where a lot of things went wrong.

"There's a lot of muddy hands to just single out one player, but I know that's what you do," Payton said. "He's going to work to improve, and we're going to look at it overall, how we can help not just him, but the rest of the guys."

For the second straight week, Saints defenders were at a loss to explain exactly what happened. Last week, they gave up 568 yards to the Atlanta Falcons after missing a slew of tackles.

This time around the missed tackles were almost nonexistent. Brian Hoyer passed for only 204 yards. Junior Galette had his first sack of the season after the Saints were unable to generate much pressure against the Falcons.

It was a whole new set of problems against the Browns, particularly after a final sequence that left defenders scratching their heads.

"We're trying to figure that out right now," said White when asked what happened. "We're going to watch some film and figure it out from there. I don't know."

The Saints held a 24-23 lead with 2:26 left to go and the Browns pinned at their own 4-yard line. One stop, and New Orleans would win the game.

It was similar situation to the Saints' loss at the Falcons last week, when they needed to keep Atlanta out of field-goal range to win. But a 21-yard pass to Devin Hester put the Falcons in field-goal range in one play, and they eventually won in overtime.

Facing almost the same scenario, things went downhill quickly in Cleveland.

On second-and-10 at the 4, Kenny Vaccaro was flagged for being offsides.

On third-and-1 at the 13, Austin, covered by White, caught a 4-yard pass for a first down. Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan were arguing on the sideline after the play. Payton said that type of heated discussion wasn't unusual during a game.

The Saints were aided by Galette's sack on second-and-10 and had the Browns facing fourth-and-6 on their own 38-yard line.

However, Hoyer completed a 13-yard pass to Austin that was made just inbounds and was upheld after review. Two plays later, on the play that set up the field goal, the Saints' defenders appeared to be confused about their assignments.

With the clock at 13 seconds, Robinson and Jairus Byrd both ran to the middle of the field toward wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who spun past Robinson and kept going. White and Keenan Lewis were both running toward receiver Marlon Moore on the outside. Andrew Hawkins was left deep behind the defense by himself.

"Honestly, I think it was a dropped coverage by New Orleans and Brian did a great job of reading it," Hawkins said.

"On the coverage it was (miscommunication). We were in man coverage and they sent a motion man over," Payton said. "We ended up with a holding call on the play that they declined, but again, it's little things like that that are troubling."

The little mistakes were the phrase of the day after the loss. But Vaccaro was optimistic about the overall play of the Saints' defense.

"We're frustrated but at the same time, I felt everyone was playing really hard, getting to the ball," he said. "I felt like everybody tackled better, there were hardly any missed tackles. ...

"I don't know man. I'm still optimistic. You can't get down. We've still got 14 games to go. We'll get it fixed and get ready for the Vikings. ... I think guys are down, but we played well. We'll get it fixed."

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