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Mike Westhoff explains how he evaluates Saints' special teams

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Advocate Staff photo by SOPHIA GERMER

By Nick Underhill | The Advocate

Mike Westhoff doesn’t overcomplicate how he evaluates his team’s performance.

The Saints special teams guru keeps an eye on 12 categories to judge how his team is performing. There are a lot of different things that could be broken down and ranked, but the coach looks most closely at punt return, kick return, gross punt, net punt, field-goal percentage and starting field position both offensively and defensively.

“Starting field position, which to me is the most important thing,” Westhoff said. “You can look at touchback or touchback percentage, but if a guy catches it five deep and doesn’t get very far then, that’s a good play for you. I look at where you’re ranking in those 12, and we’re pretty good. We’re right at the top.”

Westhoff wasn’t wrong about looking “pretty good” in those categories. The team ranks highly in many of them and should be considered one of the best units in the league if these are, indeed, the most critical areas. ...

Full Story - The Advocate

National experts pick Steelers at Saints

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By James Parks | 247 Sports

Sunday finds two teams looking ahead to making a run in the NFL playoffs, but each with a little unsettled business to take care of in the penultimate regular season game.

The New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers will square off in an inter-conference matchup between two talented offenses and a pair of the best quarterbacks in football today.

Ben Roethlisberger leads the 8-5-1 Steelers into the Superdome fresh off an inspired home victory over New England last Sunday, jump starting Pittsburgh out of the doldrums that had them on a three game losing streak before then.

This week, Pittsburgh can clinch a playoff berth with a win over New Orleans, plus losses by the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. ...

Full Story - 247 Sports

Saints take optimistic approach after grinding out the last 3 weeks. ‘I think it was good for this team’

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(Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

By Luke Johnson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

There are a couple different ways to look at the last three games played by the New Orleans Saints.

A cynic might look at the performances and see cracks in the 12-2 Saints. They might see an offense that is suddenly pedestrian, or they might look at the defense’s performance as unsustainable. The wins that the Saints made look so easy earlier this year have turned into these white-knuckle affairs, and that must be the sign of bad things to come, right?

Then there is the way quarterback Drew Brees and Sheldon Rankins see things. The two capable spokesmen for the New Orleans offense and defense see this three-game road swing the Saints just returned from as both a test the team conquered and one it can draw from in a tough situation later down the road.

“I think it was good for this team,” Rankins said. “To be able to go on the road and experience some trials and tribulations, to be able to have to weather the storm on the road and, for the most part, take care of business, it’s good to know. ...

Full Story - NOLA.com

Home, sweet dome: New Orleans Saints need to re-establish identity before playoffs

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(Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports)

By Jarrett Bell

METAIRIE, La. — It’s easy to grasp a sense of the logistical purpose, echoed in every corner of the New Orleans Saints' locker room as the huge carrot of a No. 1 seed dangles in the wind.

This is the place to be: Win one more game and the Saints don’t have to leave town again for a football game this season unless they’re going to Super Bowl LIII.

“It’s big,” assured Sheldon Rankins, the force in the middle of the D-line, as he pondered the matchup Sunday against Pittsburgh. “Take care of business this week and everything runs through here.”

True enough. Claiming home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs, with all of the recent history that represents and all of the bedlam that comes at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, would be quite the reward for a team that has — what? — the NFL’s best road record at 7-1.

But here’s the rub attached to this mission to secure dome-field advantage: Will the Saints get their groove back? ...

Full Story - USA Today

Sean Payton: Teams need more players available on game days

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By Mike Triplett | ESPN Staff Writer

METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton said the 46-man roster on game days has "gotta change" for health and safety reasons.

The New Orleans Saints coach brought up the topic unsolicited Thursday while discussing how the team was down to its last healthy offensive lineman on Monday night at Carolina. He said teams need more players available on game days. ...

"The 46-man roster on game day is soon to be, I think, will be soon dated. I think that's gotta change," Payton said. "If we're interested in health and safety -- and it sounds like we are; at least that's something we talk about a lot -- that number should be higher. And that'll affect the overall roster size. And that might cost a little bit more money, but that's the price."

Payton said this idea also comes up whenever people want teams to "rest their starters" when they have big leads late in games.

"Have you ever looked at the sideline during a game?" Payton said. "We played Cincinnati this year and we rested starters. You're talking about three different changes, maybe. It's just different than, obviously, college, where you have a large number of players on the sideline." ...

Full Story -...

Derek Newton's comeback attempt stalled with release by Saints

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By Mike Triplett | ESPN Staff Writer

METAIRIE, La. -- Derek Newton's comeback from two torn patellar tendons hit another obstacle Thursday when the veteran offensive tackle was released by the New Orleans Saints.

Newton, who signed with the Saints two weeks ago, has not played since he suffered the injury with the Houston Texans in 2016.

The 31-year-old said he believes he would be the first to ever come back and play in a NFL game after tearing both patellar tendons at the same time. He said he was laid up in bed for nearly two months after the injury, then spent nearly three weeks in a wheelchair after that. ...

Full Story - ESPN.com

Saints Bushrod did not practice Thursday, Unger returns in limited capacity

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(Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

By Luke Johnson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Veteran offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod missed his second straight practice with a hamstring injury, and four other offensive linemen were listed as limited on the New Orleans Saints participation report.

Bushrod, who has started five games at left tackle while Terron Armstead has been sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle, sustained the injury in the fourth quarter of the Saints' 12-9 win against the Panthers last week.

The other starting offensive linemen who had to leave that game early, center Max Unger (concussion), was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice after sitting out Wednesday. He was joined as a limited participant by Armstead, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) and left guard Andrus Peat (shoulder). ...

Full Story - NOLA.com

Offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod only Saints player who didn't practice Thursday

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By Rod Walker | The Advocate

Saints offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod was the only Saints player who didn't practice on Thursday.

It was the second straight missed practice for Bushrod, who injured a hamstring in Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Five other Saints, including four offensive linemen, were limited in practice. Those listed as "limited" were linemen Terron Armstead (pectoral/knee), Max Unger (concussion), Andrus Peat (shoulder) and Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) and punter Thomas Morstead (left ankle). ...

Full Story - The Advocate

How Marcus Williams has helped settle the Saints' secondary and made it soar

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By Nick Underhill | The Advocate

One of the easiest things to do against the Saints has become one of the harder things to do against the Saints.

Earlier this year, completing a deep pass against New Orleans wasn’t much of a problem. Offenses attempted 26 passes that traveled 15 or more yards through the air, completing 18 (69 percent) for 451 yards and six touchdowns during the first four weeks of the year. It was almost an automatic play, on which there were many people to blame.

The defense has since settled down and almost completely flipped the narrative. In the games since then, the Saints have lowered the completion percentage on those passes to 44 percent. They’ve given up zero touchdowns and recorded six interceptions.

Much like the failures, there are many reasons for success. Marshon Lattimore finding the clamps that he first used to get a grip on and then hold his reputation as one of the league’s better cornerbacks as a rookie to get back on track after a rocky start to the season was critical.

Eli Apple coming in and settling the other cornerback spot has also been key. The coverage busts that populated the early part of the season rapidly dissipated as the cornerback got up to speed following a deadline trade with the Giants. ...

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