Inside slant: New Orleans Week 11 preview

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition wraps up Week 10's games, including personnel news, analysis and insider matchups for the New Orleans Saints. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

For the fifth time this season, the Saints will try to bounce back from a disappointing loss when they go against the Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium on Sunday.

This time, however, the Saints will be trying to pick up the pieces after losing a game they figured to win. Their 37-29 setback to the St. Louis Rams was the most shocking this season, much more so than any of the four losses they suffered to start the year.

The reason: After four straight wins to climb back into the NFC South race, the previously winless Rams looked more like sacrificial lambs coming into the Superdome. But as the Saints found out, they wound up looking like the Rams of old.

As a result, the Saints (4-5) have to pick up the pieces against the Texans (4-5) in their first visit to Reliant. Like the Rams, the Texans are well-rested as they come off a bye last week.

Even though they are just one game out of the lead in the NFC South, the Saints know they can't afford to lose many more games -- even in a weak division where only the Tampa Bay Bucs (5-4) are above .500.

"We definitely have that sense of urgency," said quarterback Drew Brees, "but we still have the division right in front of us. We are only a game out and we going to see Tampa Bay one more time. We are going to see all of our division opponents one more time.

"So we're lucky to be in the position we are at 4-5 and still be only a game out," he added. "But we have to keep working, and have to take it one game at a time. We have a game coming up against Houston, and they have played some good football at times this year, so we are going to have to be ready."

Saints coach Sean Payton warned his team about the Rams being better than their record showed, so the lesson will certainly be the same this week. But the players say trying to come back after losing to a winless team won't be any different than trying to rebound after any loss.

Fullback Mike Karney said it was similar to when the Saints, then 0-4, went up to Seattle and shocked the Seahawks, 28-17.

"It's the same thing. Any given Sunday, anybody can win," he said. "(The Rams) had a bye week, a week to prepare. It can happen to anybody. That's the way the NFL is. We're back to being humble."

Thanks to the Rams, that is.

Strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said the Saints knew the dangers of playing a winless team. While that doesn't apply against the Texans they still have to be wary, center Jeff Faine said.

"You know, a loss is a loss," Faine said. "Regardless of who you lose to, we're getting ready for Houston now. You can't let this linger and let it be a hangover at all. We've got to correct our mistakes and move on."

SERIES HISTORY

2nd meeting. The Saints lead the series, 1-0, after taking a 31-10 decision on Sept. 14, 2003 in the Superdome. The Saints trailed 10-7 at the half before the offense piled up 24 points and the defense pitched a shutout in the second half for the easy victory.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Saints coach Sean Payton continues to be supportive of cornerback Jason David despite his latest struggles in a 37-29 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.

When asked Monday if he had any thoughts of removing David from the lineup for Sunday's game with the Houston Texans, Payton indicated that David would continue to start.

David, who joined the Saints as a restricted free agent from the Indianapolis Colts this spring, gave up at least four big plays against the Rams and has been burned for several touchdowns this season.

"Everyone wants to burn someone here, but there's a lot of things we didn't do well," Payton said of the loss to the Rams. "We're not talking about one player. There's a lot of players and a lot of coaches, myself at the front of the list. We've got a lot of areas to improve in. We'll address those, we'll correct them, and we'll make the emphasis this week."

--Saints defensive tackle Brian Young said he hopes to be back on the field in two weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Nov. 7.

Doctors decided to go in and scope the knee to clean up loose particles that were causing persistent swelling after he was hurt in Week 7 against Atlanta. Young played in the next game, but was inactive for a Nov. 4 matchup with Jacksonville after having fluid drained from the knee.

"I've never been injured before during the season, so this is rough," Young said.

--Saints running back Reggie Bush last week fired marketing agent Mike Ornstein, who helped the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner get lucrative deals from companies like Subway, Hummer, PepsiCo, adidas and Visa -- among others.

"We had a great run together," Ornstein said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Reggie's a special, special guy. The most special I've ever been around in my 20-plus years in sports. We'll remain great friends."

Ornstein did not go into detail about what prompted his split with Bush, which was first reported on the Sports Business Daily's Web site.

"I worked for him. He didn't work for me. He makes decisions about how he wants to run his business," Ornstein said. "Luckily, we leave each other still being great friends. I'm still a huge Saints fan."

--The Saints organization issued a statement Monday following the death of former coach Dick Nolan on Sunday.

"The New Orleans Saints send our condolences to the family and many friends of Dick Nolan," the statement read. "Of our longtime employees who worked with Dick during his tenure as head coach, he is remembered as a caring and compassionate family man who took the time to make everyone feel like part of a victory. He will be missed."

Nolan was an assistant coach in 1977 and was the Saints head coach from 1978-80, going 15-29 before being fired following an 0-12 start in 1980. He coached the Saints to the first non-losing season in franchise history, leading them to an 8-8 mark in 1979.

BY THE NUMBERS

72.4 -- Touchdown percentage for the Saints in scoring 21 times in 29 trips into the red zone. They rank second in the NFL behind only the Arizona Cardinals (72.7 percent).

QUOTE TO NOTE

"Right now, we have to worry about us. We have been in bad situations before, but this is just one loss after a nice little run we had. We got frustrated a few times, but this team is ready to deal with stuff like this." -- Saints SLB Scott Fujita, on a 37-29 setback to the previously winless St. Louis Rams.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Saints, who got center Jeff Faine back last Sunday after he missed 2 1/2 games with a strained left pectoral muscle, could be without left tackle Jammal Brown this week.

Brown went down with a strained muscle in his lower left leg late in the first quarter last Sunday against the St. Louis Rams and did not return. He did not practice Wednesday and rode a stationary bike while wearing a protective sleeve on his lower leg.

If Brown can't go on Sunday at Houston, the Saints would plug second-year pro Zach Strief into his spot. Strief filled in admirably when Brown missed a game with a sprained ankle last season and did a solid job again when he was called on last week.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LT Jammal Brown didn't practice Wednesday with what is being described as a left calf strain, but coach Sean Payton remained hopeful Brown will be able to play Sunday at Houston.

--RB Reggie Bush practiced fully Wednesday after being sidelined briefly when he took a shot to the head in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game with the St. Louis Rams.

--LDE Charles Grant participated in practice on Wednesday and expects to play Sunday after missing last week's game with a sprained right ankle.

--WLB Scott Shanle practiced Wednesday and could return against the Texans after missing the last two games with a strained left hamstring.

--CB Usama Young, who was sidelined last week with a hamstring injury, worked on a limited basis and his status for Sunday was unknown.

--DT Brian Young, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Nov. 7, will miss his third straight game Sunday. Young hopes to be back in two weeks.

--TE Zac Herold was added to the practice squad Wednesday. He takes the place of defensive tackle McKinley Boykin, who was signed to the 53-man active roster before the Rams game.

GAME PLAN

The Texans have been vulnerable against the run this season and rank 24th in allowing 124.2 yards a game. While that may be inviting to the Saints, they haven't exactly been running the ball with authority and rank 27th, averaging just 87.6 yards per game. Since the running game has been erratic at best, the Saints will likely try to get their explosive passing game back on track after the St. Louis Rams used extreme pressure last week to throw Drew Brees and his receivers off. Defensively, the Saints must find a way to get off the field this week after the Rams converted eight of 13 third-down opportunities last week. That kept the Saints offense off the field, giving the Rams a two-to-one edge in time of possession.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Saints LT Zach Strief vs. Texans RDE Mario Williams. This has the makings of a classic battle if Jammal Brown is recovered from a strained left calf that knocked him out of last week's game. But if Brown can't go, the 6-foot-7, 349-pound Strief could be a formidable foe for Williams after Strief frustrated Simeon Rice while subbing for an injured Brown in a game at Tampa Bay last season.

Saints WR Marques Colston vs. Texans CB Von Hutchins. Colston has come up with back-to-back 100-yard performances and, after a slow start, is starting to look like the receiver that made the all-rookie team one year ago as a seventh-round draft pick. Brees will look to get the ball to Colston with the Texans' best cover corner, Dunta Robinson, on injured reserve with a torn ligament in his knee.

Saints LCB Mike McKenzie vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson. McKenzie will have to be at his best this week against Johnson, who is coming back after missing the last seven games with a knee injury. Before being hurt, Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, was off to a great start with 14 receptions for 262 yards and three TDs.

INJURY IMPACT

DT Antwan Lake will probably start for the third straight week in place of Brian Young against the Houston Texans on Sunday. Young is out after having his left knee scoped on Nov. 7.

Strief would start if Brown can't play against the Texans because of an injury to his lower left leg.


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