Inside slant: New Orleans Week 11 review

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition wraps up Week 11's games, including personnel news and exclusive unit grades for the New Orleans Saints, who lost to Houston on Sunday. It's a premium service from

As they did in their four-game losing streak to start the season, the Saints are once again being plagued by turnovers.

The Saints averaged three giveaways a game in the first four outings, which helped contribute to their losing streak, then settled down and had only four turnovers during a four-game winning streak.

But in the last two games, both losses, the Saints (4-6) gave up the ball five times. In Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Houston Texans, the offense was undone by a fumble inside the Texans' 1 and two interceptions.

Running back Reggie Bush lost the ball at the bottom of the pile about a foot from the Texans' goal line. The Saints, who trailed 7-3 at the time, had just driven 66 yards after the Texans had struck for a 73-yard touchdown pass.

"It definitely takes the wind out of you; it doesn't give you momentum," Bush said of his fumble, which was challenged by coach Sean Payton and upheld. "It takes momentum from you and takes the wind out of you because we drove all the way down the field and I turned the ball over."

"Any time you turn the ball over, you're going to lose momentum," Saints left guard Jamar Nesbit said. "Whether it was a fumble or not, it was called a fumble. I'm sure nobody's sicker than Reggie because they had just scored and we were marching down the field. We were going to answer."

One person that might have been sicker than Bush was tight end Eric Johnson. The normally sure-handed receiver had two balls bounce off his hands and into the arms of Houston defenders.

The first ended a scoring threat after the Saints reached the Texans' 29; the second halted a drive when the Saints were trying to come back from a 17-10 deficit early in the fourth quarter. The Texans turned it into a field goal and a 20-10 lead.

"It's the toughest game I've ever had," said Johnson, the Saints' third-leading receiver with 39 catches this season. "This is tough to take to have two balls (go) off my hands into the hands of the defense.

"I really feel like I single-handedly had a part in losing this game, and it does not sit easy. I've just got to swallow it tonight and move on and never let that happen again."


--Saints defensive end Charles Grant, who sprained his right ankle in an Oct. 28 game at San Francisco, will have to wait another week to get back on the field at full speed.

Grant had never missed an NFL regular-season game since being drafted by the Saints in 2002 until he was sidelined against St. Louis on Nov. 11. He was able to play some the previous week, but Saints coach Sean Payton decided to hold him out against the Rams to allow the ankle to heal.

Payton worked Grant out before Sunday's game at Houston, but then deactivated him for the second week in a row. Payton said Monday he expects Grant to be ready for this week's game against Carolina.

"He wasn't quite ready," Payton said of his decision to keep Grant on the bench. "My concern was losing him for two more weeks because he wasn't 100 percent."

"I want to play, but the decision is with the coaches -- the head coach and my position coach," Grant said after the Saints' 23-10 loss. "They felt like it was in their best interests if I didn't play. I respect his (Payton's) decision. He wants me at 100 percent and I'm about 85 percent right now."

--The Saints got a scare in the second quarter against the Texans when wide receiver Marques Colston took a shot from linebacker DeMeco Ryans while trying to catch a pass over the middle late in the first half.

Colston had to be helped to the sideline with an injury to his left knee, but returned to start the entire second half. Colston, who had the knee wrapped in ice after the game, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he suffered a sprained knee.

Colston finished with nine catches for 118 yards.

--Not that it did them any good in the end, but the Saints scored on their first offensive possession for the fourth straight game Sunday when Olindo Mare kicked a 52-yard field goal after the defense forced a Texans turnover.

The Saints had not scored on their first possession in eight straight games (counting the 2006 playoffs) until breaking through for a touchdown at San Francisco on their first series on Oct. 28.

They also scored on their first series against Jacksonville (field goal) and St. Louis (touchdown).

--Mare was relieved to knock the 52-yard field goal through the uprights when he was called on by Payton.

Mare, who was only six 12 in field goals and had missed all three of his tries from 50 yards and out, had struggled since returning from a pulled groin muscle in early October.

However, Payton later passed on a possible 53-yard field goal and went for a first down on fourth-and-10 early in the third quarter. Payton said he thought long and hard, but decided to try and get the first down in the hopes of scoring a touchdown to tie the game at 17-17.

--With All-Pro Jammal Brown sidelined by a calf injury, second-year pro Zach Strief got the second start of his two-year career at left tackle at Houston.

Strief, a seventh-round draft pick in 2006, lined up most of the day against Texans defensive end Mario Williams, who finished with one sack and six total tackles. The sack came when he moved over and rushed from the left side of the Texans defense -- away from Strief.

As the first overall selection in '06, Williams went 209 picks ahead of Strief.


--LT Jammal Brown, who missed Sunday's game with the Houston Texans because of a strained left calf, will be re-evaluated when the Saints return to practice Wednesday.

--LDE Charles Grant was held out of his second straight game on Sunday with a sprained right ankle, but is expected to return this week against the Carolina Panthers.

--DT Brian Young, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Nov. 7, will likely miss Sunday's game and is likely at least another week away from returning to practice.

--WR Marques Colston left Sunday's game with the Texans because of a knee injury, but returned and started the second half.

--CB Usama Young has been sidelined for the last two games because of a hamstring injury and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.


PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Quarterback Drew Brees wasn't all that bad, but the Saints receivers were. Brees hit on 33 of 49 passes for 290 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and was sacked just once. The problem was the Saints' inability to catch the ball as they recorded at least eight drops. Two were credited to tight end Eric Johnson, who had balls bounce off his hands and into the arms of Texans defenders for interceptions. On a good note, Marques Colston caught nine passes for 118 yards and Reggie Bush had 12 receptions for 70 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Saints continue to struggle in getting the ground game going, gaining just 47 yards on 19 attempts against a Texans team that ranked 27th in the NFL in allowing 124.2 yards a game. Bush led the way with 34 yards on 15 attempts, but found few running lanes. As a team, the Saints averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. Other than an 11-yarder by Bush, the Saints' longest run was six yards by Pierre Thomas and Brees.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- It wasn't nearly as bad as it was one week earlier against the St. Louis Rams, but the Saints gave up another big play when Matt Schaub connected with Andre Johnson -- who got behind cornerback Jason David -- on a 73-yard TD pass to end the Texans' second possession. Schaub went on to complete 21 of 33 passes for 292 yards. He threw two TD passes in all, was not intercepted and was sacked just once. Schaub had a passer rating of 112.3. Johnson finished with six catches for 120 yards, while tight end Owen Daniels caught five balls for 74 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- For the second straight week, the Saints allowed a team to rush for more than 100 yards after holding seven straight opponents under that mark. Ron Dayne filled in for an injured Ahman Green and had 89 yards on 21 attempts with a long of 20. As a team, the Texans piled up 103 yards on 25 attempts and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. The Saints did stop Dayne for no gain on a fourth-and-one in the third quarter and Josh Cooper forced a second-quarter fumble that Will Smith recovered.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Saints' kick returns and kick coverage were a wash. They averaged 9.0 yards on punt returns to the Texans' 10.3 and also averaged 22.5 yards on kickoffs, while the Texans averaged 21.7. Olindo Mare, who was six of 12 on field goals coming into the game, kicked a 52-yard field goal to end the Saints' first drive and punter Steve Weatherford had a big day in averaging 48.0 yards on three punts with a net of 37.7.

COACHING: C -- Sean Payton is having trouble trying to balance his offense as the Saints continue to rely on the pass much more than the run way too often. The Saints had 49 pass attempts and 19 rushes against the Texans; New Orleans is allowing opponents to load up on Brees and the passing game -- particularly the last two weeks.

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