Saints have work to do after lopsided loss


Saints have work to do after lopsided loss

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said he had not slept at all after getting back to New Orleans early Monday morning. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he got only a few hours of rest.

They know they have loads of hard work ahead of them after the Saints' most lopsided loss in four years, 34-14 to Denver on Sunday night.

A year after tying a franchise record with 13 wins in the regular season, New Orleans fell to 2-5 in Vitt's return from his six-game, bounty-related suspension.

``Understand this, it hurts,'' Vitt said. ``But you have to swallow it. It's got to go down.''

The one-dimensional Saints learned exactly how bad they were after the Broncos stifled Drew Brees and the passing game. Last in the NFL in rushing, New Orleans is the first team to give up 400 or more yards in seven consecutive games since 1950.

The Saints had nothing to fall back on when Brees struggled, going 22 of 42 for 213 yards. He connected on fewer than half of his passes until three straight completions on a meaningless late touchdown drive.

``This is a team effort,'' Vitt said. ``When the passing game doesn't flourish the way we expect it to around here, we still are going to be held accountable to win games and compete.''

They did not even come close in Denver.

Taking advantage of what Vitt said were poor tackling techniques and bad angles, the Broncos ran for 225 yards while Peyton Manning threw for 305. Coming off a bye, Denver surprised the Saints by using two tight ends and two wide receivers on most downs instead of the three-wide receiver look they expected.

Spagnuolo, in his first year with New Orleans, blamed himself for not making a quicker adjustment.

``This is uncharted territory,'' he said. ``I'm not used to this. I've been blessed to be in places where we played pretty good defense. We're not doing that right now, and yet I really can't put my finger on it.''

Offensive tackle Zach Strief said he would need more than one finger to identify the reasons for the Saints' rushing problems. New Orleans ran for 51 yards on 17 carries, lowering its NFL-worst average to 72.6 yards. The longest run was an 8-yard gain by Pierre Thomas.

``It's not one thing, it's a lot of things,'' Strief said. ``On plays where the offensive line is blocking well, we might miss a block on the edge or we might miss a hole. On the plays where the edge is blocking well and the running back is hitting the right hole, we're missing a block. There's just a lack of consistency.''

The Saints did not even try to run on third down. Brees went 2 of 11 with a sack on third-down passes and converted only one first down, throwing incomplete on third-and-1, third-and-2 and third-and-3.

That inability to move the chains left the Saints vulnerable defense on the field. Jonathan Vilma, in his second game back while appealing his season-long suspension in the Saints bounty scandal, showed his rustiness. He started at an unfamiliar position alongside middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, his replacement.

The Saints' modest two-game winning streak after an 0-4 start ended in emphatic fashion.

``There's a lot of football left,'' Lofton said. ``We've won two games. We just have to get back on that winning streak again. This is tough. None of us have been in this situation. We are just going to keep fighting and keep grinding.''

As poorly as they played in Denver, the Saints have not given up on contending for a playoff spot.

``The perception is the more you get beat, the worse you feel about it,'' Strief said. ``We didn't play well on either side of the ball, and it's embarrassing to have a game like that, but having a chance to win a game and having it slip through your fingers is harder to deal with mentally.''

Vitt blamed himself for several decisions he made in his first game back from his suspension. He regretted wasting a timeout before a failed fourth-and-2 pass in the first half because the Saints already knew what play they were going to call. He regretted not calling a timeout as Manning ran the clock down for a last-second field goal at the end of the first half. He regretted punting instead of going for it on fourth-and-1 with a 31-7 deficit in the fourth quarter.

``This sport, this industry that we're in, is not like riding a bike,'' he said. ``Listen, I had to learn how to put my headset on last night, how to turn it on and communicate with both sides of the ball and get my feet grounded. So I've got to get better as a coach to give our football team a better chance to win.''

NOTES: Vitt said the players would be off until Thursday before having their first practice in preparation for next Monday night's home game with Philadelphia. . Vitt said cornerback Patrick Robinson would start against the Eagles, adding Robinson did not play much in the second half because he got tired.


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.


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Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins dead cap situation


Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins dead cap situation

Cut bait. Sunk cost. Under water. 

Whatever the term might be, all industries deploy a certain phrase for wasted money. In the NFL, that term is dead cap, or the salary cap space a team must allocate for a particular player that has been cut or traded. 

In the specific case of the Redskins, the team carries more than $5.2 millon in dead cap space. Where did it come from? Who's to blame? Let's take a look.

Terrell McClain ($3.75M) - The Redskins signed McClain away from the Cowboys early in the 2017 free agency period. The move wasn't quite a disaster, but it wasn't very good. Washington gave McClain a four-year deal worth $21 million, and paid out nearly $7.5 million for the 2017 season. McClain never played well for the Redskins, started just two games and this offseason he agreed to give up a significant chunk of guaranteed money. Without that move from McClain, this cap hit would have been much worse. 

Su'a Cravens ($711k) - The money isn't as big of a loss as the talent. The Redskins selected Cravens in the second round of the 2016 Draft and he showed promise as a rookie while also dealing with injuries. In 2017, however, things fell apart as Cravens dealt with a training camp injury, discussed retiring from football and eventually found himself on the reserved/left squad list for the season. Prior to the 2018 Draft, the Redskins worked a deal to send Cravens to Denver for an additional fifth round pick as well as swapping picks. 

Kendall Fuller ($360k) - A promising young cornerback, the Redskins traded Fuller to Kansas City this offseason as part of a package to acquire QB Alex Smith. Losing Fullers stings — even head coach Jay Gruden admitted that — but Washington had to find a quarterback after the long-discussed Kirk Cousins saga veered toward, and eventually ended in, separation. 

Matt Jones ($150k) - One of the worst Redskins draft picks in the last five years, Washington reached for Jones in the third-round in 2015. As a rookie, Jones looked like a solid contributor, but in the 2016 season he developed a bad fumbling habit and found his way to the bench. From there, things got worse, as Jones ended the season on the inactive list after a squabble about playing special teams. In 2017, Jones was cut. He signed with the Colts, where he played in just five games and was cut earlier this year. This offseason, Jones signed with the Eagles.

Arie Kouandjio ($130K) - This is a weird one. Kouandjio was selected by the Redskins in 2015, and cut by the team in 2017. The dead money comes from that rookie deal. When Washington brought Kouandjio back late in the 2017 season off the Ravens' practice squad, the dead money from the rookie deal remained. Now, Kouandjio is injured and a candidate to start the 2018 season on the PUP list or maybe even the IR. 

Robert Davis ($103k) - Drafted as a sixth-rounder in 2017, Davis did not make the team leaving training camp. Even though he got signed to the practice squad, the dead money tolls from the rookie deal. 

Nate Sudfeld ($69k) - A late-round developmental prospect from the 2016 draft, Sudfeld made the team as a rookie but couldn't survive cuts in 2017. Quickly signed by the Eagles, Sudfeld ended up as the backup quarterback in Philadelphia's improbable Super Bowl run earlier this year. Dead money on the Redskins cap, but a Super Bowl ring in Philly. Strange. 

Tyler Catalina and Kevin Bowen account for about $12,000 in dead cap space as well. 



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