Offense having uncharacteristic trouble scoring TDs inside 20-yard line
Virtually unheard of since coach Sean Payton took charge, the New Orleans Saints enter their Week 3 showdown at home against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday ranked dead last in the NFL in an offensive efficiency category.
The Saints (2-0) have scored only one touchdown in seven trips to the red zone, meaning their efficiency inside their opponents’ 20-yard line is a league-worst 14.3 percent after it was second overall last season at 68.4 percent. Kicker Garrett Hartley has converted five field goals in the red zone, and the Saints turned the ball over on downs at the 1 in their 16-14 road win against Tampa Bay (0-2) in Week 2.
Payton blamed the Saints’ red-zone struggles on penalties and poor execution. For example, right guard Jahri Evans was whistled for holding in the Week 1 win at home against the Atlanta Falcons (1-1) on two consecutive plays at their 7 and their 17, and once against the Bucs at their 8.
The Saints settled for field goals on both of those drives.
Payton vowed his staff would study the red-zone situation closely and “make those corrections.”
On his end, Cardinals (1-1) coach Bruce Arians isn’t counting on the Saints’ troubles in the red zone to last through Sunday.
“I know what they’re capable of,” he said. “What we’re getting ready for is what I think they’re capable of.”
Morgan pleads not guilty
Injured receiver Joe Morgan has pleaded not guilty to his first-offense DWI charge.
Morgan’s attorney filed the plea Tuesday in 1st Parish Court in Metairie, according to Jefferson Parish court records.
Morgan was arrested May 25 after a State Police trooper found him on the side of the road with a flat tire, sleeping in his car. his blood alcohol content level measured 0.218 percent — more than twice the legal limit to drive.
Morgan, who is free on $1,150 bond, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage. He said last month he is participating in Stage One of the league’s substance abuse program.
Morgan was charged with driving while intoxicated and for having no driver’s license. If convicted, he faces up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Vaccaro’s ‘a special guy’
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on Friday said he’s never thrown so much at a rookie as he has at safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was entrusted with playing all 115 snaps on defense in the first two games of the season.
“We drafted a special guy there,” Ryan said about Vaccaro, a first-round pick out of Texas this year. “We’re just scratching the surface with this guy. ... He can play man coverage. He can blitz. He can play zone. He’s smart. He’s tough.”
Vaccaro has so far amassed 10 solo tackles and broken up one would-be touchdown pass, which teammate Roman Harper intercepted in the end zone to clinch the 23-17 win over the Falcons.
Harper, Quddus out
Saints safeties Roman Harper (knee) and Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle) have been ruled out of Sunday’s game. They sat out team drills at practice since Wednesday.
Running back Mark Ingram (toe) and Evans (hamstring) are questionable after missing three straight days of team drills. Other Saints players listed as questionable are nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley (calf), defensive end Tom Johnson (hamstring), defensive end Tyrunn Walker (knee) and defensive end Glenn Foster (ankle).
Should the Saints decide to sit Evans on Sunday, that would snap his streak of 122 consecutive starts, including the postseason. He has not missed a game since New Orleans picked him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft.
Minter out for Cardinals
The Cardinals on Friday ruled out linebacker Kevin Minter after he missed three days of practice with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe) participated in team drills on Friday after missing them on Wednesday and Thursday, and they are questionable for Sunday.
Collins seeking revenge
After spending three weeks of the 2009 season on the Cardinals’ practice squad, fullback Jed Collins was waived by Arizona two days before Thanksgiving.
Collins eventually landed with the Saints and has been the starting fullback since 2011, but he thought his career in the NFL was over when Arizona cut him.
None of the coaches involved with that decision remain with the Cardinals, but Collins said he’ll still be looking to get even on Sunday.
“On the way out of the building, they always shake your hand and tell you, ‘We just don’t think you’re our guy for the future,’ ” Collins said. “But four or five years later, I’m still here.”
Clayborn fined for Brees hit
The NFL on Friday said it fined Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn $21,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the second quarter of last week’s game.
The league also fined Bucs safety Ahmad Black $21,000 for hitting Saints tight end Jimmy Graham late and safety Dashon Goldson $100,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Darren Sproles. Black, Clayborn and Goldson were all penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Graham on Friday said he wasn’t particularly bothered by Black’s hit.
“I know that I play in the noise down there in the seams and down the middle of the field,” Graham said. “As long as I can get up and keep playing, that’s all I care about.”
“When I just got introduced to him, the first thing that jumped out was, ‘Sweet tats he’s got.’ And the second thing was how much he loved football.”
— Ryan, on meeting Vaccaro.