Saints consider their options on the offensive line

St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, right, forces a fumble by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, left, during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in St. Louis. Quinn recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) Show caption
St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, right, forces a fumble by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, left, during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in St. Louis. Quinn recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Drew Brees said Monday he has “all the confidence” in Saints left tackle Charles Brown, who was unable to protect him during Sunday’s 27-16 drubbing at St. Louis.

Coach Sean Payton isn’t so sure.

Payton was noncommittal Monday when questioned about Brown, who was replaced during the third quarter — an unprecedented in-game move during the Payton era. Entering Sunday’s game at Carolina (10-4), Payton said left tackle is one of at least two positions that could face lineup reshuffling.

“We’ll look closely at our options,” said Payton, who was equally infuriated with breakdowns in the kicking game and on defense.

That could mean Brown, a fourth-year pro and first-time starter, regains his job after a solid week of preparation. Lucky for Brown, Payton said he would judge him and others not just by Sunday’s game but their body of work this season.

Payton could move right tackle Zach Strief to the left side, as he did Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. That could force the Saints (10-4) to turn to reserve Bryce Harris, who took over for Stief at right tackle but can play both tackle spots.

Brown gave up two sacks to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Brown also was flagged twice on the Saints’ final possession of the first half.

Sunday was Brown’s worst performance of the season but not his first awful game against St. Louis. In 2011, he surrendered two sacks to defensive end Chris Long and had a false start penalty.

Perhaps the worst part of the potential moves is the timing. Such changes could help the Saints improve during their final two games of the regular season, allowing them to secure the NFC South championship and advance to the playoffs with confidence. Or they could shake the foundation of a franchise that is 7-0 at home but 3-4 on the road this season.

“The one thing that I know I don’t want to do is repeat the (re-evaluation) process over and over again,” Payton said. “We’re going to look closely at what our options are and what gives us the best chance as we get ready to play this coming week.”

Brown, a fourth-year pro, is in his first season as a starter. He took over for Jermon Bushrod, a Pro Bowler who left last offseason for Chicago.

With his team trailing St. Louis 24-3 late in the second quarter, Brown was called for holding and illegal use of hands. The latter penalty came on third-and-2 at the St. Louis 8 with 15 seconds left, nullifying Brees’ TD pass to Lance Moore.

Two plays later, Garrett Hartley’s 36-yard field goal was blocked.

“We’ve got three very capable tackles, and whoever’s in there I’m confident will do a great job,” said Brees, who threw interceptions on the Saints’ first two possessions Sunday. He finished with 393 yards and one score but was sacked four times.

Harley also missed wide left on a 26-yard field goal with 1:54 left. In the second quarter, he converted from 45 yards.

“We can’t kick a field goal,” Payton said. “We have one blocked which was a low trajectory. The other one, we shanked to the left.”

Payton was equally displeased with the running game (61 yards) and St. Louis’ ability to recover an onside kick in the second quarter, a play that he said the Saints prepared for.

The defense irked Payton by missing tackles and allowing big plays, including Kellen Clemens’ 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cory Harkey in the first quarter — a play that Payton said occurred with “eight guys watching.”

“I wouldn’t say there was more missed tackles, but I think the missed tackles that stood out led to touchdowns and big plays,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “That’s uncharacteristic for us as a group, so we’ve got to get it fixed. We’ve got to get it corrected. And how you do that is in practice. You practice good tackling, and it will show up on Sunday.”