BALTIMORE -- Before the New Orleans Saints even left the field after Thursday night’s preseason-opening loss to Baltimore, before the coaches had a chance to look at any film, Sean Payton knew one area of the game that needs to improve drastically before the start of the season.
Too much yellow on the field.
New Orleans was penalized 16 times for 143 yards in Thursday night’s 30-27 loss to Baltimore, extending Ravens drives on the defensive side of the ball and killing Saints drives on the offensive side of the ball. The problem is nothing unique -- the Saints were flagged 22 times in a preseason game against Tennesseee last year -- but it’s still the issue that stuck in Payton’s mind after New Orleans walked off the turf at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Three of them came in the kicking game. There’s hidden yards there. I think three of them came on third down when we were off the field. There’s hidden yards there. And a number of them came on the offensive line,” Payton said. “I’m going to say it’s 200 yards in hidden yardage if you do the math. That’s just too much in any game. The good news is we have a lot of time to get this corrected. We’re going to have to pay particular attention to it.”
Not all penalties are created equal.
Rookie cornerback Damian Swann, who made the first interception of the preseason early in the second half, was flagged for two infractions in coverage, and undrafted free agent Travis Manning drew another flag in the end zone late on a penalty that was awarded to Jamarca Sanford.
For young cornerbacks learning to play a physical brand of press coverage but stay within the confines of the NFL rule book -- Swann admitted in the locker room that it’s not easy to pick up the difference between collegiate rules and NFL coverage rules until he got into live action -- a few flags are going to come.
“That part of it we can clean up,” Payton said. “The rules now are challenging for those defensive backs, and I understand that, and I think we can clean that up. But there’s some other penalties that are harder to digest.”
The penalties that left Payton a little queasy were of a different nature.
Veteran defensive end Anthony Spencer lined up in the neutral zone twice, costing the Saints both times, in particular when his first infraction kept the Ravens’ second offensive series going and cost the Saints a touchdown. Two holds and two false starts on the offensive line -- Bryce Harris had one apiece -- that stalled Saints drives in the second half. Three holds on special teams, costing New Orleans precious field position.
A whole lot of the Saints’ preseason opener might look better if New Orleans kept itself on the right side of the law.
“I think if you’re honest, if you grade the tape of both players and coaches, I get upset when there’s 15 penalties, because I feel that is a reflection on us,” Payton said. “We’ll get that cleaned up.”