Armstead's confidence hasn't taken hit

METAIRIE, La. -- Rookie Terron Armstead had his “Welcome to the NFL” moment Sunday -- a few of them, actually -- during his first start as the New Orleans Saints’ left tackle. But his confidence didn’t take a hit.

Like coach Sean Payton said earlier this week, Armstead said he felt even more encouraged by his performance after watching the tape. And he said he feels even better about his chances of playing much better this coming Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I plan on it being a whole lot smoother. I plan on you guys not noticing I’m out there,” joked Armstead, who has obviously seen an increase in media attention over the past week since being thrust into the starting lineup in favor of struggling veteran Charles Brown.

Armstead, a third-round draft pick out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, played the first offensive snaps of his NFL career in Sunday’s 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

He certainly had his share of high-profile low moments -- including two sacks when he was torched by Carolina’s standout pass-rusher Greg Hardy, late in the first quarter and early in the second quarter, and two early false-start penalties.

Armstead was also beat for a sack later in the second quarter -- though quarterback Drew Brees admittedly held on to the ball too long on that one. And Armstead was beaten again by Hardy in the second half when Brees took a hit on an incomplete pass.

But all told, Armstead did improve as the game went on and held up OK on a day when Brees dropped back to pass 51 times.

“I feel like I played a pretty solid game,” said the athletic, 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash time by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds). “I had a few mental things that are unacceptable and can't happen; that needs to be fixed ASAP. But I feel like I had a pretty solid game.”

Armstead said it adds to his confidence that Payton stuck with him through the entire game and firmly committed to him as the starter again this week.

Payton was asked Wednesday to elaborate on why he said he was “extremely encouraged” by Armstead’s debut performance.

“I think one of the things that we saw in the running game, he did a really good job finishing,” Payton said. “I thought we did a good job up front overall. There were a number of times in protection that we were encouraged with. So when you grade the film out, there’s a handful of things going on with how we protect. We had him for two sacks, but overall, we were pleased. First time out on the road against a good player like he went against and a good front, that’s encouraging. It was real encouraging.”

Brees agreed, despite being sacked six times in the loss at Carolina (tied for the most since he joined the Saints in 2006).

“I think people are going to look into it how they want as far as last game goes. I thought he played extremely well,” Brees said Wednesday. “I thought he played against a very tough pass rush, some really good pass-rushers, and listen, some of those sacks were on me just getting the ball out.

“But I think all in all, I loved the look in his eyes throughout the week, his preparation on game day, just kind of the even flow of the game where you’re going to get beat from time to time, but the next play he’s 20 yards down the field pancaking a guy. I thought he bowed up and played very well.

“He’s still young, still raw, still learning, and is only going to get better with experience. This is how it goes. I think everybody who’s been here in the past: Jermon Bushrod, [Zach] Strief, and others, they grow they develop with reps, with live action.”

Brees also wound up on the injury report this week for the first time all season -- listed as limited Wednesday with a knee injury -- though it’s unclear if the injury is significant or if it came from any of the hits he took during the game. (The injury report came out after Brees spoke.)

Even before Armstead entered the picture, Brees has been sacked far more times this year than ever in his 13-year career. He’s been sacked 36 times this year, including 10 over the past two games. His previous high was 26, which came last year.

Brees said it would be wrong to suggest the offensive line is struggling, though.

“No. That’s unfair,” Brees said. “Throw in all the factors of me hanging in there trying to get some balls down the field [something else the Saints have had a harder time doing consistently this year]. That’s on me not throwing the ball away maybe. But then there have been those times where you hang onto it and you do get the big play. It’s give-and-take.

“I think our guys up front have played great. I think they’ve done a great job of allowing us to be balanced. Our run-game numbers, I think this year especially at times when we might have abandoned it, I think we’ve really stuck with it. I think those guys have done a great job.”

Even with the Saints’ sack totals way higher than they’ve been in the Brees-Payton era, they still rank in the bottom 10 in the NFL in sacks allowed.

And up until these last two losses at St. Louis and Carolina, Brees was having one of the most efficient and productive seasons of his career. He has thrown for 4,781 yards, 35 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 68.2 and a passer rating of 101.8. He’s on pace to have the third-best season in every one of those categories during his eight-year tenure in New Orleans.

When asked about whether there has been a drop-off in the offensive line’s performance, Payton said, “I don’t want to use the word spoiled, but shoot, that’s something that has been very exceptional. And you don’t have those numbers he’s put up, even this season, without those guys playing well.”

“You’re still statistically looking at a group that has done very well per pass attempt,” Payton said -- adding that he’d rather wait until after the season to give any more specific evaluations. “We’re not grading any players right now. Or grading lines. You guys can, though.”