The New Orleans Saints have lost just one game since the season opener, in which the defense let up and allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to score 48 points on them, in spite of Drew Brees and crew’s 40, which should be enough to win well over 95 percent of games played.
Prior to three weeks ago, however, they had never been held to under 21 points in any game this season—in fact, they only had two games below 30 points. They have been held under 30 points in each of their past three games, however, and in two of them, they scored fewer than 15.
While they managed to come out of that span with a 2-1 record, losing only to the Dallas Cowboys 13-10, it’s pretty clear that defenses have been figuring out better ways to slow down the Saints and Brees on offense. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler is hoping to join the club on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the first thing Butler did was dispel any notion that New Orleans is a one-dimensional offense. “The Saints do a good job of running the football”, he told reporters, per the team’s communications department. “People do not give them enough credit for that, I don’t think”.
The ability to run the ball—with both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, one of the most successful teams in the league in employ the two-man backfield—has given them the eighth-ranked rushing offense in terms of yards per carry, and their 22 rushing touchdowns leads the league. The running game also helps to set up their play-action and screen passing game, and allows them to avoid many third and longs.
“What’s happened in the last [few] games is people have got them out on third down and stuff like that, kind of slowed their running game down a little bit so we have to do what we can to try to keep them from putting points on the board”, Butler said.
Over the past three games, the Saints have faced 36 third-down situations and have had an average distance to go of 7.6 yards. They’ve averaged nearly six yards per play on third down, but have only converted on 36 percent of their opportunities. Unsurprisingly, the game they scored the most in saw them need only 6.5 yards per third down and they converted half of their opportunities. They went seven for 24 in the other two games.
Through the first 11 games of the season, the Saints only faced an average distance of 5.8 yards on third down, and they were able to convert on 48.4 percent of their opportunities. Clearly, it’s imperative that Butler and the Steelers try to keep Brees behind the chains on Sunday.