this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; SAINTS ANALYSIS: TOP 5 REASONS THEY'RE WINNING By LARRY HOLDER firstname.lastname@example.org After watching the New Orleans Saints in the first four games of the season, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be competing for the No. 1 pick in ...
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Saints: An easier schedule always helps
SAINTS ANALYSIS: TOP 5 REASONS THEY'RE WINNING
By LARRY HOLDER
After watching the New Orleans Saints in the first four games of the season, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be competing for the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.
That's obviously not the case anymore.
The Saints have reconfigured themselves into a viable contender for the NFC South title. Carolina is only one game ahead and Tampa Bay sits a half game above the Saints.
It's still not that simple, since the Saints lost to both teams hovering above them earlier this season. They will have a chance to redeem those two losses later this season.
The Saints won't be peeking ahead anytime soon. But the way the Saints notched the last three wins gives you the sense that this team is primed for a run. Here are my top five reasons why the Saints have nearly pulled themselves out of a deep hole:
5. Offensive line play - The Saints' front five probably hadn't seen lower times after Albert Haynesworth and the rest of the Tennessee Titans shredded Jammal Brown and Jamar Nesbit.
Now times haven't been better even with an injury to center Jeff Faine. Drew Brees may have the cleanest jersey the last three games as he hasn't been sacked at all. (See more below.)
The running game hasn't been extremely explosive, but Reggie Bush has improved to 3.8 yards per carry for the season.
4. An easier schedule - The first four games came against four teams with a .500 record or better. Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Carolina have a combined record of 20-9.
Eyeing the schedule the rest of the way, the schedule may be one of the easiest of any possible playoff contender. Jacksonville, St. Louis, Houston, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Arizona, Philadelphia and Chicago hold a combined 26-41 mark with only the Jaguars and Panthers above .500.
3. Drew Brees - He's the quarterback everyone wowed over in 2006.
In his last three games, he's completed 72 percent of his passes, thrown for eight touchdowns and one interception and spearheaded the Saints to three consecutive wins. Receivers making catches consistently and a stout offensive line made a considerable difference as well.
The ugliness of his one-touchdown, nine-interception start is all but forgotten.
2. More pressure against the run and the pass - Not since the days of the Dome Patrol have the Saints played this well against the run. The Saints have held their opponents to less than 100 yards rushing for the sixth consecutive week.
It's a gigantic improvement from last season as the Saints have only surrendered 98.1 yards on average, which ranks 10th in the NFL. This week will be a major test as Jacksonville's Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew figure to run the ball until their feet fall off.
After sacking the quarterback only once during the first four games, the Saints have 10 sacks in their last three games and are doing more blitzing.
1. No finger pointing - Everywhere you turn, someone from a struggling team has popped off with a discouraging outlook about their team or the coaching staff.
Not for the Saints.
"The key is that we have a group of guys that are sticking together, wanting to fight their way out of it, and really approach it with each game you're playing that week and not look any further past that," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We're still in that position; we're still under .500, we're still looking up at teams in our division.
"We have a long way to go, but fortunately we have the type of guys in the locker room that understand that and put in a good day's work on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and prepare to play their best game possible. It doesn't always end up coming out that way, but you have to work on the corrections and you have to work hard during the week and we've been able to do that for the most part."
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