The New Orleans Saints have put in a little bit more, and gotten out a lot more in a couple of areas that had been deficient, but experienced a striking rise in production over the last several games.
The Saints (7-7) will look to continue the efficiency when they play the Los Angeles Rams (7-7) at SoFi Stadium on Thursday night in Inglewood, Calif.
The spots that desperately needed to be addressed – red zone offense and defensive pass rush – were, and likely will have to remain that way in order for New Orleans to win its third consecutive game.
In the red zone, the Saints have scored touchdowns on nine of their last 10 trips over three games – five passes by quarterback Derek Carr (three to tight end Jimmy Graham) and four runs (three by Alvin Kamara one from Taysom Hill) – after starting the season 17 for 40 in the first 11 games.
The shift began with an increased emphasis on the red zone in practice.
"I think we've done a really good job of executing down there in the red area," Coach Dennis Allen said Monday. "Guys have been a lot more precise in exactly what we're doing. I think we've run the ball better down there, and we've taken advantage of some opportunities in the passing game.
"To be honest, we've even increased more our emphasis on that area. You kind of get what you emphasize, and I think the extra amount of practice that we've spent on the red zone has been good for us."
The increase happened as the Saints added red zone work in Thursday practices to what they already were doing on Friday.
"Differing philosophies across the league," Allen said. "When I was with John Fox in Denver (Fox was Broncos head coach from 2011-14, Allen was his defensive coordinator in 2011), we did do a little bit of red zone on Thursdays, and then the main day for red zone was on Friday. All the years here with Sean (Payton), we did red zone on Friday, we didn't work on it on Thursdays.
"I just think it's different philosophies. Obviously, it was an area that we felt like, we've got to figure this out. We can't keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
"It was something we'd done defensively a couple of years back when we felt like we needed to improve in that area, so we really kind of incorporated it amongst the whole team. I really think both sides of the team have benefited from it."
As for the pass rush, which entered the Carolina game with just 19 sacks in 12 games, New Orleans has stacked up 11 sacks over the last eight quarters, including three by defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon, 2.5 by linebacker Demario Davis and two from rookie defensive tackle Bryan Bresee.
A key addition to the rush has been linebacker Zack Baun, who has a sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits in the last three games, filling in on third downs for defensive end Cam Jordan, who has been slowed by an ankle injury.
"I think Zack Baun being involved in some of our sub-package, rush stuff – I think he's helped out a lot," Allen said. "I know specifically last week, Tanoh working inside – he did a really nice job rushing inside. And we've changed some things up, we've gone and had some four-man rush, we've got some three-man rush, just changing up the looks in terms of what we're giving them. And I think that's all been beneficial."
HOPEFUL: That was the word Allen used when referring to whether cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and receiver Michael Thomas (knee) would be able to return this season. Both are eligible to return to practice this week from injured reserve,
"They're both in the rehab process," Allen said. "Exactly where they're at, I can't tell you exactly where they're at (in rehab). I don't expect the practice window to open, so we'll just keep going through the rehab process and see how it goes. Hopefully, if either one of them is at a position where we feel like they can begin to practice, we'll open up that window."