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Improved offensive line play helped trigger New Orleans Saints winning streak

"Communication has probably been the best thing that we've done over these past few weeks"

Saints 36- Bears 25 (W) 6-1

2019 New Orleans Saints
All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert
Saints 36- Bears 25 (W) 6-1 2019 New Orleans Saints All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert

No one needed to say a word to New Orleans Saints offensive linemen Sept. 15, after a 27-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at L.A. Memorial Coliseum evened New Orleans' record at 1-1.

And no one really needs to say a word now, entering Sunday's game against Arizona in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and with the Saints on a five-game winning streak, since the line has begun to do exactly what it was expected to do from the start.

The first two games of the season weren't a harbinger, even though one of them was a victory. But the loss – that was the one that garnered the undivided attention of the linemen, too.

True, Drew Brees tore a thumb ligament on his throwing hand in the first quarter, which was unsettling for an offense that always had been able to count on seeing Brees taking snaps. And the Rams had a formidable defensive front, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Donald's hand-to-hand contact on a Brees throw was the strike that tore Brees' ligament).

But that totally didn't explain the line performing in a way that was about as uncharacteristic as could be.

Two sacks and three quarterback hits allowed, and five holding penalties – one declined – wasn't a welcome addition to the resume, and Coach Sean Payton noting that the team was beaten up front wasn't a motivational ploy.

The fact now, though, is this: During the five-game winning streak for New Orleans (6-1), the offensive line has had flashes of dominance, including in Sunday's 36-25 victory over Chicago.

"I just think it's all part of the progression, preparation," left tackle Terron Armstead said. "Communication has probably been the best thing that we've done over these past few weeks that's helped us in a lot of areas, a lot of pre-snap things that have been beneficial for us."

"I don't know if there's something that happened that turned anything around or anything like that," right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said. "I think progressively, we have been getting better each week and kind of just gelling.

"I know there were a few kinks early with our silent cadence and communication, and stuff like that. I think we've done a lot better job recently of communicating with each other and being on the same page. I think that contributes to the success."

The success has looked like this: 424 yards, including 151 rushing, and a time of possession of 37:26 against Chicago in a victory that was much more lopsided than the final score. And 93 second-half rushing yards, with time of possession at 33:09, against Jacksonville in a 13-6 win.

Also, against Tampa Bay, 457 yards on offense, 33:27 time of possession and no sacks allowed (a 31-24 win), and against Dallas in a 12-10 victory, 4.3 yards per carry and 36:04 in time of possession.

Likely, though, the Chicago victory was the crown jewel of the run, with the Saints exerting a physical domination over a team – a defense, in particular – that prides itself on doing the exerting.

"I thought (Sunday) was one of their better games, against a good front," Payton said. "I felt like we did a good job of neutralizing the pass rush to some extent, and it's obviously a difficult team to do that against, and I thought we ran the ball pretty efficiently. I was encouraged. I thought that was going to be an important part of winning that game."

The Saints, in fact, have figured out how to win any type of game, and much of the credit on offense lies with the offensive line, which adapted to the way games currently are being officiated; to a new quarterback, in Teddy Bridgewater; and to a new starter, in rookie center Erik McCoy.

"A lot of communication goes between a quarterback and center, and then changing quarterbacks – and losing a guy like (center) Max Unger, who'd been in this league for so long, the experience of seeing things before it happens," Armstead said. "But then just working with Erik; he's been great. He's been in his book, he's been taking all the reps and just gaining experience, so every week he's better and better."

"When you insert a new center and you're starting off the season and playing a new quarterback, that can impact not only the center and the quarterback position, but that can impact the other four guys in the front relative to your cadence, relative to what you're wanting to do with your scheme, run or pass," Payton said.

"I just know each series finishes and you can sense a confidence in how they're playing. I think we've got tremendous leadership there with Terron and (right guard) Larry (Warford) and Ryan and (left guard) Andrus (Peat) – those guys have all been experienced, good players and I just felt that during the game (Sunday)."

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