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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints offense hitting its stride

Unit began to click in 31-7 victory over Cardinals

There was no grand pronouncement that all was well and every offensive ill had been cured for the New Orleans Saints after their 31-7 victory over Arizona on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

But after the closest approximation this season of what has become the norm for New Orleans' offense, there was no doubt that the needle moved in the right direction, toward the high-octane sector of the efficiency meter.

The Saints (3-0, and one of three undefeated NFC teams) posted single-game highs in points, touchdowns (four), rushing yards (104), first downs (27), red-zone efficiency (3 for 5), third-down efficiency (7 for 13), yards (423) and time of possession (35:31).

Granted, it only was the third game of the young season. But for an offense that had produced 39 points in the first two games, and had gone 1 for 7 in the red zone, it was a welcome barrage of 17 points in the second half, and 31 unanswered after the Cardinals scored a touchdown on the opening drive.

That gave the Saints the balance they'd lacked in the first two games.

"I believe so," quarterback Drew Brees said, when asked if he believed the team is beginning to form an identity.

[internal-link-placeholder-0]"We will continue to build that and watch that grow as the season goes on. While there are a lot of familiar faces who have been in the program for some time, we have some new players who are playing some pretty significant roles on the team.

"I think it is just a matter of time on task and coming together. It's not until you start playing games and battling together and finding ways to win, fight through adversity, counting on each other and all of those things that you find out about your team."

What the Saints learned Sunday was that they still have the ability to score, and to do so in a variety of ways and speeds.

There was an 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted 3:45. And a 58-yard touchdown drive that lasted 136 seconds.

The field-goal drive, which traveled 67 yards in eight plays, took 3:48 off the clock and the third TD drive, 39 yards in seven plays, consumed just 138 seconds.

Finally, the last score was a 12-play, 63-yard march that lasted 6:31. In comparison, Arizona had possession for 8:13 of the entire second half.

The scoring binge was helped by New Orleans' improved execution in the red zone.

"We had the explosive plays that we're used to," Coach Sean Payton said. "It was the type of game, once it started to unfold, it was going to be a game of opportunities in regard to man-to-man coverage.

"So typically, your passing efficiency and maybe completion percentage are different than it would be against a zone team and yet, you have the ability to hit some big plays, which we were able to do."

One of the biggest was a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Robert Meachem to tie the score at 7-7 with 5:28 left in the first quarter. Meachem, a Saint from 2007-11 before signing with the Chargers as a free agent last year, was released by San Diego on Aug. 31 and signed by the Saints on Sept. 3.

"He's running well and we feel like we've got a pretty good handle on the things he does well, and it's good to have him back," Payton said.

"We felt like once he got comfortable with the system, his speed was something that we thought was a big plus and his size - he's a good blocker and someone who can make a play above his head."

It's the play-making the Saints have come to expect offensively, the kind they manufactured Sunday.

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