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Red zone play needs to improve

Pick an area – any area – and it's difficult to find one (the punting by Thomas Morstead, perhaps, or the field goal kicking of Wil Lutz) in which the New Orleans Saints likely were totally pleased against Minnesota in the season opener. There was a lot of cleaning up to do entering their home opener Sunday against New England in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Here are a few areas where the Saints hope that the cleaning will take hold:

  1. That wasn't the red zone offensive production from the Saints that we've grown accustomed to seeing since 2006. New Orleans was 1 for 5 in the red zone against the Vikings (four field goals and a touchdown). That's not to slight Minnesota – the Vikings have had a formidable defense for years, and look to have another good one in 2017. But the Saints' offensive efficiency obviously has to improve in the red zone. Kicking field goals, versus scoring touchdowns, isn't a recipe for success and no one knows that better than New Orleans. An additional two red zone conversions really would've made a difference, and that'll be among the top priorities against the Patriots.
  1. On the flip side, the Saints defense simply has to figure out a way to get off the field. The Vikings had a 64 percent conversion rate (9 for 14) on third down, including two third-and-5s, two third-and-6s and two third-and-9s. That's the lack of execution in situational football that plagued the Saints last year, and that they've been trying to eliminate. And the Vikings converted 3 of 6 times in the red zone. One more stop really would've made a difference. Hopefully, improved communication will help solve some of the issues and the Saints better will be able to take advantage when they're in a favorable down-and-distance. Also, defensively, New Orleans picked up three personal fouls (by safety Marcus Williams, linebacker Alex Anzalone and safety Kenny Vaccaro). Aggression is good, but they'll have to play smarter.
  1. If the Saints have as little success harassing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as they did Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford, the home opener could be a long afternoon. Defensive end Cam Jordan (a sack, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, a holding penalty forced and a pass defensed) was his usual disruptive self. But he can't be a lone wolf against Brady. His pressures were the only ones recorded by the Saints against Bradford. Brady is far more accomplished and dangerous than the Vikings quarterback who completed 84.4 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns, on Monday. The Saints have to force some discomfort consistently.
  1. The offensive line didn't have a banner day against Minnesota. The Vikings had a lot of say in that, but the run game wasn't there for the Saints (21 carries for 60 yards, with a long run of 9) and now the line will have to go forth Sunday without veteran right tackle Zach Strief, who injured his knee against the Vikings. The line already hadn't had a ton of work as a unit before the season opener (center Max Unger missed offseason workouts and most of training camp and preseason while recovering from a foot injury and surgery, and rookie left tackle Ryan Ramczyk also missed time with an injury during training camp), and now it will face the Patriots with a new starter at right tackle. Good thing the Saints have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, who will help compensate for some of the shortcomings with quick throws and manipulation of the Patriots' defense.
  1. When the opportunity presents itself, sometimes you simply have to make a play. The Saints had a few chances to do so against Minnesota (Jordan's near interception, a forced fumble by linebacker A.J. Klein that they couldn't recover, a 52-yard pass from Brees to Tommylee Lewis that got the Saints to first-and-goal from the 8, but wasn't the touchdown that was needed). There will be more chances against the Patriots; New Orleans has to cash in when the times come.
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