The New Orleans Saints still are seeking their first victory of the season. This road game, against the San Diego Chargers, carries with it the added dimension of it being the first time that Drew Breeshas played in Qualcomm Stadium, his home NFL stadium from 2001-05, since he joined the Saints in 2006. Here are a few things to look for that could help the Saints win:
- After allowing 217 yards, three touchdowns and a per-carry average of seven yards to the Falcons on "Monday Night Football," the Saints obviously know that the Chargers will look to exploit the run defense. New Orleans is allowing a league-high 149.3 rushing yards per game, on five yards per carry. Hopefully, the returns of defensive tackle Tyeler Davisonand safety Kenny Vaccaro(each missed the Atlanta game due to injuries) will help, as well as a more disciplined approach (maintaining gap integrity, etc.). Coach Sean Paytondidn't shy away from the fact that the front seven played poorly against the Falcons in the run game. San Diego would be derelict if it didn't attack the Saints on the ground, primarily with second-year back Melvin Gordon; New Orleans has to prove that it can dissuade that approach and linebackers James Laurinaitisand Craig Robertsoncould be key.
- The special teams units have been unpredictable through three games, and not in a good way. A field-goal attempt was deflected in the season opener, and another was blocked and returned for a touchdown in Game 2. A punt return attempt was botched in Game 3, and a long kickoff return was allowed. New Orleans simply needs a solid game in this phase. The one constant so far has been the outstanding punting of Thomas Morstead, but the consistency must extend beyond that. This would be a good week for that unit to play a clean game.
- Despite the injury challenges along the offensive line – left tackle Terron Armsteadand left guard Senio Kelemeteare out, replaced by Andrus Peatand Senio Kelemete, respectively – the unit has been pretty solid. The Saints lead the league in passing (341.7 yards per game) and are third in total offense (423 yards), and the accumulation hasn't been in the form of comeback, cosmetic yards. But the vast majority of that production came in two home games; against the Giants at MetLife Stadium, the Saints had 288 yards of offense in that defensive slugfest. While the offensive production may not rise to the level of the 33 points New Orleans has averaged at home, it obviously needs to be better than the 13 it scored against New York. The line's protection for Brees, and its ability to create running lanes, will go a long way toward that.
- Now that Saints fans have seen some of the things that tight end Coby Fleeneris capable of in the passing game, they'll want to see more. So, too, will his teammates, because Fleener's presence and production is a critical element. As Drew Breesreceives more and more attention, it'll be up to others to take advantage and, hopefully, draw some of the focus away from Cooks. That won't happen unless Fleener and receivers like Mike Thomasand Brandon Colemancan make defenses pay. The return of Drew Breesshould be a boost; he had 226 receiving yards and a couple of touchdown receptions in the first two games.
- All downplaying aside, Brees admitted that he'll feel a little extra juice for this one. He hasn't played in Qualcomm since he left the Chargers, and he wants to play well upon his return. Does that mean he'll be pressing early, trying to make something happen? Or will he remain composed? What he, and the Saints, want to do is avoid an early mistake that will put them in a hole and have them playing from behind. And the Saints, obviously, need to avoid an 0-4 start.