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John DeShazier: Saints confident they can improve third-down numbers

Team's 38.1 percent conversion rate lower than normal

It's not a significant concern because, frankly, the New Orleans Saints haven't allowed it to be.

New Orleans (5-2) is on a five-game winning streak and Sunday against Tampa Bay (2-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it has a chance to post a six-game winning streak for the first time since the 2011 Saints won their final eight games of the regular season (and it won its wild card playoff game, before bowing out against San Francisco in the divisional round).

So the fact that the Saints haven't been very Saint-like on third down – a 38.1 percent conversion rate for the season, after going 2 of 9 against Chicago – hasn't been a substantial detriment. That, and the fact that they believe they know why the numbers aren't on par with what the team has become accustomed to seeing.

"It's not a huge concern because I think when you turn on the tape, we can identify the areas where we need to improve," quarterback Drew Breessaid Wednesday. "And we're working to do that."

There's time for the Saints to arrive at the destination they want to be in that regard. And it's a lofty destination.

New Orleans owned a 48.6-percent conversion rate on third down last season. In 2015, it was 47.7 percent. That's the neighborhood in which the Saints have become accustomed to residing: 48.3 in '14, 43.9 in '13, 44 in '12, 56.7 in '11, 48.8 in '10, 44.7 in '09, 48.5 in '08, 46.3 in '07 and 44.9 in '06.

The last time the Saints were below 40 percent – 38.9 – was in '05, the season before Brees was the team's marquee free agent signee and Sean Paytonwas hired as head coach.

Brees said the Saints aren't far from their previous efficiency levels.

"Hitting open receivers when they're open," he said, offering a remedy. "We probably had a chance for a touchdown or two on Sunday (against Chicago) if we just had a split second longer with what we're doing. It's just minor things. Minor things."

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