Think of the second quarter as the rock and the third as the hard place. Because once the New Orleans Saints have gotten opponents there this season, there has been no refuge for them.
Through five games New Orleans (5-0) has outscored opponents by a combined 78-24 in the middle quarters, substantially more lopsided than the combined advantage they've created in the first and fourth (56-49).
So the Saints have been anything but soft in the middle as they enter Sunday's game against New England (4-1) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
"I don't know that we ever set out each week and say, 'We've got to really feature the second and third quarter,' " Coach Sean Payton said. "We do talk about the fourth quarter, and finishing.
"There's a brief period at halftime that you have, very quickly, to talk about some adjustments you might make. But I don't' know that I could point to one thing in the second and third quarter. Hopefully, you're starting fast and you're finishing well. I've been pleased with the second halves in regard to being able to get off the field and the time of possession.
"There's been a handful of games this year where we've had to finish games and manage the clock the right way. I think we've been able to do that. But with regard to just specifically the second and third quarter, hopefully it can be the fourth quarter here three weeks from now, (the) same question (will be asked about lopsided scoring)."
!(http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/Jimmy-Graham-at-Chicago-Bears/76f8060a-c871-4a24-af4c-af2be421a35e "Jimmy Graham gallery")In fairness to the fourth quarter, which the Saints have won 26-22, Tampa Bay scored a touchdown off an interception return, Miami punched in a cosmetic score in a 38-17 loss and Chicago scored a touchdown with 2:11 remaining, and the Saints leading 26-10.
Otherwise, the fourth quarter close could be as impressive as the middle-round battering.
But the reason the fourth quarter scores have been relatively harmless – other than Tampa Bay's, which gave the Buccaneers a 14-13 lead – is because New Orleans has taken control in quarters 2 and 3.
The average advantage for the Saints in those periods almost is 11 points (15.6-4.8). The team's overall average margin of victory is 12.2, which means the lion's share of the gap has been created in the second and third quarters.
New Orleans scored both of its touchdowns in the second quarter against the Bears, and added a field goal in the third. The lead swelled from 6-0 to 23-10 during that time. In that game, New Orleans scored a touchdown on its final possession of the second quarter and a field goal on its first possession of the third.
But that's a small sampling. The Saints outscored Atlanta 20-7, outpaced Arizona 10-0 and blitzed Miami 28-7 in the middle quarters.
"There are definitely adjustments," All-Pro guard Jahri Evans said. "If you are us on offense, we come out our first drive, if it's a good drive and we're moving the chains and coming away with points, it's normally a seven-to eight-minute drive. So that leaves a defense not much time.
"You're getting one drive a quarter and your next drive is going to be in the next quarter and you're going to have some adjustments to where you know what they're doing now, the coaches know what they like, they get a feel for it. That could be a reason why.
"You do get stronger because you have a feel of how that guy is playing, what this linebacker is doing. That trickles down to everybody. You just get more plays that you see what's happening, so you can go out there and execute it better. You can be more aware of it."
Give the Saints high marks for adjustments and awareness, because the second and third quarters have been fruitful for the team.
For opponents, they've only been a rock and a hard place. And New Orleans has known exactly what to do once it has gotten them there.