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John DeShazier: Saints looking for an increase in offensive production vs. Steelers

Payton: ' I want to see us run the ball better'

Fan photos at Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon on August 24, 2016 in Metairie.

Admittedly, the New Orleans Saints didn't install an offensive gameplan for New England or Houston, their first two preseason opponents. And having had two days of practice against both the Patriots and Texans, prior to the preseason game, helped increase the chances of a rocky offensive performance.

But that doesn't mean New Orleans is "OK" with not having played well offensively.

The Saints want to see an increase in productivity there, beginning with Friday's preseason game against Pittsburgh in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"I want to see our first offense be better," Coach Sean Payton said. "I want to see us play better in the front, and I want to see us run the ball better. The third-down numbers have been solid, but I would say that's important.

"There's a handful of position battles – it's still selecting that right group for the 53. And I would say there's a number of spots, much like with the kicker, where in deciding a player – (the factors are) how's he going to help us in the kicking game? How many snaps do we envision him getting? Is he going to be active Week 1?

"Whether it's in the back end defensively, defensive front, some of those offensive line positons, running back position – there's a handful of spots, you're hoping in the third preseason game that you can see some guys step up."

Running back Mark Ingram said it's important that the first-team offense operate smoothly because, historically, this will be the last chance it gets to do so in preseason.

"Around the league, the third game is the game where your starters play the most and you really want to get a sense of what you're going to be getting Week 1," he said. "You want to have everything clicking, everything on cylinders individually and as a team because usually, as a team, the fourth game is where you sit your guys and you let your roster guys competing for spots (go out and perform).

"So it's definitely a point of emphasis for the guys to go out there and be sharp, be crisp and be productive because the majority amount of the league in the fourth game, your starters don't play.

"It's huge for us that we have to go out there and we have to put it on film. Our first two games, we haven't accomplished what we want to accomplish as far as being explosive and moving the ball. But our first two weeks, we practiced against two teams so they kind of knew what we were going to run. But that's not an excuse – no matter what the other team does you're supposed to be able to execute and be productive, no matter how vanilla the gameplan may be."

Vanilla or not, the offensive showing against Houston (260 yards and three field goals in a 16-9 loss) left Payton searching his memory for the last time he'd seen the offense similarly sputter. And quarterback Drew Brees said that, possibly, the installation of a gameplan for a specific opponent may help cure the concern.

"We want to look sharp," Brees said. "We haven't game-planned at all for New England or Houston. You practice against them a bit but then you're just calling a lot of the same stuff that you're just continuing to install, not so much based upon what they're doing to you.

"I think the third game is the time where you're watching a little more film, you're able to kind of fine-tune a little bit more of what you're doing based upon how they're going to defend you. Kind of like, we prepare in a very short period of time to play this game as if it was a regular-season game."

Payton said he expects a sharper look for his offense and quarterback.

"Typically, in that (quarterback) position, there are a lot of things that have to function well for him to function well," Payton said. "One of the challenges of evaluating the quarterback during preseason is sometimes, you're trying to get a good evaluation in the second half and maybe there's a guy that's struggling in protection and you get an incomplete evaluation.

"But we're expecting to play guys for a good half and I see our first group, both sides of the ball, playing the first half. Just that overall, efficient operation, his tempo that he's used to (that) others have to quickly get up to speed with, moving the ball and scoring. I know he's looking forward to this game, for a good reason."

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