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John DeShazier: Saints offense focused on fixing red zone issues

New Orleans failed to convert at least 50 percent of its red zone opportunities just once last season

It's not a full-blown red alert, and it shouldn't be. Not two games into a season, and the percentages favoring a correction of the problem, and soon.

But there's a distinct foreignness to the New Orleans Saints offense failing to capitalize on red zone opportunities in victories over Atlanta and Tampa Bay. The Saints will host Arizona on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It's extremely uncommon for an offense as explosive as the Saints' – one that produced 31 or more points in half of its 16 games last season, and converted 68 percent of the time (39 for 57) in the red zone in 2012 – to struggle in scoring territory, converting just 1 of 7 times this season.

New Orleans failed to convert at least 50 percent of its red zone opportunities just once last season, going 1 for 3 against the Falcons in Game 12. Already in the first two games, the team is 1 for 3 and 0 for 4.


"We pride ourselves on being able to sustain drives and convert third downs and then punch it in the end zone in the red zone," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We've always been tops in the league in that regard. It's great when you get the big plays but you can't bank on that. You've got to be ready to sustain drives and be patient and all those things.

"I think it's just execution. On at least two occasions it's been penalties. You get a couple of penalties that set you back and the field is already compressed enough at that point. It's challenging enough to get five yards – much less 15 or 20 – when you set yourself back. We've got to do a better job of that.

"We've certainly had some opportunities and just haven't taken advantage of it yet. Eventually, that'll bite us if we don't fix it."

It didn't bite, but growled fairly menacingly against Tampa Bay. The Saints failed to convert on four red zone chances and overall, producing a field goal on drives that featured prime field position of first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line in the second quarter, first-and-10 at the Buccaneer 14 in the third, first-and-10 at Tampa Bay's 39 in the third and first-and-10 at the Bucs 25 in the fourth.
Kicker Garrett Hartley attempted four field goals in the game, converting three, including the game-winning 27-yarder as time expired.

"No. 1, we've got to be smart in regards to our penalties when we get inside the 5-yard line, particularly the goal line sequence last week," Coach Sean Payton said. "Those are plays we need to cash in on. We'll study that closely and make those corrections."

Odds are that the Saints will. An offense that has grown accustomed to producing bushels of points – the Saints scored 30 or more points 10 times in 2011, six times in 2010 and nine times in 2009 – likely will settle in and begin to do what it has done extremely well.

"That's the level that we expect ourselves to play at," Brees said of the Saints' offensive outbursts. "We haven't been at that level. I hope that it happens soon.

"We're averaging below 20 points per game (19.5), that's not what we're used to. We're used to being much better than that so there's a big sense of urgency around here.

"Despite the fact that we're 2-0, 2-0 in the division, we've won these games, (but) it's really just about a play here or a play there that could have gone the other way on us. So we need to make sure that we're cleaning those things up because it's only going to get more difficult. The margin for error is only going to get smaller."

And the Saints offense expects to play bigger, especially when it gets in the red zone.


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