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John DeShazier: Saints offensive line getting the job done

Unit played one of its best games against Carolina

Commendations more frequently have begun to trickle in lately, and compliments more routinely extended toward an offensive line that has been the foundation of one of the NFL's most productive offenses.

Remember when the concern was that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was going to be sacked until he was physically unrecognizable? Well, the line that surrendered 20 sacks in the first eight games (2.5 per game) has helped cut that number to six in the last five games (1.2).

The lane-creators who saw the Saints produce two 100-yard rushing games and two games with an average carry of above four yards in the first eight games? They're the same guys who have seen the Saints produce two 100-yard rushing games, and four games with a per-carry average of at least four yards, in the last five games.

The crowning achievement was against Dallas – 625 yards, 242 rushing yards and an NFL-record 40 first downs.

The Saints are 10-3 entering Sunday's road game in St. Louis against the Rams (5-8) in the Edward Jones Dome due to a great many standout performers. Count the offensive linemen among them, for a team that averages 394.3 yards per game (sixth in the league), six yards on 856 plays, has converted 45.7 percent of its third-down attempts and averages 26.4 points per game (tied for seventh).

"I think they've done a great job collectively the whole season, but I don't know if want to start singling out games," Brees said. "They've had many great games this year.

"The Dallas game with over 250 yards rushing, 625 yards of total offense and 40 first downs – that was all those guys. There have been a lot of ones like that. But last week (against Carolina), taking into consideration the short week and all they did, I thought they did a great job."

They'll have to carry it over to Sunday.

The Rams have 38 sacks (tied for seventh in the league). At home, they've held four opponents to three or fewer touchdowns and overall, they've forced 24 turnovers.

"Their whole defensive front, including their defensive ends, (Chris) Long and (Robert) Quinn have done a great job all year long of getting pressure on the quarterback," Brees said. "They are a great tandem, one of the best in the league.

"They have some young talent in the secondary, a lot of young guys, but they play with good instincts and they have good ball skills. The linebackers are led by James Laurinitis, who is an extremely smart, tough guy. You can see him running the show out there, getting everyone lined up, making the checks, (and) all that stuff. You know he's an extremely tough guy. You put all those things together and it makes a pretty formidable defense."

But the Rams understand the challenge that will be presented by the Saints, especially considering how well the offensive line has been playing.

The Monday night game in Seattle, in which the offense had 188 yards and one touchdown in a 34-7 loss, has been this season's outlier. Otherwise the Saints offense' hasn't had fewer than 347 yards and six times has posted at least three touchdowns.

"Well, Drew (Brees) does a good job of moving in the pocket," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "He might not be the fastest guy in the world but he has adequate speed. What he has is a really good understanding of just trying to move a little more subtlety in the pocket, not looking to run, but to avoid the rush.

"Their offensive line is a good/great. They are really solid and they play the run as well as they do the pass. That is going to be a big challenge and I know their guards (Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs) get a lot of praise, but their tackles I think do a pretty good job too.

"Charles (Brown) has done a nice job stepping in at that left side and my guy (Zach Strief) has been there a while.  I can remember watching tape of him throughout my career but I haven't played him yet or maybe I played him in 2010. It seems like a half a decade ago, which it almost was. He has been there forever. They are a good group and when you have a quarterback like that it makes everyone around you better."

And vice versa – improved play on the offensive line makes everyone better, too.

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