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John DeShazier: Saints ready to respond to rough start

Payton: 'We’ve got to be able to toughen up and be a little bit more detailed in what we’re doing'

The fact that the New Orleans Saints offense, averaging 23.8 points through four games (tied for 11th in the NFL), isn't scoring at a rate that knowledgeable observers have grown accustomed to seeing since 2006 isn't attributable to the fact that it has lost track of how to cross the goal line.

Right now, it seems to have much to do with the fact that it's not maximizing its opportunities to do so, or is handing over those opportunities.

Scoring in the red zone isn't the problem; the Saints, so far, are 11 for 16 (69 percent) in that situation, fifth-best in the league. But New Orleans hasn't been able to stockpile those chances.

The Saints had six red-zone opportunities against Atlanta in the season opener. Since, though, they haven't topped four in a game.

Offensive possessions actually are equal. The Saints had 10 against the Falcons (including one in overtime) and Browns, eight against Minnesota and 11 against Dallas. Opponents also have 39 total possessions.

The rub? The Saints have committed seven turnovers, compared to one by their opponents. So while the Saints have earned one extra possession, they've provided six (one turnover was on the final kickoff against Cleveland, after time had expired).

Thus, it hasn't significantly mattered that the Saints' average starting position for drives has been their own 21-yard line. That hasn't been a problem so much as turnovers have lessened New Orleans' chances to score, and have helped give opponents just as many chances to do so.

"I don't think the starting position has been as challenging as just the lack of possessions," Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. "Going into last week's game, from an efficiency standpoint with the possessions, we were scoring when you look at the scoring efficiency.

"But the lack of opportunities is something that, when we get to talking about a complimentary game and trying to have more possessions, what contributes to that? Well, a turnover obviously does. It potentially takes away time off the clock and you lose a possession, if you will.

"Not getting off the field on third down defensively can contribute to that. That's part of some of the residuals of the things that we're talking about. All those things, they go hand in hand."

The hand that they've helped deal the Saints is a 1-3 record entering Sunday's game against Tampa Bay (1-3) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"I don't want to get too caught up in the statistics, because statistics don't always tell the story," Drew Brees said. "What's interesting, I'd say, is that in large part, statistically we are better this year offensively than we were last year at this point. The major difference is we were 4-0 last year, we're 1-3 this year. So obviously, it's not good enough.

"You're always looking for ways to improve. We can look at the first two games this year and say literally, those games came down to one play. So, had we made that play, the statistics would have looked the exact same and yet, we would've come up with the win as opposed to the loss. So the picture could be much different and yet, the statistics would be the same.

"I don't think you … we're not trying to create problems here. Just because everybody wants to know what the heck's going on, what's wrong, why are you guys 1-3, the sky is falling, oh my gosh.

"We're going to keep doing what we do. Yes, there are areas we can get better. But we're also going to continue on the path we started this offseason."

That path, Brees and his teammates believe, will lead them out of the current hole. Protecting the ball will play a role in that, as will third-down stops on defense.

"Every year in this league – you don't know when – you get hit in the mouth," Payton said. "Probably, each team at some point goes through a stretch and it's important that you respond. Right now, we've got to be able to do that.

"We've got to be able to toughen up and be a little bit more detailed in what we're doing, look closely at what we're doing during the week and how we're doing it. There's no secret to playing better; it's in the grind of preparation, it's in the details of getting ready to eliminate some of the things that we've been doing."

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