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John DeShazier: Sean Payton keeping Saints focused on protecting the ball

Saints are 34-1 under Payton when they don't have a turnover

Ever wonder why New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton takes a sledgehammer approach with regard to nailing home the point that his team needs to take care of the football?

He has numbers on his side to support the assertion that when the Saints hang on – as in, no turnovers committed, which was the case in their most recent victory, a 31-21 win over Atlanta on Oct. 15 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – they're just about unbeatable.

And when they don't…well, the stairs to victory are steeper and seemingly coated in oil.

"We're 34-1 when we don't have a turnover," Payton said. "Now, that seems pretty simple and clear and you say, 'Hey, we're just not going to turn the ball over.' But you've got to take the snap, and you've got to throw the football to convert the third down.

"But it helps you realize that at some point in games, punting is not a bad thing. In other words, (turnovers is) a vital statistic of focus and it still – each year, each team, college, high school, NFL – correlates to wins and losses better than any.

"We talked about it just (Thursday) morning. Since 2006, when we have zero giveaways, the following week we're 15-19 and we average 1.6 giveaways. That focus, from one week to the next, on the road obviously in a loud environment, that's going to be important and we've got to pay attention to that."

As in, on the road Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, in Lucas Oil Stadium, in a game between two teams – the 2-4 Saints and 3-3 Colts – that are running out of room for error in the standings.

And if there is a requirement for specific example of what Payton is referring to, try this: after a turnover-free, 26-20 overtime victory over Dallas in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Oct. 4, the Saints followed up with a four-turnover, 39-17 loss to Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field a week later.

Last year, New Orleans' zero-turnover, 20-9 home win over the Vikings was followed the next game by its three-turnover, 38-17 road loss to the Cowboys. The recipe even worked in reverse regarding venue: The Saints didn't turn over the ball in a 35-32 win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and lost 41-10 to the Panthers in the Superdome the next week while committing two turnovers.

The last time the Saints followed a no-turnover game with a win was in the 2013 season. They were clean in a 42-17 home victory over Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale, and beat Philadelphia 26-24 in the wild-card game to give the franchise its first road playoff victory, a game the Saints won despite committing two turnovers.

The Saints' win over the Falcons helped them knock Atlanta (5-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten, and was assisted by three turnovers forced by the defense.

"If you can possess the ball without turning it over, the percentages go up in winning, especially how our defense was getting turnovers in that game," right guard Jahri Evans said.

But for the Saints, the hard part after producing a turnover-free game has been to do the same thing again. They haven't been able to follow up a non-turnover win with another victory since 2013. They'll be hoping Sunday to update the ledger with another mark in the "W" column.

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