To paraphrase New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette, the privilege of rushing the quarterback is a status that's earned by stopping the run. By that measure, New Orleans has slipped in terms of earning the privilege, especially in the last two games.
During New Orleans' two-game losing streak, which dropped the Saints' record to 4-6 entering their Monday night game against Baltimore in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints allowed 144 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries to San Francisco in a 27-24 loss, then 186 yards on 36 carries to Cincinnati in a 27-10 loss.
By contrast, when the Saints won three of their previous four games prior to the losses, they were significantly more stout against the run: 21 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown allowed against Tampa Bay; 24 rushes for 59 yards and a score against Detroit; 19 for 89 and a touchdown against Green Bay; and 23 carries for 109 yards and a score to Carolina.
The Ravens (6-4) will try their luck Monday night with Justin Forsett (133 carries for 721 yards and five touchdowns). The Saints know that, as usual, putting together a solid defensive performance will begin there.
"Just dial in and not allow so many tackles to slip up," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "Even when we had good fits for the most part, we still weren't perfect, and that's what we have to strive for. That being said, we have to focus on who has what alignments, what assignments, and really stick to it."
Saints defenders always preach being gap-sound, setting the edge, maintaining fits, etc. That could especially hold true for the Ravens, who have rode Forsett's legs to the 10th-best rushing attack (124.1 yards per game) in the league.
Forsett is having the best of his seven NFL seasons. He already has single-season career highs in rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns and yards per game, having stepped in for the Ravens when Ray Rice was suspended and later released.
The Saints intend to be particularly attentive to detail in order to attempt to prevent the kind of slip they experienced against Cincinnati. Jeremy Hill's 62-yard run, on second-and-12 from the Bengals' 14-yard line and on the next-to-last play of the first half, inflated Cincinnati's numbers. The Bengals ran for 124 yards on their other 35 carries.
"A guy hits a 62-yard run right before half, obviously the numbers go from 3.5 (yards per carry) to 10.5," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Saturday. "But we're a sound defense and that's just the way it is. We're going to be tested by this stretch running game, they're famous for it. It's going to be wider than we think, it's something that you never see until the game time. You can't exactly give the same look that you're going to get in the game. That's always difficult.
"But we have solid players up there that are going to do a good job and stopping the run is obviously important. But sometimes you change, you play more split-safety (on defense), so it looks statistically a little worse. But you have to play that sometimes, and we do play a lot of split-safety."
However the Saints align defensively, the understanding is that Baltimore's run has to be stopped. First complete that task, and the privilege of doing more opens wider.