In virtually the football equivalent of an eye blink, the New Orleans Saints are back to level in turnover margin.
After five games, the Saints were minus-5 in turnover ratio (10 giveaways, five takeaways). In the last two, they were plus-5 (six takeaways, one giveaway). Not at all coincidentally, the Saints (3-4) won consecutive games for the first time this season, and are poised to construct their first three-game winning streak since Games 9-11 in 2013 if they can defeat the New York Giants on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In New Orleans' first five games, its only victory came in a turnover-free game against Dallas.
In the last two, it was turnover-free against Atlanta and only gave it up once against Indianapolis, while forcing six (four fumble recoveries and two interceptions).
The evening of the scales has been sparked by a defense that has been relentless and opportunistic in the last two games.
There have been hustle plays (linebacker Dannell Ellerbe chasing down Atlanta running back Tevin Coleman to force a fumble at the Saints' 9-yard line to prevent a Falcons score), schematic wins (rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony stepping into the passing lane and tipping to himself Andrew Luck's pass attempt) and one-on-one triumphs (defensive end Cam Jordan beating his block, sacking Atlanta's Matt Ryan, stripping the ball and recovering it to seal the victory).
Couple that with the offense's ability to hold on to the ball, and it has been a bountiful harvest for New Orleans.
"The first thing is the noticeable spike defensively," Coach Sean Payton said. "There are a couple of things that lead to it, I think. When you're getting the hurries, the pressures and the sack production, that number offensively typically goes up, and I am talking about for opponents.
"The challenging thing in our league, offensively, is if you're struggling in early downs with your running game and with protections, the degree of difficulty the quarterback has in throwing the football (goes up). I think the other thing is that our players are doing a better job of getting in a position to punch a ball, strip a ball or take a ball away. That is hard to do, in relation to population to the football. (You) get there and it might happen 11 times and it is not until your 12th time that you chase one down and end up having some success.
"On the other side, offensively…the focal point in how teams are playing defensively, and this team is no different – this team (New York Giants) is sixth in the NFL in takeaways and they lead the NFL in forced fumbles. How teams are playing, with regards to keeping a ball carrier up, populating to the ball and having one (player) grab and one pull, it has really changed a little bit, (with regards to) your mind-set and when you're running with the ball in the open field, and then what you want to do when you're getting tackled by more than one player.
"It is just something that has been a big point of emphasis and I would say that after a few weeks, it became a bigger one with us. It is good news that it is trending that way and it is going to have to continue if we're going to continue to want to have success."
It's a trend that the Saints couldn't develop last season, when they finished minus-13 (17 takeaways, 30 giveaways).
"We've made a big emphasis of it," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We do every week. That includes the way that we practice, the way that we talk about it, the emphasis we put on it going into games so that we understand, just statistically, how much it benefits us when we're able to protect the ball offensively and take it away defensively. Any time we're in the plus category our chances of winning go way, way up."