Now, we have a pretty fair representation of what the New Orleans Saints (3-5) can look like when all three units operate cleanly, without turnovers and an excess of penalties. The 24-0 victory over the Raiders was evidence of it. Now, can they produce another serving of it on national television, on Monday night in the Caesars Superdome against Baltimore (5-3)?
Here are a few ways it can happen, and they're probably going to look and sound familiar:
1. BOX HIM IN: Somehow, the Saints' defense has to force Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to do his damage with his arm, and not his legs. That has been borderline impossible for most NFL defenses in Jackson’s career; he leads the Ravens this season with 553 yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries (and has completed 148 of 235 passes for 1,635 yards and 15 touchdowns, with six interceptions). He's going to escape the pocket and make a drive-extending run or two, or one that he gains 15 yards even after the defense does just about everything right. Still, though, he can't be allowed to have everything, and if he can be surrounded and confined, and his run game can be limited, New Orleans will take its chances with that. It worked against the Raiders, when Las Vegas was limited to 38 rushing yards. It possibly can work again against the Ravens.
2. RUN D: The Ravens average 165.6 rushing yards per game, second most in the league. So, it's not just Jackson, though it begins with him and the threat he poses. But the Saints have to be able to smother it all. New Orleans has had its issues defending the run this season, but it appeared to get back on track a bit last Sunday. Defensive end Cameron Jordan said the entire front seven needs to play well in this one, and he's absolutely correct.
3. FEED A.K.: In the past four games, Saints running back Alvin Kamara has had 99 touches on offense (for 581 yards and three touchdowns), the most touches he has had over a four-game stretch in his NFL career. Not coincidentally, the Saints have split the four games while averaging 31 points and 425 yards. Kamara is New Orleans' best offensive player and while the Saints obviously don't want to overwork him, he has to remain involved and a central figure. The Ravens allow just 97.5 rushing yards per game (the Saints run for 141), but only four teams surrender more than the 266.8 per game that Baltimore gives up. Kamara in the passing game will be as vital as Kamara in the running game.
4. HELP WANTED: Kamara in the passing game is crucial because again, he might provide the most help for rookie receiver Chris Olave Kamara has 28 catches in the last four games. Jarvis Landry, who has missed the previous four games, is listed as questionable, so hopefully Tre'Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway can provide the production that helps alleviate the pressure on Olave and Kamara, who combined to catch 14 of Andy Dalton's 23 completions against the Raiders.
5. RIDE THE WAVE: It's Monday night inside the Superdome. It's going to be loud. New Orleans' job is to make sure that it stays loud, so the Saints have to keep the fans engaged and the rest will take care of itself. We've seen the Saints ride the wave of emotion to dominant heights on Monday nights, but the two elements – an electric fan base and spectacular play – are dependent upon one another.