The drop-off in production for the injury-ravaged unit which largely carried the team to its success last season has been striking, singled out as possibly the most significant reason for a sub-.500 record entering Sunday's game in the Caesars Superdome.
That's been the story this season for the offense of the Los Angeles Rams (3-6), the reigning Super Bowl champions. The unit has a kindred spirit in the defense of the New Orleans Saints (3-7), who will look to end a two-game losing streak Sunday.
But the Saints expect the best from the Rams, who will play their first game without star receiver Cooper Kupp, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2021 and Super Bowl LVI MVP.
"With their injuries, I think you've seen some of the guys that they had success with last year," Saints co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. "But they've still got a lot of similar pieces.
"They can be an explosive offense, they've got a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, they've got some wideouts that can still catch the ball and some of their offensive linemen that started last year are playing in our game. (But) again, it's not about them, it's about what we do. And so the focus has just been on our fundamentals, our focus and the execution of the game plan."
The planning will center on an offense that significantly has dipped in points (27 per game last season, to 16.4 this year), total yards (373.2 to 282.7) and passing yards (277.5 to 214.6). Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who last year passed for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, has 1,928 yards and eight touchdowns, with eight interceptions this season.
Stafford, who returns to the lineup after missing the Arizona game due to concussion protocol, was sacked 30 times in 17 games last season, compared to 28 in eight games this year.
"I think for the most part in this league, you have to have guys that are backups that are able to come in and play," Saints defensive lineman Kentavius Street said. "It's just kind of part of the game. Everybody deals with it at some point.
"I think we do a really good job – D.A. (Coach Dennis Allen), Coach Nielsen and all the other coaches we have on the team – just having everyone prepared.
"I think the most important thing for us right now is just go out there and have fun. How things have been going the last few weeks, it's easy to get down on the team and on yourself. But at the end of the day, you've got to wipe away this last week, enjoy this game, have fun, go out there and make plays."
Street, a San Francisco 49er in his first three seasons, played five games against the Rams as NFC West Division rivals.
"I have to give them credit, they have a really athletic offensive front and you don't really see that a lot in this league," said Street, who had three tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and seven tackles in the five games. "Their ability to move side to side, change direction, pick up blitzes, pass on pass rusher games – and they play very smart."
Smart play is an element the Saints endeavor to incorporate defensively, too. With tight end Tyler Higbee (44 catches for 385 yards) and receiver Allen Robinson (29 catches, 292 yards and two touchdowns) as the new leading receivers, safety P.J. Williams said New Orleans has to be aware of how the Rams will approach without Kupp.
"Everybody knows he's a huge part of their offense," Williams said. "But we're sure they're going to put certain people in certain places to be able to do his job, so we've got to be on the lookout for that and see where they're placing people and what jobs they're doing, to be able to figure out how they're going to account for the things he does."
Still, Nielsen said, the primary focus is in-house.
"I think if you focus too much on them, you kind of lose a little bit of the focus on yourself," he said. "And so, it's really been this week about how we can attack them with the guys that we have in our package, and not just invent this new defense that we've never practiced before.
"We've made some changes, just a few tweaks. Not a whole-scale change, just a few little things. Practice was good today, they had good juice. They had good juice (Wednesday). And so, you can feel the confidence in doing the same thing over and over, but with the addition of a couple of new things."