The New Orleans Saints still are searching for that complete game in all three phases. At one time or another, each has faltered just enough to help prevent victory. On Sunday, in the Caesars Superdome against the Las Vegas Raiders (2-4), the Saints (2-5) need them all to perform cleanly in order to snap a two-game losing streak.
1. DON'T PLAY GIVEAWAY: We've said this a lot this season, and it's no less important this week than any other. Andy Dalton threw three interceptions against Arizona – one in the end zone and two that were returned for touchdowns – and that was more than enough to offset his four touchdowns and 361 passing yards in a 42-34 loss. They weren't all his fault, but no matter; they're attributed to him, and they have to be eliminated. Moving the ball hasn't been a problem for New Orleans since Dalton joined the starting lineup four games ago (31 points and 417 yards per game during that stretch), which is why he has been named starter for the foreseeable future. But protecting the ball is paramount. Opponents have scored four defensive touchdowns against New Orleans this season, an alarmingly high number through seven games.
2. FRONT AND CENTER: It's no secret that the defense hasn't played to the level it believes it can and should. Allowing 28.6 points per game, second-most in the league, doesn't fit any definition of elite. It'll remain that way if the Saints can't stop the run and entering Sunday, they're allowing 123.1 rushing yards per game, and 4.4 yards per carry. Four opponents have rushed for at least 137 yards. New Orleans has prided itself on stopping the run and making opponents one-dimensional, and that hasn't been the case often enough this season. In the last three games, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (663 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 111 carries this season) has run for 441 yards five touchdowns on 69 carries (6.4 yards per carry). If New Orleans can't slow him down, it likely won't be able to slow down the Raiders.
3. BACK END: Of course, if the Saints can stop the run, then the pressure shifts to the banged up secondary. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is out, cornerback Bradley Roby is out, safety P.J. Williams is out. The remaining guys – namely cornerbacks Paulson Adebo, Chris Harris Jr., and Alontae Taylor and safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye – will have to hold up and (knock wood) stay on the field. Not sure how aggressive the Saints can be with receivers because that goes hand in hand with pressuring the quarterback, which also has been an issue this season. The team has one interception this season and while interceptions aren't an end all, they sure help. Plus, New Orleans hasn't tackled well in the secondary, either. When in space, they have to be able to get opposing receivers on the ground and when the opportunity presents – and usually there's a chance or two to come up with a pick – they have to capitalize. It's time for this defense, regardless of injuries, to provide the kind of performance it expected to provide.
4. OLAVE FACTOR: Given that receivers Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry again will be out Sunday, the pressure in the receiver room again falls on rookie Chris Olave. He has handled it about as well as possibly could have been expected, leading the team with 32 catches for 495 yards. He's the hub of the passing game, but he can get some help from running back Alvin Kamara, who has 19 catches for 172 yards in the last three games (Kamara also has run 53 times for 251 yards in the same stretch). Olave is a known threat now, Kamara is heating up on the underneath routes and with a little bit of help from others, it could be enough to help balance the offense against the Raiders.
5. LISTEN TO A.K.: Kamara addressed his teammates after the Arizona loss, and implored them to regain the swagger that helped the Saints become one of the league's most successful teams since he was drafted in 2017. New Orleans played with an edge and a borderline cockiness that was beneficial. It needs that kind of confidence and belief now.