Any reasonable projection entering the season would have deduced that the New Orleans Saints offense would experience a dip in production, if only because the man who triggered 15 seasons of record-breaking production – quarterback Drew Brees – retired.
But of late, New Orleans, 8-8 entering Sunday’s game against the Falcons (7-9) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, has struggled offensively to a degree that has been abnormal even for this season.
Including a 30-point outburst against the Jets in a 30-9 win, the Saints have totaled 60 points in the last four games. While winning two of the last three, they've posted one touchdown.
Still, New Orleans has won three of four and is in the hunt for a playoff spot, which can be earned with a victory over the Falcons and a loss by San Francisco to the Rams on Sunday.
All in all, it has been a testament to New Orleans' ability to adapt and to create an avenue to win with the available tools.
"I think one of the things that really separates Coach (Sean) Payton, and his staff is that they know their personnel, their strengths, and their weaknesses," quarterback Taysom Hill said. "They coach to our personnel. Every week at the start of the week, I think they have a clear vision for what it's going to take to win the football game.
"We talk about that from the start of the week: 'Here's the deal, this is what we're going to do,' or 'This is a game where we need to score this many points might win the game,' or 'We might need to score more points this game.' He puts guys in the right situations and calls the plays that are for the right game.
"This season, more than any other season I have been a part of, you can see that. We've had more personnel change this season and those guys continue to change and stay up later and later to put guys in the right spot and figure out ways that we can win each game."
Hill has been the starter for three wins in four games. In the three wins, he completed 45 of 76 passes for 551 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, and ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
The Saints, who average 20.9 points per game (19th in the league), can be less reliant on offensive outbursts because of a standout defense (19.7 points per game allowed, fourth fewest in the league, including eight points per game allowed in the last four).
"I think our defense has been so good this season that I think the other side of that is offensively, we try not to put them in bad situations," Hill said. "We try to take care of the ball. We talk early in the week and say punting is not necessarily a bad thing. You can play the field position game.
"I think last week (vs. Carolina) was a prime example of that, as you look at starting field position to where punting isn't necessarily a bad thing. You pin them back and let our defense make a good stand, and now we have good field position.
"Maybe that (aggressiveness) has been dialed back a little bit in the nature that you're talking about, but I think Coach (Payton) has a really good feel for what our strengths our and then playing to those strengths. I think this year, we've had so many great team efforts and team wins. Sean just understands what that takes each week."
What it has taken this year, with this team – and the myriad obstacles it has faced on and off the field – is less offense than would be ideal, but enough to get the job done.
"At the end of the day, they have this idea of what it is going to take to win each game," Hill said. "As I look at statistics and everything else offensively, I think the No. 1 goal has been to win each game. Sometimes that required one thing from the offense and sometimes that required something else. Overall, I would say we are looking at the wins and the losses.
"So, I'm not getting caught up in the statistics of where we're at offensively the last few weeks or over the course of this season.
"I think with that being said, as I sit back and watch film over the previous weeks with the games that we've had, I think that I see there's just little things that kill drives that prevent us from putting points on the board. Yes, we are close to where we want to be, we just have to eliminate those little issues that kill drives. If that's the case, then we'll be putting a lot of points on the board, our third down conversions will be better, and we'll put ourselves in a better position to win."