After three consecutive losses with little variance in how the results were achieved, the New Orleans Saints (1-3) enter Sunday's game against Seattle (2-2) in the Caesars Superdome hoping to start new trends and to win for the first time since the season opener.
Here are a few ways that can be accomplished.
1. CLEANUP DUTY: This has to top the list until the Saints prove they can remedy it: Turnovers and penalties drastically have to be cut. New Orleans leads the league in turnovers (11), has the worst turnover margin in the league (minus-7) and is the second-most penalized team in the league (34). That combination is debilitating, and it will continue to be crippling until the Saints fix it. The emphasis on cleaning up has increased even more, especially as it pertains to ball security. If the Saints can play clean, they can win. They have three straight losses to show for what happens when they don't. We really could end the list right here.
2. AK IS OK: Running back Alvin Kamara is back this week, and the Saints need him. With receiver Michael Thomas out, Kamara's value increases in the passing game and New Orleans will need him to be effective as a runner, too. Kamara will wear extra padding to protect his ribs, which forced him to miss last week's game and largely to be ineffective when he played two weeks ago. But he feels fine, and if he feels fine, he needs 18-22 touches in the game, at least. His presence can't be overstated, and it hopefully will help jumpstart an offense that only has managed two touchdowns in the first half of the first four games.
3. OUT OF THE GATE: Speaking of two touchdowns in the first half of the first four games, New Orleans needs a fast start. It has had some finishing flourishes (Atlanta and Minnesota come to mind), but playing from behind every week is taxing. Andy Dalton and the offense came alive in the second half against Minnesota in London, with 18 points (two touchdowns and a field goal) and 256 yards. Dalton (20 for 28 for 236 yards overall, 12 for 19 for 183 yards in the second half) settled in nicely and with another week's work with the first-team offense, he should be poised for a more productive opening. Again, though, the Saints have to stay relatively penalty- and turnover-free to keep the offense in a groove and to give themselves a chance to get on the board early.
4. UNSETTLE GENO: Seattle quarterback Geno Smith is completing 77.3 percent of his passes, has thrown six touchdowns (against two interceptions) and only has been sacked six times. He's mobile and he's now displaying the talent that most believed he had when he entered the league in 2013. The Saints sacked him five times last season, but he's a lot more decisive and confident now than he was then. Still, Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Demario Davis and the New Orleans pass rush has come alive the last two games with six sacks and 14 quarterback hits. Boxing in Smith and keeping him in the pocket will be significant, and then applying some punishment to rattle him will top off the assignment. If a turnover or two results from it, all the better.
5. CHARGE THE CROWD: The Superdome crowd wants to help lift this team to a win. It'd probably block and tackle if it could. The Saints need to give the crowd a reason to be engaged, and to remain engaged. Big plays early always help in that area. Wherever the juice has to come from, New Orleans needs to figure out a way to supply it.