The New Orleans Saints snapped their modest two-game losing streak with a stretch of spotless football – touchdowns on five consecutive offensive possessions, stops on four consecutive defensive possessions – against Detroit. So they've had a taste of the level of execution they seek.
Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Chargers (1-3), the Saints (2-2) will look to pull into a first-place tie in the NFC South Division by constructing their first winning streak of the season. Here are a few ways in which it can happen:
- CONFUSE THE ROOK: The Chargers are starting a rookie quarterback in Justin Herbert. A talented rookie, but a rookie nonetheless. So he hasn't seen all that he'll see in the NFL, and New Orleans needs to take advantage of that. He's completing 72 percent of his passes, but he has been intercepted three times and sacked six times in 113 pass attempts. Opponents are averaging an interception and two sacks per game off him. The Saints did an excellent job against Detroit's Matthew Stafford (206 passing yards, sacked three times, intercepted once and 55 percent on his completions), and they did that without starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Jackrabbit Jenkins. Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams filled in admirably. Lattimore appears to be back and ready for this one, and they'll need him to help deal with Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. Count on the Saints to minimize the run – they always do – and apply some pressure to Herbert.
- COMFORTABLE BREES: The Chargers have just six sacks this season. Ignore that. The Chargers have an elite rusher in defensive end Joey Bosa, who has half of their sacks. He's listed as questionable for the game; best to expect to see him on the field. Los Angeles will be without Bosa's partner in mayhem, defensive end Melvin Ingram. He's injured and his absence works to New Orleans' benefit. But alone, Bosa can wreck a gameplan by beating his blocker or commanding double teams. Inside, tackles Jerry Tillery and Linval Joseph provide the push, and quarterback Drew Brees needs room to step up and a clean line of sight. When Brees is clean, good things happen for the Saints' offense.
- FULL COMPLEMENT: During its five-possession, five-touchdown run against the Lions, the Saints constructed two 75-yard scoring drives and two 80-yard scoring drives. That's probably about 10, 15 times more difficult than it sounds, especially considering they did it without three offensive starters – receiver Michael Thomas, tight end Jared Cook and left guard Andrus Peat. All of them may return for Monday's game, which will give New Orleans all of its best offensive weapons, but even if they don't, New Orleans showed explosiveness with receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith stepping up. Opponents don't have a ton of rushing yards against the Chargers (111 per game), but they have a good per-carry average (4.5 yards). The Saints ran it 42 times against the Lions and if Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray again are having success, they may stay with that formula again.
- GET OFF THE FIELD: When coaches harp on the inability to get off the field defensively on third down, it doesn't sound like much until you see it live. A defense that's unsuccessful on third down is one that stays on the field too long, and the Saints – who've seen opponents convert 48.2 percent of the time – have been on the field too long. Los Angeles is a team that can take advantage offensively; the Chargers have converted 48 percent of the time on third down. New Orleans has seen too many third-and-10, third-and-9 situations converted against it. In those situations, when it has favorable down and distance, the Saints have to get off the field.
- STAY SOLID: The return game bears watching. All-Pro punt returner Deonte Harris (15.1 yards per return) left the Detroit game with a groin injury. New Orleans finished with Kamara returning punts and kickoffs, then signed a familiar face, receiver Tommylee Lewis, to the practice squad this week. Lewis might have to handle the return duties if Harris is a no-go and if that's the case, he needs to maintain the consistency that Harris has provided. If he pops one, great, but he can't make bad decisions or fail to secure the ball.
- AK: We'll list Kamara here, because it simply would be negligent not to acknowledge his presence as a key. There's always the possibility that he'll do something as a runner or receiver that wows. He's a constant scoring threat.
TONY'S CHACHERE'S KEY INGREDIENT TO BECOME A TAILGATE MVP:
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