Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints offense off to sputtering start

By Les East, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 20, 2017 at 10:44 PM
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' usually potent offense hasn't been up to its standard during a 0-2 start.

Now it has to contend with the NFL's No. 1 defense when New Orleans plays NFC South rival Carolina (2-0) on Sunday in Bank of America Stadium.

The Saints ranked second in the NFL in scoring (29.3 points per game) last season, but after losses to Minnesota and New England they are tied for 15th (19.5) this season.

The Panthers lead the NFL in scoring defense (3.0) and total defense (196.5 yards per game) and haven't allowed a touchdown while opening the season with victories over San Francisco and Buffalo.

"I think overall we've put together some good drives," quarterback Drew Brees said on Wednesday. "There have been times that we just haven't been able to get a drive going and in some cases when we have been stopped it's been because of penalty."

New Orleans is still among the top teams in the NFL in terms of gaining yards, but the yards aren't yielding points at the same rate as last season.

New Orleans ranks third in the NFL in total offense (386.5), but hasn't been balanced, ranking second in passing yards (316) and 28th in rushing (70.5).

"I wouldn't say we're out of sync," Brees said. "We're putting together drives and not getting touchdowns when the opportunities are there to get them."

The offense has been further hindered by having to play from behind.

The Saints have trailed by at least 10 points for the entire second half of both games. New Orleans is allowing the second-most points (32.5) in the NFL.

"I would say that we're contributing equally to those deficits," tight end Coby Fleener said. "We can't go three and out. We can't put our defense in tough spots. It's always challenging for an offense to play from behind in the sense that it changes the mindset and changes the play calling."

Fleener has caught two of Brees' three touchdown passes in the absence of No. 2 receiver Willie Snead IV, who will complete a three-game suspension by sitting out Sunday. Michael Thomas, New Orleans' leading receiver a year ago, leads again with 10 catches but he hasn't scored.

New Orleans has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game and hasn't rushed for a touchdown.

"When we go back and look at the film a yard here or a yard there can make a big difference on the timing of a play and things like that," Fleener said. "We need to shore up the little things and make sure that we're paying attention to details."

SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 24-20. The Panthers are 12-10 at home against the Saints, having won the last two. Carolina has won four of the last five overall.

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New Orleans traded LB Stephone Anthony, a first-round draft choice in 2015, to the Miami Dolphins for a fifth-round draft choice in 2018. Anthony, who has played all three linebacker positions without finding a home, has been sidelined by an ankle injury since the beginning of the preseason. "I think unfortunately his injury during training camp really prevented him from receiving the snaps we were hoping to see," coach Sean Payton said. "Ultimately it came down to a decision roster-wise for us. I love this kid. I think the world of him. Hopefully he can bounce back and make an impact for Miami."

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The Saints have found themselves frequently in third-and-long situations and as a result they have converted just 34.8 percent (23rd in the NFL). It will be a challenge to improve on that percentage against Carolina, which is tied for fourth in third-down defense (25 percent.)

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New Orleans re-signed DE Darryl Tapp, who made the 53-man roster but was released shortly before the season opener.

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The Saints have scored on all eight of their red-zone opportunities, but wound up with more field goals (five) than touchdowns (three). The Panthers defense has had just one opponent's possession reach the red zone and that didn't result in any points.

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The Saints rank last in the NFL in total defense (512.5), pass defense (388.5) and third-down defense (57.7 percent.)

NOTES: P Thomas Morstead has been one of the few bright spots for New Orleans. He has averaged 48.7 yards per punt and his net average of 46.8 is second-best in the NFL. ... CB Marshon Lattimore (concussion) did not participate in practice Wednesday. ... CB Sterling Moore (chest) did not participate in practice.... T Terron Armstead (shoulder) did not participate in practice. ... T Zach Strief (knee) did not participate in practice.

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