With two games down and 14 more to go in the 2013 NFL season, a lot of things appear to be going right for the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have come out of the gate with a 2-0 record, having already defeated two division rivals in consecutive weeks. Last season, the Saints did not record their second win until halfway through the month of October. New Orleans also currently ranks No. 6 passing on the season, with a total of 637 yards through two games.
What is a bit disconcerting, however, is the fact that New Orleans currently ranks dead last in red-zone touchdown production. Through two games, the Saints have converted trips to the red zone into touchdowns only 14.29 percent of the time. This is quite a drop-off for a team who, since 2007, have finished sixth or better in red-zone production five out the last six seasons. In 2007, New Orleans lead the league in red-zone conversions at 72 percent, came in third in 2008 at 61.29 percent and finished sixth in 2011 with a red-zone touchdown coming 59.04 percent of the time. Even during last year’s season without head coach Sean Payton, the Saints finished second in red-zone production with a conversion rate of 68.42 percent.
The culprit behind this alarming drop-off in red-zone production isn’t just one thing, but a combination of things. This includes a running game that has been largely nonexistent up to this point. Through their first two games, New Orleans’ running game has rushed for just 153 yards and has produced no touchdowns. The Saints’ average yards per carry is just 3.1, making them 25th overall. Another dismal stat from the running game is that the longest run to date is just 11 yards. The running game isn’t a full blown cause for concern or worry just yet, but it does warrant mentioning.
Penalties have also stalled drives in consecutive weeks, as well. In week one against the Atlanta Falcons, guard Jahri Evans was called for back-to-back holding penalties, and was called for another holding penalty against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week two. Penalties have the potential to shut down drives and take away crucial points, but again, this shouldn’t be a cause for total panic just yet.
The Saints will have the opportunity to show improvement in these areas Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals who are 1-1 under new head coach Bruce Arians. The Cardinals’ defense currently is giving up 344 yards per game, but are a bit stingier in regards to the rushing game. Arizona has only allowed 116 yards rushing through two games and have held opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry.
This matchup may prove to be difficult for the Saints to shake off the rust, but if anybody can lead his team through a lull, it’s Payton.