METAIRIE, La. — For nearly 20 minutes in the Saints’ win over Tampa Bay, New Orleans’ offense looked familiar.
It moved the ball at will, scoring on two 80-yard drives, one of 79 and another 72-yarder. They encompassed 31 plays and 12 minutes, 26 seconds of clock time.
The 28 points in that stretch was the longest one of the season in which the Saints (2-4) were on track and on schedule on offense.
“We’re getting there,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “I think you see every game, you see periods of it. The periods are getting longer. We’re able to sustain it a little bit. I think more than anything we’re getting some confidence. I think that that’s showing.”
Sunday against Denver (3-3) in a 7:30 p.m. nationally-televised affair, New Orleans will try to improve the offense even more.
The trend already has been there this season through six games.
And it has started on third down. The Saints began the season converting a paltry 2 of 11 third downs against Washington, just 18.2 percent. Since then, however, New Orleans has risen from 31st in the NFL to No. 2, converting 48.2 percent of the time.
Against Tampa Bay, New Orleans as 9 of 15 and time and again put a dagger in the Buccaneers’ hearts with conversions.
“Obviously there was that stretch last week, and the week before, and the week before, where we definitely had those moments for a prolonged period of time throughout the course of a game,” Brees said. “That’s the feeling you want, when everybody is in sync, everyone is in rhythm and you feel like you can make any play that comes your way.”
“We talked a lot about inconstancy early in the year in terms of it’s one guy here, one guy there and you’re seeing that stuff kind of eliminated,” Strief added. “I think you see that on the field. You see more stretches of success.”
Indeed, the Saints’ offense is ranked third overall in the NFL and have surpassed 400 total yards in the past three games. And New Orleans has scored at least 24 points in every game this season.
But all is not well.
The Saints still have trouble running the ball and with an average of 76.2 yards rushing per game, they rank dead last in the league. They’re 25th in yards per attempt at 3.7.
A sign of the struggles? Mark Ingram has the second-most carries on the team but the third-best per-carry average. His longest run of the year was a 12-yarder in Week 2 against Carolina.
Partly because of this issue the Saints weren’t able to close out games.
Against Tampa, New Orleans got the ball back with 11:48 to go and two runs netted two yards. After an incomplete pass and a punt, Tampa drove down and cut the Saints lead to one touchdown.
On its next possession, with 2:39 to go and no Tampa timeouts left, new Orleans needed only three yards to salt the game away. Instead, Darren Sproles was stuffed for a one-yard gain and the Saints punted again, winning only when the Bucs couldn’t score from the 9-yard line as time expired.
“Obviously we’re relying a lot on Drew right now and as usual, Drew has answered that call and put us on his back,” Strief said. “At the same time, as the season wears, you’ve got to be able to run the ball. It becomes more and more important as the season goes on and it’s something that we’re still working on.”
Strief added, “There’s no magic. It’s you keep working at it, keep working at it, keep working at it. I think you saw some signs of life this week and we just have to put it together on a more consistent basis.”