METAIRIE, La. — Rhythm – some people have it, others don’t.
The Saints didn’t early in the season on offense and now they do.
Heading into Sunday’s noon showdown at AFC power Baltimore (9-4), the 10-3 Saints have won six games in a row and have the league’s second-best record.
It’s no coincidence that this corresponds with the offense getting back on track.
“I think we’re doing things more efficiently on third down,” Head Coach Sean Payton said. “I think we’re running the ball better with more efficiency and staying ahead of the chains.”
Indeed, the offense is on a roll, upping its already high third-down conversion percentage to 52.4 percent over the past six games. The offense is putting up 7.2 points more per game than in the opening seven games thanks to four more touchdowns in one fewer game.
And the team is racking up 30.6 yards more per game than during that rollercoaster 4-3 beginning to the season.
While Payton has a good bit to do with this because of his play-calling duties, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh sees the success coming from somewhere else.
“I think Sean’s a great play-caller, but what they’ve done with their offense is they’ve built a great system, this system that accentuates their players really well,” Harbaugh said.
That system is built around quarterback Drew Brees, who finds open receivers and spreads the ball around as well as anybody in the league. Though he has thrown for a career-high tying 18 interceptions, his quarterback rating over the past six games would be the best of his career (96.8 rating).
But in the past month, running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas have returned as has tight end Jeremy Shockey.
In other words, Brees has all of his weapons at his disposal.
“We spread the ball around. That's what this offense does,” Bush said. “… I don't know if there's another football team out there that has a more talented offense, pound for pound. There might be teams that are as talented as us but I think when you go from each player on our offense, it's tough to match up on anybody one on one.”
That rhythm could be disrupted this weekend when the Saints play the traditionally stout and physical Ravens defense. Led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Baltimore has been synonymous for the past decade with big hits and hard-to-score-on defenses.
This year is no different. The Ravens have taken the ball away 17 times, with 8 of those have coming in the past seven weeks since safety Ed Reed returned from the PUP list.
“Obviously they have some playmakers,” Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. “Ray Lewis. Ed Reed. Up front, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. Those guys make plays constantly. Those are guys that can turn a game around. You really have to concentrate and get your job done.”
However, the Saints’ offense now must prepare for a Ravens defense that has given up fourth-quarter leads the past two weeks.
The Texans came back from 21 down on Monday night, though Baltimore made a play at the end to win the game in overtime.
“We’ve got to go out here knowing they’re a tough defense, they’ve got solid players on their d-line and the linebacker and secondary,” running back Pierre Thomas said. “We’ve got to go out here and really just take it to them because if we don’t, they’re going to bash our heads in and that’s something we can’t allow.”