Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. Pop open the Saints annual media guide and flip to past years' stats and roll your finger down the page until it hits sacks given up.
You won't find quarterback Drew Brees getting hit for a loss by defensive linemen all that often.
Twenty-three times in 2006. Sixteen times in 2007. And a franchise-low 13 times in 2008.
But that low three seasons has turned into what will likely be a high in 2011.
Brees has been sacked 19 times through the first eight games of this season, putting him on pace for 38 by season's end.
'I think more than anything right now, it's a challenge,' said right tackle Zach Strief, who has missed the past five games with a sprained right knee. 'Certainly we don't like it.'
He added, 'I think we take it personal and I think certainly we're trying to recommit ourselves to get back to that place we were at.'
The lowest point came this past weekend in St. Louis. The Rams sacked Brees six times in holding the Saints to a season-low 283 total yards
Instability up front could be a factor, though those involved wouldn't use it as an excuse when questions were framed in that manner.
Jon Stinchcomb opened camp as the starting right tackle. Upon his retirement, Strief took over. But when Strief was injured, Charles Brown took over. Brown was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and Strief will once again take over.
At center, Matt Tennant started training camp as the starter. Olin Kreutz took over when he signed. When Kreutz was injured in the third game of the season, Brian de la Puente took over. Kreutz regained the position when he returned, only to suddenly quit the team before the Indianapolis game giving the position back to de la Puente.
Yet, Brees said the numbers, which say only 10 teams have given up more sacks than New Orleans, lie a little bit.
'I don't feel like I've been sacked an inordinate amount of times or more than usual, except for this last game,' Brees said. 'I think that was evident to all of us.'
Coach Sean Payton, for one, doesn't seem overly concerned with what the end product will look like.
'They've played very well at times, no different than our team at times having played up to the standard we have,' Payton said.'It's a group that's very close-knit. It's a tough group. They have a lot of snaps behind them, some more than others. I think they'll be ready for the challenge this week.'