Saints' bye comes after sudden turn from famine to feast
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By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Saints right guard Larry Warford sounds hesitant to forecast what the rest of New Orleans' season might hold.
"The NFL is crazy," Warford said as the Saints entered their Week 5 bye at 2-2. "You don't know what's going to happen."
It's hard to blame Warford, one of New Orleans' top offseason free-agent signings, for that outlook.
The Saints looked lost, particularly on defense, when they opened the season with double-digit defeats at the hands of Minnesota and New England. Then Week 3 brought a dramatic reversal of fortune.
New Orleans went to Carolina and dismantled Cam Newton's Panthers , 34-13, and followed that with a 20-0 triumph over Miami in London.
Not one of New Orleans' games has been close, yet the Saints will be sitting at .500 when they return to action against Warford's previous team, Detroit, in the Superdome on Oct. 15.
"All we can do is try to do what we have been doing the last two weeks, but better," Warford said. "I would not say it is a turning point yet. There is a lot of football left to be played. But it's a testament to what it can be."
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen might be more relieved than anyone about how the previous two weeks played out. After watching his unit allow 1,025 yards and 65 points in the first two games combined, the Saints allowed 475 yards and 13 points over their next two games.
"Obviously, we did not start the season the way that we had hoped," Allen said. "I'm proud of our guys and the way that they handled that adversity. They never really wavered and just continued to work and try to get better. Sometimes you need that shock and that wakeup call."
Still, Allen was cautious about reading too much into the recent precipitous drop in yards and points allowed. In Allen's experience, a couple of seemingly minor assignment errors at crucial times can be the difference between forcing a quick punt or allowing a long scoring drive.
"When you really look at it, there's a few plays in each of the games that if it goes the other way, you're eliminating a lot of points and eliminating a lot of yardage," Allen asserted. "The first two weeks of the season, we have a couple opportunities to get off the field on third down and we didn't execute.
"Rarely are things as bad as they seem and rarely are they as good as they seem," Allen added. "We are searching to find that consistency, because that's what are the really good teams are. They are consistent and you don't have a lot of these peaks and valleys."
It looks like the Saints will benefit from an early bye.
Two key players who had offseason surgery could be getting close to returning. One is starting left tackle Terron Armstead, who had shoulder surgery in June. The other is cornerback Delvin Breaux, who had surgery to repair a broken leg in August.
Armstead returned to practice on a limited basis last week, but had yet to play. The Saints could use him sooner rather than later. This week, starting right tackle Zach Strief went on injured reserve because of a knee injury in London. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk, drafted 32nd overall, had been filling in for Armstead, but moved to the right side when Strief got hurt. Left guard Andrus Peat then moved to left tackle from the left guard spot the Saints have been grooming him to play.
Yet, even with all the switching up on the offensive line, 38-year-old quarterback Drew Brees has been productive, averaging about 284 yards per game with eight TDs passing and no interceptions. The offense ranks seventh in yards per game, fourth in yards passing.
On the other side of the ball, Breaux will rejoin a secondary which should be gaining confidence after accounting for four interceptions in the past two games.
"It is not surprising. We were always capable," said second-year cornerback Ken Crawley, who intercepted Miami's Jay Cutler. "During camp, we set big expectations for each other and we hold each other accountable for everything. And guys did not want to go through (being) the last defense in the league (like) last year."
Even if the New Orleans defense winds up ranked in the middle of the league, the Saints could improve significantly on the 7-9 records they posted the past three seasons - and perhaps return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2013 campaign.
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Updated October 5, 2017