The Saints have followed up their ugliest loss of the season (at St. Louis) with arguably their three best games of the year so far.
The difference? The offensive line is playing better than it has all season–or even last season, for that matter.
The unit struggled early on with both pass protection and run blocking, particularly in a loss at Tampa Bay. The Saints then suffered a blow when starting center and offseason acquisition Olin Kreutz abruptly retired later that same week.
Right tackle Zach Strief missed five games with a knee injury. He was replaced by Charles Brown in week four; Brown was placed on IR in week eight.
In week eight, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was sacked six times, hit several more times, and harassed all day by the Rams defense. At that point, the outlook for the offensive line–and the Saints’ season–was not good.
But, Sean Payton made a great coaching move in using extra tight ends to block against the Bucs in week nine. Brees was hardly touched all game, and the Saints were never threatened.
Strief has since returned to the starting lineup and is playing great. Brian De La Puente is filling in nicely at center. Shoot, even Jermon Bushrod is playing some solid football.
Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans have been consistent, as usual.
The result has been three straight New Olreans wins — two in dominant fashion and the other on the road against a playoff-caliber team — and an offense that looks like it cannot be stopped, with Brees having great protection and the running game clicking.
With the offensive line finally healthy, learning to mesh, and improving each week, I like the Saints’ chances down the stretch. As long as the big guys play well, the Saints are almost unbeatable.