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These Saints are slow starters, New Orleans leads the league in points with 369, putting them on pace for 590, which would top the record-setting 2007 New England Patriots by a single point. And yet they've somehow failed to achieve more than a three-point first quarter lead in all but two games thus far. Cumulatively, they've outscored opponents by just three points (65-62) in that frame. In fact, in their past five contests the Saints have either trailed or been tied with their opponent after 15 minutes, and that includes games against Miami (down 11), Atlanta (down 7) and Carolina (down 14), plus St. Louis and Tampa (tied in each case). And to think, that group's collective record is a lousy 16-34.

So what, exactly, is the problem? Offensively, the Saints run the ball more effectively in the second half, but that is mostly by design. And they take more sacks in the first half (10 vs. 3), but that follows the pass-early/run-late mold.

If we're going to point a finger, let's make it two. On offense Drew Brees needs to cool his opening-half jitters. The logical midseason MVP has thrown seven of his nine interceptions in the first half. The more likely villain rests on defense, especially along a front that has suffered during the recent absence of defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. In first halves, when teams are still in it and running the ball, opponents are averaging over five yards per carry and have scored nine rushing touchdowns.

This week, a slow start could be particularly devastating against a Patriots team that has outscored opponents 62-10 in the first frames of its past six contests and that leads the league in both first-quarter (71) and second-quarter points (125).


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