A sense of urgency figures to loom very large inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, when the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs both look to avoid potential back-breaking 0-3 starts.
The fallout of the bounty scandal continues to entrench itself as part of the Saints' 2012 season, and the reigning NFC South champions have done little to show that the penalties from the wrongdoings aren't having an impact on their play.
One of the biggest losses was that of head coach Sean Payton, who received a season-long suspension. With offensive line/running game coach Aaron Kromer at the helm on an interim basis for the first six games of the season, New Orleans is off to its first 0-2 start since beginning the 2007 campaign with four defeats in a row.
The Saints have struggled on the defensive side of things in losses to the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, yielding 75 points and 922 yards combined in those games.
After failing to contain Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III in Week 1, Carolina's Cam Newton led a three-headed Carolina rushing attack and accounted for two scores to help the Panthers hand New Orleans a 35-27 defeat this past Sunday.
Needless to say, the Saints will be looking forward to facing a more conventional quarterback this weekend in the Chiefs' Matt Cassel.
"If you look at our defense, and you look at the two offenses we've played, we've played the most unconventional offenses in the National Football League," Kromer said. "You go from (Griffin) and then Cam Newton, they're just unconventional. One thing we need to get settled in on is on that style. But we've played two good offenses, and we just need to keep working at it and plugging away."
New Orleans will aim to begin doing that this weekend, with the goal to be playing in front from start to finish. The Saints have been outscored by a 41-24 margin in the first half over their two losses.
"It's difficult, especially since obviously, expectations are a lot better than that," said quarterback Drew Brees of the Saints' poor start. "It's been two hard-fought games. Unfortunately, we have gotten down in both of them to the point that I feel like we were trying to claw back in the fourth quarter. Typically when you get a close game at the end, it's back and forth. I felt we were playing catch-up these last two games."
The Chiefs are in the same boat, having been outscored 75-41 over their first two games. Following a 40-24 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, Kansas City was handed a 35-17 road setback by the Buffalo Bills last weekend.
Kansas City hardly threatened the Bills, trailing 21-0 in the first half before getting the offense on track over the final two quarters. However, the Chiefs were handled in all three phases, giving up nearly 400 yards of offense, allowing a special teams touchdown and not scoring a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel has some concerns with his defense and the amount of points the unit has yielded so far.
"The offense, they have scored some points in the two games that we've played, but the defense -- they've given up too many points," noted the coach. "Defensively, we have to find a way not to give up the big plays that we're giving up to hold the score down."
Crennel saw firsthand what a slow start can do while serving as defensive coordinator of the Chiefs last season. Kansas City lost its first three games of the 2011 campaign before ripping off four straight wins, but the early hole left little room for error the rest of the way and the team fell just short of reaching the playoffs.
While Week 3 is hardly a must-win, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson doesn't want to go down 0-3 again.
"It's more of a sense of urgency right now to win," he said. "Kind of like last year, you get down 0-2, and you don't want to start pressing because when you press, trying to make things happen, you tend to mess up at times. Somehow we're going to have to press a little bit, but get a win. We have to win."
Saints lead 5-4
Streak: Saints have won last two meetings Last Meeting: Saints 30, Chiefs 20 (Nov. 16, 2008 at Kansas City) Last Meeting at Site: Saints 27, Chiefs 20 (Nov. 14, 2004)
Chiefs HC Romeo Crennel vs. Saints: 0-1 overall, 0-0 with Kansas City Saints HC Aaron Kromer vs. Chiefs: 0-0 Crennel vs. Kromer Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Chiefs last topped the Saints with a 25-13 home win in the 1997 regular-season finale and are seeking their first victory in the Superdome since a 30-17 verdict on Sept. 4, 1994. Kansas City is 3-2 all-time on the road against New Orleans. Crennel lost to the Saints by a 19-14 score while at the helm of Cleveland in 2006.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Kansas City: 5th overall (407.5 ypg), 5th rushing (151.0 ypg), 10th passing (256.5 ypg), tied 26th scoring (20.5 ppg)
New Orleans: 3rd overall (422.0 ypg), 20th rushing (97.5 ypg), t3rd passing (324.5 ypg), 6th scoring (29.5 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Kansas City: 21st overall (377.5 ypg), 27th rushing (142.5 ypg), 18th passing (235.0 ypg), tied 31st scoring (37.5 ppg)
New Orleans: 32nd overall (461.0 ypg), 32nd rushing (186.0 ypg), t26th passing (275.0 ypg), tied 31st scoring (37.5 ppg)
Kansas City: -6 (0 takeaways, 6 giveaways) New Orleans: -4 (1 takeaways, 5 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Kansas City: 60.0 percent (5 possessions, 3 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 13th overall New Orleans: 66.7 percent (6 possessions, 4 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 6th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Kansas City: 70.0 percent (10 possessions, 7 TD, 3 FG) -- tied 23rd overall New Orleans: 70.0 percent (10 possessions, 7 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 23rd overall
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
While moving the ball hasn't been an issue, with the Chiefs having accumulated 393 and 422 total yards in their first two games, finding the end zone hasn't come as easy. One area particularly plaguing Kansas City is turnovers, as the club already has six giveaways through two games. The Chiefs lost two fumbles against the Bills, including one by Cassel (559 passing yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) and another by running back Peyton Hillis (82 rushing yards, 5 receptions). Cassel was also intercepted once by Buffalo, but still managed to throw for 301 yards while hooking up with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (11 receptions, 155 yards, 2 TD) eight times for 102 yards and two scores. He'll try to get receivers Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin (3 receptions) involved a bit more in this game, as Kansas City could be without tight end Kevin Boss because of a head injury. Running back Jamaal Charles (90 rushing yards, 3 receptions) could also be limited after sitting out a chunk of the Buffalo game due to a knee issue. Crennel said Charles wanted to go back into the game, but he was held out as Hillis and reserve back Shaun Draughn (85 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions) were moving the ball well. Charles missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
The Saints and their struggling defense will look to zero in on Cassel after facing off against a pair of mobile quarterbacks through the first two weeks. Ends Cameron Jordan (15 tackles, 1 sack) and Will Smith (11 tackles) will look to create pressure off the rush, while middle linebacker and leading tackler Curtis Lofton (19 tackles) figures to have an impact as well. New Orleans has managed just three sacks through the first two games, getting one versus the Panthers from Jordan. The secondary would love for the front guys to pressure Cassel into mistakes, which could lead to the unit getting its first interception of 2012. Corners Jabari Greer (1 tackle) and Patrick Robinson (6 tackles, 1 sack) will certainly have their eyes set on making some plays along with veteran safety Roman Harper (12 tackles).
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Pressure may be starting to mount on the Brees-led offense due to the inability of the New Orleans defense to stop other teams from scoring. Brees (664 passing yards, 4 TD, 4 INT) had a solid game versus the Panthers, throwing for 325 yards while finding tight end Jimmy Graham (13 receptions, 2 TD) in the end zone to cap his club's first drive and later adding a rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But Brees, who is two games off Johnny Unitas' NFL record of 47 straight outings with a touchdown pass, may be trying to do too much to make up for the absence of Payton. This could be the week where he just relies on spreading the ball around to Graham, wide receivers Marques Colston (7 receptions) and Lance Moore (8 receptions, 1 TD) as well as running back Darren Sproles (18 receptions, 1 TD), who made a career-high 13 receptions totaling 128 yards versus the Panthers. New Orleans will also try to back its passing game with another solid effort on the ground, as Pierre Thomas (127 rushing yards) and Mark Ingram (68 rushing yards, 1 TD) combined for 163 rushing yards and a score in Week 2.
The Chiefs failed in both stopping both schemes by the Bills last weekend. Buffalo shredded Kansas City's run defense for 201 yards, 123 of those coming from top back C.J. Spiller, who also scored twice. With such an effective ground game, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick needed to attempt only 19 passes, but he still threw a pair of touchdown throws. Kansas City's attempt to fix things will start up front with the pass rush, as the Chiefs have logged just one sack through two games -- coming from linebacker Justin Houston (7 tackles) in Week 1 -- and have yet to force a turnover. The lack of pressure has impacted corners Brandon Flowers (1 tackle) and Stanford Routt (4 tackles). Johnson (17 tackles) and fellow linebacker Tamba Hali (4 tackles) will also look to step up and lead the 3-4 scheme in shutting down the Saints.
The pressure is on for the Saints and Chiefs, with one team just a game away from a dreaded 0-3 start. New Orleans is so far the more disappointing of the two clubs, though the fallout from the bounty scandal makes these early struggles less of a surprise. Offense hasn't been the issue for either team, but a shootout still favors the more versatile Saints. The Chiefs have the depth a running back to overcome a limited Charles, but their inability to stop big plays -- something that New Orleans specializes in -- will be the team's undoing.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 31, Chiefs 24