After ranking among the league leaders in takeaways after seven games, the New Orleans Saints’ defense is fighting through a bit of a drought going into Sunday night’s key NFC South matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
Through seven games, when they had a 6-1 record following a 35-17 blowout of the Buffalo Bills, the Saints had 15 takeaways — nine interceptions and one fumble recovery.
But in the five games played since then, a stretch in which the team has gone 3-2, the Saints have forced two turnovers.
Both were claimed by cornerback Corey White on an interception against San Francisco and fumble recovery that was forced by teammate Keyunta Dawson at Atlanta.
That’s just two takeaways in 20 quarters of play compared to 15 in the first 28 quarters of the season.
“I don’t know specifically,” Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked about the drought. “We’ve had our opportunities. Hopefully, they’ll come and we get a clump of them this weekend. That statistic is important.”
On the other side of it, the Panthers have 26 takeaways to tie for second in the league — just one behind the Seattle Seahawks.
Right tackle Zach Strief, who injured his left ankle late in the third quarter of Monday night’s game with the Seahawks, worked on a limited basis when the Saints returned to the practice field Thursday.
Even though they didn’t practice Wednesday, Payton was required to file an estimated injury report with the NFL office and noted that Strief would not have participated if they had worked.
Strief, who missed a Week 6 game with the New England Patriots after injuring the same ankle a week earlier, was at least able to participate in a portion of Thursday’s workout.
Saints NT Brodrick Bunkley (ankle), S Rafael Bush (ankle), LB Keyunta Dawson (calf) and DE Glenn Foster (knee) did not practice Thursday, while CB Keenan Lewis (hamstring/abdomen) and T Bryce Harris (thigh) had full participation.
For the Panthers, LB Jordan Senn (hamstring), RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and G Chris Scott (knee) were the only players who didn’t work.
RB DeAngelo Williams (quad), DE Charles Johnson (knee), FB Mike Tolbert (knee) and TE Ben Hartsock (knee) were limited in practice.
Saints running back and Alabama alum Mark Ingram made an Iron Bowl bet with teammate Will Herring, a former Auburn Tiger, and lost.
On Thursday, Ingram honored the terms of the wager he lost by wearing an Auburn sweatshirt and orange shorts to work.
“It’s pretty bad … I was itching the whole time I had it on,” Ingram said. “But, you know, I had to hold up my end of the bargain.”
Ingram, who did not have the Auburn garb on when he met with reporters after practice, said, “I’m not putting it on until you guys are gone.”
Despite having a rough game in a 24-20 win over the Patriots, when he committed three penalties, former UL-Lafayette defensive back Melvin White is enjoying a nice rookie season with the Panthers.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pound White was undrafted after running a slow 4.60 time in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, but earned a roster spot and has started six games because of injuries at the position. He has recorded 26 tackles, an interception, one forced fumble and has defensed three passes.
“Melvin has the physical tools, it’s just a matter of getting opportunities,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of White, who’ll be tested by Drew Brees on Sunday night. “He hadn’t played corner for a long, long time, so he’s still learning and growing and getting better and better.”
Saints season-ticket holders have one week to purchase their tickets for any playoff games the team may play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Ticket holders have until the close of business on Friday, Dec. 13 to buy tickets for the seats they have during the regular season.
The two-game package includes tickets for a potential wild-card game and divisional playoff or a divisional playoff and NFC Championship game.
For more information, call (504) 731-1700.
Advocate sportswriter Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.