For the New Orleans Saints over the last decade-plus of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era, there has always been a proven and winning formula in place that has yielded positive results whenever it's been able to be implemented properly and effectively.
The winning formula consists of solid (and at times spectacular) play by veteran QB Drew Brees overseeing the team's passing attack, while backed-up by a sound running game and at worst: at least an average defense.
In scientific terms: Brees + Running Game + Better Defense = W's
But unfortunately for New Orleans, they haven't always been able to have success with that formula save for a small handful of seasons.
The main reason that the formula hasn't worked recently, and particularly in the past 3 seasons?
A combination of a lack of talent at several key positions on the roster; along with the most glaring culprit of all: one of the NFL's WORST defense in 4 out of the past 5 years.
This year, however, that seems to have changed.
New Orleans' "winning formula" so far in 2017 has been a return to the running game to go with its always lethal passing attack led by Brees; in unison with a rapidly improving defense.
That formula features a rejuvenated RB Mark Ingram and the addition in the Draft of sensational rookie dual-threat RB Alvin Kamara; and a defense that after a rough start has improved rapidly and has shown that it actually can get pressure on the QB and most importantly: force turnovers.
Heading into Week #8, the Saints have the 3rd most interceptions (10) and are 5th in turnover differential at +5.
For the Saints and specifically head coach Sean Payton, it's never been a question of IF the formula would work; but more of an issue when they can get it to work.
Payton has managed to "hit" on the formula with great success; especially in years past (2006, 2009, 2011) that has shown unequivocally that it's been proven to work.
He simply had to wait to get the right players to finally "fit" that formula — and what has put this team "over the top" was the past 2 Draft classes (2016 and 2017) that have given the Saints up to NINE (9) new starters on offense and defense.
Those starters include: DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Michael Thomas, S Vonn Bell, and DT David Onyemata from 2016; and CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams, RB Alvin Kamara, and LB Alex Anzalone (now on injured reserve) from this past April's 2017 NFL Draft.
Most notably from that group of players is Lattimore, who now allows them to basically keep opposing #1 WR's "locked down" and allows defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the opportunity to blitz or utilize different looks in coverage.
Without question, the improved defense has been the key element in the team's sudden rejuvenation; and especially in their current 4-game winning streak.
And if past history is any indicator, the Saints could be in store for a special season if they can continue this current level of performance.
As noted the other day by ESPN NFL writer Dan Graziano (via his fellow ESPN writer Mike Sando: in their first 11 seasons with Drew Brees as their quarterback (2006-16), the Saints have had 5 seasons in which they allowed fewer than 24 points per game.
They were 58-22 with a Super Bowl victory in those seasons. In the other 6 years -- seasons in which they allowed at least 24 points per game -- they went 43-53.
Long story short: the Saints have to be only average on defense to be a winning team with Brees at quarterback.
Graziano says that so far this season, New Orleans is allowing 22.2 points per game, good for just 16th in the league but historically good enough to make it a contender.
And during the Saints' winning streak (which followed an 0-2 start in which they allowed 29 and 36 points), they're allowing only 17 points per game.
For a Saints defense that had been embarrassed for the last 3 straight years and is now led by its 4th different defensive coordinator since winning the Super Bowl 8 seasons ago, it's a major achievement.
When you add up all of these factors, it's not really that hard to understand WHY the Saints have suddenly began winning again.
The winning formula has always been in existence.
It was just a matter of time until the Saints and Payton were able to get it to work successfully again.
And now 6 games into their 2017 season, it's finally starting to yield the positive results that they always knew that it could.
Brees + Running Game + Better Defense = W's....