[The following story written by our New Orleans Saints reporter Gus Kattengell.]

It’s do or die time for the Saints as for the second straight season the Black and Gold are heading into the fourth game of the season without having won a game. To avoid going 0-4 for a second straight season the Saints (0-3) must go on the road and beat a Chargers (1-2) team looking to finally close out a game in winning fashion.

Fans are frustrated, as they should be especially since this is self-inflicted. The Saints poor draft success and astronomical amount of dead money has handicapped their chances at fielding a competitive and deep team.

Saints head coach Sean Payton is going into games depending on inexperienced players, at times with many of those coming the undrafted route, and being asked to start. When those players get injured the “next man up” isn’t much better, or as in cases this season, are players plucked off the street one week and in the games the following week. It’s not only not sustainable but unreasonable to think they will perform well against better talent or teams that have been together longer.

GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton have begun to feel the ire on talk radio and social media. Can’t blame then when you bring up the fact that the Saints in the Payton-Brees era have started 0-3 four times (2007, 2012, 2015, 2016) and started 0-4 twice (2007, 2012).

Following next week’s bye week the Saints begin a tough stretch of six games.  New Orleans hosts Carolina, is at Kansas City, hosts Seattle, is at San Francisco, host the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and ends the stretch at Carolina on a Thursday night.

STORYLINES

A pair of storylines stands out as we head into Sunday and both deal with the Saints.

Quarterback Drew Brees’ return to San Diego for the first time since tearing his right labrum, ending his career with the Chargers. Brees since his departure has proven that San Diego may have bailed on him a bit too early. Brees has been to eight Pro Bowls, led the league in passing six times and won the Super Bowl in which he was named the game’s MVP.

This week Brees spoke about how he still has fond memories of playing in San Diego and could close his eyes and picture everything about the stadium, even the flags blowing on top. There is no doubt this game means something to him. Having covered him from his start here in New Orleans I can tell you that Brees will use anything to help motivate him. When it comes to questioning if he can play the game (too short, not strong enough arm, never mentioned with the likes of Manning, Brady, Favre, Rodgers), well that REALLY gets him motivated. He’ll never say it publically but there is no doubt he would love to continue to show he is the better QB. That said, he did mention this week that things happen for a reason and I agree. A Super Bowl win in San Diego would indeed been special for that city and it stinks fans have to fear that the team may move due to the lack of a new stadium being built, but following Katrina New Orleans needed Drew Brees and Drew Brees needed New Orleans.

Brees has beaten the Chargers three times as they’ve faced off twice in the Big Easy and once across the pond in London.

The second storyline also deals with the Saints in that this could be it. Former head coach Jim Mora went on a now viral rant following the Falcons loss, about their being 13 games left and plenty of season, so declaring the season being over was ridiculous.

That said even the most diehard Who Dat would be hard pressed to feel good about the team’s chances with another loss. “We’re two games back so it’s a bump, but if you keep losing then you’re in a hole ” Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said this week, “and then you find yourself not going to the playoffs and you find out by the middle of the season.”

Monday night’s loss was tough to watch much less understand. I spoke of hope and of glasses half full since the team suffered two losses by a combined total of four points. Atlanta’s offense however shredded the Saints defense as they scored TD drives five straight times. The Saints were without four defensive starters in that game though. Don’t blame the injuries says players and coaches you can have all the optimism you want but the Saints likely need 9-10 wins to clinch a wild card spot. They need to win.

THE ENEMY

San Diego enters the game with a pair of losses late in games, one coming in overtime while the other came with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter as they lost last week 26-22.  The week before they picked up a 38-14 win at home over Jacksonville after losing the season opener at Kansas City 33-27.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Saints offense comes into the game ranked 3rd overall averaging 423 yards a game. New Orleans is 1st in passing averaging 341.7 yards per game and 28th in rushing with just 81.3 yards per game. San Diego is the 17th ranked offense with 365.7 yards per game. The Chargers are 15th in passing with 251.7 yards a game and 12th in rushing with 114.0 yards on the ground.

Defensively the Saints are 31st in points given up, 31st in yards giving up 448.3. Passing they are 25th giving up 299.0 and last in yards allowed on the ground 149.3. San Diego is 26th in yards allowed giving up 403.7 yards per game via 322.0 (30th), but are stout on the ground 81.7 (6th).

ESPN’s Week 4 power rankings have the San Diego Chargers dropping two spots to 21 from last week’s 19 slot. The Saints also are a team dropping falling from 24 to 27 this week.

The Saints are 0-2 when scoring 30 or more points this season while the rest of the NFL has fared better. The other teams that have scored 30 or more this season are 20-3.

Chargers QB Phillip Rivers has thrown for 695 yards and five touchdowns in two career games against the Saints.

Saints QB Drew Brees has passed for 400 yards and three touchdowns against the last two AFC opponents he has faced.

HOW THE SOUTH IS WON

Atlanta            2-1       vs         Carolina          1-2       -3.0

Tampa Bay      1-0       vs         Denver            3-0       -7

Carolina          1-2       @         Atlanta            2-1       +3.0

New Orleans   0-3       @         San Diego        1-2       -4.0

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE

QB Drew Brees. It’s a shame but this may be the case every game from here on out. Brees did get picked off back on Monday and it went for a touchdown but it was because the team was down and trying to make a comeback. Think of this: Brees has 1062 yards and 8 touchdowns already this season and just that one pick. IMAGINE if the Saints didn’t have Brees. He’ll be pumped to be back in San Diego and he’ll be locked in to play well. I feel at least a 400-yard passing game here with say three touchdowns.

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE

A linebacker. Pick one.  Laurinaitis, Anthony, Robertson, Ellerbe if he plays, someone in that group has to begin to make a difference. Coach Payton this week didn’t mince punches by calling out the linebackers group following the Falcons game.

X FACTORS

CB Ken Crawley. The first year corner is getting better and better and Payton lauded his play against Atlanta and feels he is getting close to turning the corner. That corner being the fact that he is being challenged by opposing QBs and is in positions to make plays but just hasn’t quite been able to make the play. Phillip Rivers will take chances and I predict Crawley will make his first interception of the season on Sunday.

WR Michael Thomas. The rookie had a nice game on Monday night with seven receptions for 71 yards and his first touchdown. Thomas showed toughness and I think the fact that he was targeted 11 times is just the beginning. The only other player to be targeted 11 times was TE Coby Fleener. I don’t see why the rookie couldn’t average a TD a game. He’s tough, willing to go over the middle, knows the playbook and has the confidence of Drew Brees. Feed him coach.

HOW I SEE IT

The Saints defense was bad last week. No doubt. While the team won’t use it as an excuse, not having four starters out of the game hurts your chances. The Saints lost by 13 points and 14 came directly from turnovers (a pick-six and 7 from a muffed punt).

Point being they still were in the game and Brees ever the optimist keeps saying they are close. It has to start with the first win though. Despite not having won a game the Saints aren’t exactly out of anything. Two games out in the division and only two teams are 3-0 in the NFC.

Sunday will be a bit of shootout but I think Brees and the Saints offense is just too good and IF, IF Payton uses the balance attack we saw against Atlanta, the Saints will score close to 30 points a game.

Saints win 34-27.