New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) fumbles the ball...

New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) fumbles the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta. Credit: AP/Brynn Anderson

NEW ORLEANS — The Saints’ sizeable investment in Derek Carr is looking more like a liability lately.

New Orleans has struggled to finish promising drives in the end zone — something that likely needs to change if the Saints (5-6) are to keep up with the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions (8-3) in the Superdome on Sunday.

“It’s something that we’re working on,” Carr said this week. “Everyone wants an answer, or has an answer for us, but we’re going to keep working on it here.”

“It hasn’t been what we want it to be up to this point," Carr added, “but we still have time.”

Even with their losing record, the Saints are tied for first place in the anemic NFC South with Atlanta (5-6).

Reeling in Carr in free agency was New Orleans' top priority last offseason. Saints coach Dennis Allen was the Raiders' coach when that franchise drafted Carr, only to get fired during the QB's rookie season.

The Saints were hoping Carr — whom the Saints signed to a four-year contract worth up to $150 million — could provide stability that had been lacking at that all-important position since Drew Brees' retirement after the 2020 season.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith (91) strips the ball...

Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith (91) strips the ball away from Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, in Detroit. Credit: AP/Duane Burleson

Overall, Carr's numbers have been solid. He has passed for 300-plus yards in five games this season. But his competion rate inside an opponent's 20-yard line is 44.7%. Meanwhile, the Saints' red-zone conversion rate — the number of drives inside an opponent's 20 that resulted in a touchdown — is 42.5% (17 of 40), which ranks fourth-worst in the NFL.

Allen said that while the offense functions well much of the time, “the one critical area that continues to crop up is we’re not scoring enough touchdowns.”

“That’s an area that we keep focusing on,” Allen said. "And we’ll continue to work on it until we get it right.”

The Lions would rather that not happen this weekend as they try to improve to 9-3 for the first time since 1962. They also want to avoid dropping two straight for the first time this season after losing to Green Bay at home on Thanksgiving Day.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks to pass...

New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks to pass in the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta. Credit: AP/Brynn Anderson

After studying his team's last loss, Lions coach Dan Campbell came away not all that concerned about Detroit's effort or overall execution. If not for turnovers, he said, the Lions could have fared a lot better. And that is something that Campbell is confident Detroit can fix.

“That’s the major issue right now,” Campbell said. "Ultimately, man, we’ve got to hold on to the football, which we can do. We can do that.”

BACK TO THE BAYOU

Campbell is looking forward to some good eating and seeing familiar faces in New Orleans.

“Shrimp gumbo down there, it’s as good as gold,” he said.

Campbell would know.

He was a Saints assistant for Sean Payton from 2016-2020 before Detroit hired him in 2021.

“My time there, things were run right,” Campbell said. "They were done right and there was a winning attitude, winning atmosphere and that’s what it was all about. It’s just special and that’s why it will always be special. To be able to go back and play there makes it special.”

Allen was the Saints defensive coordinator during Campbell's coaching stint with New Orleans.

FRONT FAILURES

Veteran defensive end Cameron Jordan's recent ankle injury only added to the Saints' anxiety about how their defensive front has played lately.

The Saints allowed 228 yards rushing during a 24-15 loss at Atlanta last weekend, marking the fourth straight game in which they've yielded at least 125 yards on the ground.

“I’d be the first one to stand up here and tell you that it needs to be better," said Allen, who oversees and calls the defense. “It really hasn’t quite been what we needed it to be the last couple years. It’s going to continue to be an area that we’ll address.”

GOFF'S GAFFES

Lions quarterback Jared Goff has turned it over six times in two games, losing a career-high three fumbles in the loss to Green Bay on Thanksgiving and throwing three interceptions for the first time in three years in a comeback win against Chicago on Nov. 19.

Goff, though, said he's not going to play cautiously.

“You've got to be aggressive when the shots are there and take your chance to make a play,” he said.

___

AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.

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