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The Dennis Allen Effect

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It was recently announced that Dennis Allen would be returning to the New Orleans Saints in a defensive assistant role. Saints fans rejoiced. However, is this optimism supported by the numbers?

New Orleans Saints' new defensive assistant, Dennis Allen
New Orleans Saints' new defensive assistant, Dennis Allen
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It was recently announced that Dennis Allen would be returning to the New Orleans Saints in a defensive assistant role. Saints fans rejoiced. There was a feeling that Dennis Allen would be able to come in and help the secondary, which was a glaring weak spot this past season. However, is this optimism supported by the numbers? Let’s take a look at how the secondary performed while Allen was the secondary coach (2008-2010) compared to how they’ve fared since.

The Dennis Allen Years

Dennis Allen was named the secondary coach for the New Orleans Saints in 2008, and that is where our story begins.  The Saints surrendered 299 completions in 526 attempts for a 56.8% completion percentage, the 6th best percentage in the league. They gave up 3,547 yards through the air (221.7 per game), ranking 23rd in the league. The 21 passing touchdowns scored on them was the 18th fewest allowed that season. They finished the season with the 11th most interceptions, hauling in 15. The defense was susceptible to the intermediate gain, giving up 53 20+ yard gainers, ranked 30th in the league. However, they were able to limit the bombs, giving up only 5 40+ yard gainers, ranked 6th best.

The 2009 (Super Bowl Champion!!!) New Orleans Saints defense allowed 330 completions on 574 attempts for a 57.5% completion percentage, the 4th best in the league. They allowed 3,769 passing yards (235.6 per game), coming in at 26th in the league. The pass defense did an excellent job at keeping the opposition out of the end zone, surrendering only 15 passing touchdowns, the 5th fewest in the NFL that season. As good as they were at preventing scores, they were even better at setting up their own offense, pulling in 26 interceptions, the 3rd most in the regular season. Additionally, the pass defense also allowed 48 gains of over 20 yards, ranked 19th, and 11 gains of over 40 yards, ranked 24th.

The last season under Allen was an interesting one, statistically. The Saints defense did a good job of limiting the opposition, but was not able to make many big plays. Opposing quarterbacks completed 61.9% of their passes (306 for 494), ranking the defense at 17th in that category, the worst with Dennis Allen as secondary coach. Those completions did not go for much though, with the defense giving up only 3,103 yards (193.9 per game), the 4th fewest allowed that season. The Saints came in at 1st in the league in passing touchdowns allowed, surrendering only 13. On the flipside, they finished dead last in interceptions, picking off just 9 passes. The team did a great job limiting big passing gains, finishing in the top ten in both 20+ yard gains (42, ranked 8th) and 40+ yard gains (7, ranked 10th).

Life After Dennis

The Saints pass defense missed Dennis Allen immediately, regressing in most of the measured categories in 2011. They did limit the opposition to completing 57.8% of their passes (362 for 626), ranking 9th in the league. However, the 4,157 passing yards (259.8 per game) they gave up ranked near the bottom at 30th. The defense gave up 24 passing touchdowns, good for 16th in the league, to go along with 9 interceptions, good for 28th. They were in the middle of the pack in 20+ yard gains, surrendering 49, ranked 14th in the league. However, the Saints defense allowed the most 40+ yard gains in the NFL with 14.

Oh 2012, the season that never happened. The organization was dealing with a myriad of issues off the field, which definitely seemed to hinder the on field success. The pass defense allowed 370 completions on 602 attempts. The 61.5% completion clip was 17th in the NFL. Leaking like a sieve, the Saints gave up 4,681 yards (292.6 per game) through the air, ranking 31st in the league in that category. Giving up 31 passing touchdowns, the team finished the season ranked 31st in that department, as well. The defense came in at 14th in the NFL with 15 interceptions, the only category that they finished in the top half of the league. If you did not guess already, big plays were a big problem. The Saints gave up 66 passing plays of 20 yards or more (ranked 30th) and 14 gains of over 40 yards (32nd in the league).

After the winds of winter in 2012, the 2013 season gave Saints fans a dream of spring. The opposition completed 60% of their passes (304 for 507), ranking the defense at 15th in that category. While the opposing quarterbacks’ completion percentage remained pretty much the same, there was a sizable improvement in most other categories, especially when it came to yardage. After ranking second to last in the league in passing yards allowed in 2012, the defense finished 2nd in the same category in 2013, allowing only 3,105 yards (194.1 per game). The defense’s 20 passing touchdowns allowed had them ranked 6th, but their 12 interceptions put them at 24th in the league, in that regard. The big gains were greatly decreased from the previous year, allowing 40 gains of 20+ yards (ranked 4th) and 10 gains of 40+ yards (ranked 19th).

2014 came along and made the 2013 season seem like a distant dream, as the defense failed to finish better than 15th in any category. Coming in at 15th in the league, the Saints gave up 341 completions on 546 attempts for a 62.5% completion rate. Giving up 4,019 passing yards (251.2 per game), the defense finished the year ranked 25th in the league. They came in at 17th in passing touchdowns, allowing 26 passes to end in celebration, and ranked 21st in interceptions, racking up 12 of them. While the 2014 defense allowed the same amount of 40+ yard pass gains (10, ranked 19th), they upped the total of 20+ yard pass gains to 54, earning themselves the 20th spot in the NFL.

But What Does It All Mean, Basil

I know, I know, that’s a lot to take in and a ton of numbers to keep track of. Let’s make things simple and break them down into the overall averages for each category.

Averages Under Allen:
58.7% completion | 217.1 ypg | 16.3 TDs | 16.7 INTs | 47.7 20+ yd gains | 7.7 40+ yd gains

Averages After Allen:
60.4% completion | 249.4 ypg | 25.3 TDs | 12 INTs | 52.3 20+ yd gains | 12 40+ yd gains

Well, look at that! Even with the great 2013 season, the passing defense has been worse overall in every category since Dennis Allen left. Sure, you can argue "different players" or "the league has changed," but still, going off of what we can, this looks like a good hiring for the Saints.