Let’s face it. When you mention the New Orleans Saints and defense in the same sentence, the response is typically critical or comical. Since 2012, the Saints have developed a reputation of being one of the worst units out there. Rob Ryan’s entrance and stellar defense of 2013 just ended up being a false sense of security for fans, and it once again became a huge issue over the past two seasons.
When Dennis Allen took over for Rob Ryan after Week 10 of last season, huge changes were expected, but never came. There were glimpses of what the defense could have been, but it still wasn’t enough to salvage the Saints season. This year provided a lot of optimism, even with all of the injuries. However, the first five games were absolutely atrocious for the Saints, and has us all looking for change.
|OAK at NO||NO at NYG||ATL at NO||NO at SD||CAR at NO|
|Total Net Yards||486||417||442||346||406|
|Points Allowed||By Quarter|
In those first five games, the Saints were allowing 33.6 points per game. Two horrible efforts in rush defense against the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons helped put up a 117.8 rushing yard/game average, while they gave up a total of 2,097 yards at nearly 420 yards/game and 6.1 yards per play.
The game against the Kansas City Chiefs was the first big turning point for the defense, as they put forth their best effort of the season by allowing just 326 total yards of offense. Naturally, they lost the game due to turnovers and a really bad Nick Fairley penalty. However, it started putting the Saints on the right path.
|NO at KC||SEA at NO||NO at SF||DEN at NO||NO at CAR||LA at NO|
|Total Net Yards||326||359||486||337||223||247|
|Points Allowed||By Quarter|
The most encouraging part of what Dennis Allen’s defense has been able to do this season is the ability to make second half adjustments. Sure, the Saints have given up a lot of points in the first half (106 to be exact) over the past six contests. However, they’ve given up just 33 points in the second half, 15 of which came against the Denver Broncos. Only one touchdown has been surrendered, too. We’re not even getting into technicalities like the blocked 2-point conversion either.
In this stretch, the Saints run defense has improved tremendously by allowing just 83.5 yards/game on the ground. If you go off Sheldon Rankins’ return in Week 9 against the San Francisco 49ers, then the Saints have surrendered just 78.8 yards/game in the past four games. They’ve also cut down on the average yards given up per play to 5.65. That includes a pretty rough outing against the 49ers in which they gave up a season-high 8.5 yards per play.
Of the past six games, the Saints are just allowing an average of 128.5 yards in the final two quarters, giving up 12 points in the third quarter and 21 points in the fourth quarter. If you look at any of the real dominant defenses across the NFL, then you know this is the type of performance and effort that speaks volumes for a team’s ability to play well in the postseason.
Let’s talk about sacks, as there’s a lot to be encouraged by there. Sure, ranking 23rd in the league with just 22.0 sacks isn’t exactly appealing. However, in the past three games, the Saints have the third-highest amount of sacks per game at 3.7, trailing only the New York Giants (4.7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (4.3).
You could say the Saints faced some porous offensive lines in their past few contests that have helped them net 11.0 sacks in three games. But in the past two seasons you couldn’t find a Saints defense that would be able to take advantage of what was given to them. More importantly, the Saints are generating pressure from their interior linemen. Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins have combined for 6.5 sacks this season, which equals the exact total of the 2014 and 2015 defensive interior output.
Finally, the Saints are tied for ninth-best in the league with 1.5 takeaways per game. They’re also ranked 9th in the NFL with 17 total takeaways this season. In 2015, the Saints managed 22 takeaways, and just 17 in 2014. Going back even further, Rob Ryan’s 2013 defense that was ranked fourth overall in the league only had 19 takeaways, good for fourth-lowest. As bad as 2012’s defense was, they still managed 26 takeaways.
The bottom line is that Dennis Allen and the New Orleans Saints defense deserves a lot of praise for a big turnaround, and if they keep pace with what they are doing, then teams could really fear having to face the Saints in the postseason. Of course, we’re still a long ways out from that. However, the immediate and near future looks bright for Allen’s squad.