Just a few months ago, the New Orleans Saints’ front seven was looked at as a bit depleted compared to the year before. With Kwon Alexander not yet signed, the losses of Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown looming and David Onyemata’s six-game suspension being announced, it appeared to be a group with holes to be filled.
And while it may still not be quite what it was last year, this front seven looked dominant against the Ravens on Saturday.
The biggest surprise was the linebacking core, which was a weakness on this defense just recently. Now, the depth seems to be pretty sufficient with Demario Davis and Alexander being the leaders and some young guys to be molded behind them.
One of those young guys who showed all the way out in the first week of preseason play was none other than Zack Baun, putting this newfound depth on display.
Zack Baun led the way defensively with an ELITE 93.2 OVR grade on his 31 snaps played!— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) August 15, 2021
Baun was a busy man, totaling:
⚜️ 5 total tackles
⚜️ 1 QB hurry
⚜️ 1 Batted pass
⚜️ 3 yards allowed on 2 catches#Saints #WhoDat pic.twitter.com/aFnppZumxF
In 31 snaps at mostly weakside linebacker, Baun had four defensive stops, one QB pressure and only gave up two catches on two targets for a total of three receiving yards. He was everywhere, flying around and making plays as a pass rusher and in open space on run and pass plays.
Take the play above for instance, where he eats up this play action rollout dump-off, which is a play that killed the Saints defense at times last year.
During last season, Baun pretty much only played at the strongside (SAM) LB position. At SAM, he was typically lined up on the line of scrimmage. So, this was a unique opportunity for him to show what he could do in space. And it’s safe to say he impressed.
He even looked smooth covering tight ends in the slot:
This was such an encouraging performance for Baun, even if it’s just one game. We now know he’s at least capable.
If he can continue putting these signs of progression on display moving forward, he can be a real depth piece, and potentially a starter, on this defense long-term.
It wasn’t just Baun who showed out though. The defense as a whole posted 25 QB pressures and three sacks.
We didn’t get to see Payton Turner, but the guy people often compare him to was bullying the Ravens’ left tackle.
Marcus Davenport put up five QB pressures and four hurries on only 17 pass rushing snaps, which is pretty crazy. He was absolutely destructive, even if it was against a backup, posting a 91.2 PFF pass rush grade.
And even though Onyemata won’t be available for the first six games of the regular season, he reminded us why he’s so highly thought of by the front office, adding four pressures and two sacks in only 14 pass rush snaps.
Interestingly, he did a lot of his damage at defensive end, playing the majority of his snaps at left end.
LB’s Kaden Elliss and Chase Hansen also had solid performances, especially against the pass.
And we can’t forget Jalen Dalton, who was moving people in the run game all night, leading the team with an 84.3 run D grade.
As it currently stands, this defense has two big weaknesses: #2 corner and D Tackle.
And the latter will pretty much be solved when Onyemata comes back from suspension. With guys like Shy Tuttle, Dalton and Roach only being counted on as rotation guys — as well as versatile ends like Cameron Jordan who can come in and play the interior at times — the Saints will be fine inside once DO gets back.
At that point, this defense seems to be a reliable second corner away from once again being one of the most talented in the league.
And arguably the biggest reason why is this front seven, which showed out on Saturday.
What do you think of the Saints front seven? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.