Saints defense look to continue strong play

Published 3:06 pm Friday, September 23, 2022

By John DeShazier

The New Orleans Saints

METARIE, La — Thirteen points allowed, three of them following a turnover which gave the opponent a starting position at their 29-yard line and a refusal to surrender an inch beyond that position.

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Two hundred sixty yards allowed, including a miserly 72 yards given up on 30 rushing attempts.

Twelve stops on 17 third-down attempts, and one stone wall constructed to eliminate a fourth-and-1 and force a turnover on downs.

The New Orleans Saints defense didn’t walk off the field against Tampa Bay victorious on the scoreboard at the Caesars Superdome, but the unit posted a bevy of likable, winning-caliber numbers in the 20-10 loss. And it hopes to continue that pace Sunday, when New Orleans (1-1) visits Carolina (0-2) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

“I think the first thing we did was, we stopped the run,” Saints Coach Dennis Allen said. “We played really well in the run game, which makes them a little bit more one-dimensional.

“I thought we challenged in coverage, which was good to see. And I think we affected the quarterback (Tom Brady). The ball got out pretty quick in that game, but yet, he wasn’t throwing to a lot of open receivers. I thought overall, it was effective.”

It was a return to what the Saints’ defense has become accustomed to producing over the past several seasons, especially as an elite run defense. With few exceptions, New Orleans has been able to shut down opponents’ run games, make them pass-heavy and disrupt the passing game in the process.

Brady completed just 18 of 34 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, was sacked once and lost a fumble.

The numbers were significantly improved from the season opener against Atlanta. New Orleans won 27-26, but allowed twice as many points on defense (26), nearly three times as many rushing yards (201), 156 more total yards (416) and a slightly higher completion percentage (20 for 33).

“I guess it’s just in the process of always trying to get better,” defensive end Marcus Davenport said. “We looked at last week (against Tampa Bay) and we still see things that we can improve on. So I think as long as we keep that mind-set, we’re going to keep on trending.”

Davenport agreed that a key aspect for the Saints was getting back to stopping the run. After allowing 5.9 yards per carry against Atlanta, New Orleans shrunk the number to 2.4 against the Buccaneers. In the previous four seasons, the Saints’ high for yards per carry was 4.2 in 2019, and the most rushing yards per game they allowed was 93.9 in 2020.

“We had way too many explosive plays (in the opener), too many yards in general – especially on the ground,” he said. “So one it’s one of those things that we’ve got to refine and get back to dominating. Really, you’ve just got to take it on the chin. It’s what you put out there, and that was our first body of work. From there, I think it’s one of those things that we’re going to use to only make ourselves better. So we’re always going to keep it with us, but never let it hinder us.”

The main area where the defense would like to see improvement is in the sacks total, which stands at one this season. But, too, Davenport said that statistic can deceive.

“It’s important, because it’s a team game,” he said. “Defense is all about the team. We can have all the sacks, but if we don’t get coverage or if we’re not pressuring the quarterback, it doesn’t complement each other.

“It’s not always one of those stats that you can apply to everything. Any kind of quarterback, you’ve got to get affects, get people off spots, buy some time. It takes a team.”

INJURY LIST ADDITION: Rookie defensive back Alontae Taylor (knee) was added to the injury list Thursday, and practiced on a limited basis. The rest of the list remained as it was on Wednesday, with those nine players again practicing on a limited basis.