Five Takeaways through Five Weeks
Week 6 Unofficial Starting Lineup
|DT||Tyeler Davison *||John Jenkins|
|WLB||Dannell Ellerbe||Nathan Stupar|
|SLB||Stephone Anthony||Michael Mauti|
|FS||Vonn Bell||Jarius Byrd|
|RCB||Ken Crawley||D.B. Webb|
- The Saints Defense Is More Complete Than Meets the Eye
The New Orleans Saints’ defense currently is ranked dead last in points allowed through five weeks and 26th in the league in passing yards allowed. Given, New Orleans has played some of the best quarterbacks in the league (Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Derek Carr) through their first four weeks but still has no excuse for their poor play. However, the Saints may be more complete than what they are given credit.
Upon further examination, the Saints are playing with an array of unexpected injuries and have truly adopted a “plug in play” mentality on defense yet have managed to find young playmakers mixed with veteran talent. Undrafted free agent Ken Crawley has been a microcosm of the Saints’ defense and was thrown into a starting role week two; he has matched up against some of the league’s best through his first three weeks and may just have a premier role in weeks to come. He has played like a rookie but has stayed aggressive and at least given the Saints’ a chance to compete, even with the allowance of high scoring games. New Orleans feels that they have found some young bodies to contribute to their defense and first year defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, must find a way to give his young guys an opportunity to not think and just play.
On the opposite spectrum, the Saints have some veteran talent that has shown glimpses of their youth. Cameron Jordan, the Saints’ best pass rusher, has combined with veteran Nick Fairley to record a total of six sacks through three games. The two have combined for six of the Saints seven sacks and have picked up the slack, accounting for the Saints’ injuries upfront. Kenny Vaccaro has built off of a successful 2015 season as well and has lined up everywhere with the presence of rookie Vonn Bell on the field.
Although the Saints still have a lot of questions that must be answered, they are not as bad as people have made them out to be.
- Injuries Have Kept Them from Being a Top 20 Defense
Saints’ Starters Sidelined
Delvin Breaux – CB1 – Broken Fibula (Set to return in the next three weeks)
Sheldon Rankins (rookie) – DT1 – Broken Fibula (must miss at least first eight weeks)
Dannell Ellerbe – WLB1 – Quadriceps (Set to return week 6)
P.J. Williams – CB2 – Concussion(s) – I.R.
Hau’oli Kikaha – LDE1 – Torn ACL – I.R.
The Saints’ defense has dropped at an alarming rate since training camp opened up this August. New Orleans has patched up their defense as much as they can, and have found players that have contributed greatly, but are still missing the presence of the injured above. Sheldon Rankins was their first round draft pick and was set to play a large role on the defensive line. Along with Rankins, Kikaha was regarded highly coming into training camp and was drafted to get after the quarterback opposite of pro bowler Cameron Jordan. Upon his injury in training camp, the Saints reached out and signed veteran Paul Kruger but have not gotten the production that was expected out of their second year player in Hau’oli Kikaha. New Orleans’ defensive line has missed these two players greatly and have taken a hit at going after the quarterback accordingly.
Where the Saints have struggled the most this year is in their secondary but with their injury rap sheet, it is easy to see why. Both Saints’ starting cornerbacks have missed extensive time this season due to serious injury and have already lost P.J. for the remainder of the season. Delvin Breaux has played at a pro bowl level and has the potential to be a premiere corner in the league. The Saints’ have found young talent in their undrafted free agent corners this year (Devante Harris and Ken Crawley) but the presence of Breaux is surely missed. Breaux is set to return in the next couple weeks and will almost immediately provide the Saints’ secondary with a much needed lift.
With the injuries that the Saints have endured this season, it is no wonder that they have struggled. Coming into the year, the Saints’ defense was already regarded as weak but defensive coordinator Dennis Allen cannot catch a break. A healthy New Orleans’ defense should come out and surprise opponents; look for a vast improvement coming out of their bye week and with players coming back from injury in the coming weeks, don’t write the Saints off yet.
- NOLA Playing Like a Young Defense Is Not a ‘Bad’ Thing
If you were to ask who would be the starters coming into the season, no one would have expected two undrafted free agents to be playing the “islands” of the defense nor would New Orleans be starting rookie Vonn Bell over Jairus Byrd; clearly the Saints’ previous accusations have not contributed to the success, or lack thereof, in the secondary but New Orleans may have found some key players for the future. The Saints’ defense has looked confused at times but have stayed aggressive, which is all that Dennis Allen can ask for from his young players. Although statistics would point towards minimal progress for the Saints, their young talent has shown glimpses of NFL caliber plays.
The Saints have no choice but to continue to play inexperienced players but as their young defense gains NFL experience they will be forced to sink or swim. They have already shown much improvement and managed to close a game against the Chargers in week four to earn the Saints’ first win of the season. Their “dub” came in the hands of New Orleans first interception of the season, by D.W. Webb, on a late pick to seal the game. It is almost guaranteed that the Saints will give up a substantial amount of points from time to time but with Drew Brees at quarterback, New Orleans must stay aggressive and learn to play as a unit. Coming off of a bye week the Saints should come out more prepared against a struggling Carolina Panthers roster and should be able to go out and play without thinking, truly highlighting their capability.
- “Elites” Are Floating Busts
It is no debate that the Saints have made some questionable decisions in free agency the last couple years; from C.J. Spiller to Jairus Byrd, the Saints’ may have more questions inside their organization than on their defense. New Orleans spent a hefty amount to bring in pro bowler Jairus Byrd but with injuries plaguing him before he even arrived, he is on the hot seat in 2016. He was even benched last week as he struggled against a beat up Chargers’ receiving core. As he sat on the bench and watched rookie Vonn Bell, (Ohio State) take his spot on the field, he must find some consistency through the bye week if he hopes to regain his starting position at any point this year. Regardless, he will be on the hot seat and must impress the Saints enough to find a spot on their 53-man roster next season.
Another player finding themselves on the hot seat is first round pick from a year ago, Stephone Anthony. The Clemson product led the team in tackles a year ago but has been very underwhelming in his sophomore season. Regularly being outperformed by linebacker Michael Mauti this season, Anthony has seen less than 50% of the defensive plays in 2016 and has only recorded four tackles. Although going through a position change, the Saints hoped that moving him to strong side linebacker would only improve his game, yet has done the complete opposite. It is too early to tell if he is just in a “sophomore slump” but if he does not improve quickly he will find a spot right next to safety Jairus Byrd on the bench.
- Consistency is KEY
New Orleans has yet to find the right eleven guys to put on the field for their defense but managed to play a full four quarters against the Chargers in week four. The Saints could very easily be 3-1 heading into their bye week but with two late fourth quarter lapses, lost to the Raiders and Giants by a combined four points. First year defensive coordinate Dennis Allen has been patient with his injury plagued defense but must find a way to close games for the Saints. With Drew Brees only getting older, the Saints have little time to improve if they hope to make one last run with their future hall of famer behind center. New Orleans have key players Dannell Ellerbe, Delvin Breaux and Sheldon Rankins returning to the lineup in coming weeks which should help spark their defense but must still must find some stability coming out of the bye week.