Here are two phrases that don’t normally go together: “the New Orleans Saints” and “eight straight quarters without giving up points on defense.”
In recent seasons, New Orleans’ defense allowed opponents to score points in bunches, and it was up to the offense to win shootouts.
That has not been the case for most of this preseason, as the Saints’ defense has been the star of the show, allowing just 20 points thus far. The offense, on the other hand, has struggled, failing to score more than 14 points in three games.
Even adding a Los Angeles Chargers interception for a touchdown, New Orleans’ three opponents have only scored 27 points combined. Meanwhile, the Saints have scored 40 points in three games for a plus-13 point differential. It took 16 games for the team to be at a plus-16 point differential for the regular season last year.
This preseason, New Orleans also hasn’t given up any points in the first quarter, when most of the stars enter the game, with quarterbacks being a major exception. Even raising the length of time to the entire first half, the Saints have only given up seven points on defense thus far. It may still be the preseason, but this is a stunning turnaround for a unit that struggled to stop most offenses in recent years.
New Orleans had 30 sacks over all of last season, and just three games into this preseason, the team already has 16 sacks. Those numbers aren’t against offensive lines with all five regular-season starters, but it is impressive that the team is finally getting pressure on quarterbacks, no matter who is blocking.
Thus far, the Saints have recorded 28 quarterback hits, which shows just how well the defense is getting to the quarterback. It took the team five games to surpass that last season.
The sticking point is that the team has missed several opportunities to create turnovers. New Orleans’ secondary and linebackers have dropped numerous interceptions, and the defense as a whole has failed to grab some fumbles.
The Saints lost against the Cleveland Browns after going 0-2 on turnovers, but they won the turnover battle against the Chargers at 2-1 and held even with the Houston Texans at 1-1. New Orleans was victorious against both L.A. and Houston, and keeping turnovers even or winning the battle played a large part in that.
Only one team, Cleveland, has put up more than 300 yards against the Saints this preseason. That is impressive in today’s NFL, where the rules favor the offense and allow for high-scoring games.
New Orleans’ defensive line, linebackers and secondary are putting pressure on opponents. The team has been able to blitz and get at quarterbacks from just about anywhere. However, all this defensive improvement could just be preseason fools’ gold. When all the starters return, it could be like the clock striking midnight and the defense turning back into a pumpkin.
Hopefully, that is not the case, and even if the Saints’ defense loses some of its effectiveness, the confidence it has built should carry into the regular season. We’ll find the answer quickly, as the Saints start the regular season against the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins.