Where in the World is the Saints Defense?
Three weeks into the young NFL season, four teams remain winless. The Browns (Shocking right?), Jaguars, Bears and the New Orleans Saints.
Of those four teams, the Saints are the only one to be in the top 10 of any major offensive stat except for rushing (The Browns are fourth in rushing, the lone bright spot on an other wise inept team).
Drew Brees continues to define logic as he leads the league in passing yards (1062) and touchdowns (8) and his lone interception came off a deflected pass against Atlanta. Yet despite his ridiculous play so far, the Saints find themselves at 0-3 for the second consecutive year.
After the ugly start last year, the Saints won four out of there next five games and found themselves at a respectable 4-4 halfway through the season. The second half of the season turned out poorly as they only won three more games, fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and finished at 7-9 for the second consecutive year, failing to reach the playoffs again.
Now at 0-3 again, Sean Payton and the Saints are at rock bottom with no sign of turning it around. While last years team found new life at this point in the season, an easy schedule can be pointed to as why the sudden turnaround. The next seven games for the Saints have them playing at San Diego, then a bye, home against Carolina, at Kansas City, home against Seattle, at San Fransisco, home against Denver, and then at Carolina.
By Week 12, the Saints could realistically be 1-9. While the schedule gets easier from there, a return to 7-9 is almost impossible.
So what has gone wrong in New Orleans?
After the promotion of Dennis Allen to DC midway through the season last year, the Defense did not get any better finishing 2nd to last in total yards given up, passing yards, rushing yards and dead last in total points given up. Injuries and off-field scandals plagued the team throughout the year but clearly the defense needed an overhaul.
And they did, sorta.
Having one of the worst cap situations in all the league, the Saints started to cut bad contracts starting off with CB Brandon Browner who proved to be disastrous in the secondary last year. Saints GM Mickey Loomis followed that move with the release of long term WR Marques Colston and RB C.J. Spiller.
Loomis then started to make splashes in free agency, and little by little it looked like the holes in the Saints D would be filled. LB James Laurinaitis and DT Nick Fairley signed with the Saints, while also adding LB's Nate Stupar and Craig Robertson to add depth to linebacking core that had been lacking since the release of Junior Galette. Loomis also choose not to re-sign Safety Rafael Bush and instead drafted Ohio State standout Vonn Bell.
The Saints like to use a three safety defensive set with Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Bell. Byrd was signed to a 6-year/$54 million in 2014, the second highest paid player on the roster behind Drew Brees.
Through the first three games of the season Byrd has looked lost at the FS position, as his time in New Orleans might be coming to a close even though his contract won't end for another three years.
Look at this clip from Monday's night game at Atlanta and you'll see why Vonn Bell might take his starting job soon.
The Saints defense ranks dead last in open field yards for rushing which is troublesome for a team with a $54 million safety. Another poor performance from Byrd could make him the odd man out.
Dennis Allen's defense currently ranks 23rd in passing yards per game, not great but better then last years 31st rating. And while its easy to jump on Allen's back and push him out of town, consider the injuries the Saints secondary has taken.
Starting CB Delvin Breaux broke his fibula against the Raiders in Week 1, forcing him out for 4-6 weeks. CB Kyle Wilson suffered a torn labrum in late June landing him on the IR, and starting nickel CB Damian Swann was also placed on the IR and not expected to return this year. To make matters worse, CB P.J. Williams suffered a horrendous head injury against the Giants in Week 2, ending his season.
Allen is left with starting two rookies CB and so far it has shown as the Saints currently are giving up the second most points per game. But you can't blame it all on the secondary. A weak linebacking core was a huge problem for the Saints last year and was a big focal point for the team in free agency.
LB Craig Robertson has had a phenomenal season stopping the run so far, leading the NFL in tackles. However, in coverage Robertson is very weak, allowing 6 out 7 passes to be completed when he was the primary defender in last weeks game against Atlanta. But besides him, no-one at LB has played consistent. Dannell Ellerbe missed the first two games of the season with injury and Laurinaitis has been largely ineffective at MLB. When RB's get passed the defensive line, the Saints are ranked 20th in 2nd-level yardage with 1.27. Thats twice more then the league leader Green Bay who only gives up .66 yards when the RB gets passed the first line of defense.
New Orleans rush defense is a huge concern, allowing 5.0 yards per cary and giving up 149 rushing yards per game, the worst in the NFL. Loomis drafted two DT, including the first round selection of Sheldon Rankins and the signing of Nick Fairley was to ensure that teams.