Photo by: USA Today
First of all, this is a new series for me, Look at the Details. Inspired by Mark Ingram, this series will feature analytics and film study (sometimes separately sometimes combined) about the Saints each week. Everyone here knows that I love numbers and the stories they tell, so here are some about the Saints defense and their evident improvement.
Clouded in Thursday night’s disappointing performance against the Dallas Cowboys is often the outstanding game played by the Saints’ defensive unit. 2 takeaways, 7 sacks (second week in a row with 6+), 13 points allowed, Zeke limited to only 76 yards on the ground, and only 99 team rushing yards allowed.
The thing is, this wasn’t specific to that one game. The Saints defense has been balling for a few weeks now and has been a big part of the dominance that’s been exercised by New Orleans. Looking over the team’s season standing tells the story of a middle-of-the-pack defense. But looking at recent trends by this team shows a whole new light and puts on full display their improvement.
Let’s start with league rankings:
With the two extremes in run defense and pass defense, it makes sense that all else, in terms of averages, shakes out to be an average, middle-of-the-pack defense. The Saints bolster the top ranked run defense in both yards per game and yards per carry (3.5). Meanwhile the secondary, particularly deep, has been weak allowing 825 passing yards on pass plays 20 or more yards. That’s 24.6% of the 3,351 passing yards allowed.
The Saints though have found themselves in the top 10 in takeaways and top 10 in sacks. But the majority of that production has come within the last five games. Let’s take a look at the same totals and averages above since week 8.
Improvements all around here. These totals include the Rams game in which the Saints defense allowed 35 points. If you take that game out, the numbers look even better. But I wanted to include one game of interest in this group. You can see that averages across the board have dropped and that the weight of takeaways and sacks have come since week 8, landing the defense top 3 in the league in both categories. The run defense is freakishly consistent on a game-to-game basis but has slacked a touch per carry allowing 4.11 yards each run in this span of time. Even the passing defense has improved by nearly 30 yards per game. Some of that has to do with the surging pass rush, no doubt which has been extremely effective these last two games. You can also see that the Saints defense has done a great job getting off the field lately as well and that QBs aren’t licking their chops like they were early in the season to come up against New Orleans.
The Saints also improved in the critical area of red zone defense. Allowing 61.54% of opponent’s red zone possessions to end in a touchdown for the season ranked them 21st in the league. However, over the last three games, they’ve only allowed 30% of such possessions to yield a touchdown. Best in the league.
Don’t let the loss in Dallas fool you, when the Saints offense rebounds to its top 3 shape it’s going to be hell for anyone coming up against them. Add in this defense that’s been consistently besting itself on a weekly basis and there’s no sanctuary for the rest of the NFL. Last time New Orleans lost a game, they tore through a 10-game win streak. Now that they’ve lost a second time late in the season, expect them to do more than just rebound as they have all of the necessary weapons and momentum to go on a full-on demolition tour. If you need evidence of that, just look at the details.