Nov 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen against the Houston Texans during the first quarter of a game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
After two bitterly disappointing 7-9 campaigns, it’s glaringly obvious to fans what the Saints need to do to get back to the playoffs. The defense MUST improve. The question is: can Dennis Allen be the guy to get the job done, and turn it around?
Experience is on his side.
Dennis Allen has a fairly extensive football resume, and he has coached in some capacity at the NFL level for 20 years.
The latest man chosen by Sean Payton to be the Saints defensive coordinator has always favored the defensive side of the ball. Allen played safety at Texas A&M, which was also where he got his first coaching gig.
Allen got his start in the NFL with Saints divisional rival, the Atlanta Falcons, entering the league as a defensive quality assistant.
Nebulous as that title was, Allen’s duties were specifically centered around aiding the secondary. As it turns out, solid secondary play would come to be a staple of Dennis Allen defenses.
“Things would get worse before they got better. The next season, after getting off to an abysmal 0-4 start, Allen was fired.”
This is not Allen’s first rodeo in New Orleans.
He was actually the Saints secondary coach from 2008-2010, and was part of the Saints Super Bowl-winning team.
Allen was part of the reason the Saints led the league in turnovers that season, with the secondary responding to his teaching.
Feb 7, 2010 ; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter (22) returns an interception for a TD in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV at Sun-Life Stadium. The Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Since that Super Bowl win as a Saints assistant, its been a turbulent road for Allen in the NFL.
He was hired as the Broncos defensive coordinator in 2011. That year the Broncos fielded a middling defense, finishing ranked 20th. (That was the season Tim Tebow won a playoff game.)
Right after that season, Allen was hired as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Expectations were high for Allen in Oakland. He was the first defensive coach to be hired since the legendary John Madden.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go well from the start, as the Raiders went 4-12 in his year year. Things would get worse before they got better. The next season, after getting off to an abysmal 0-4 start, Allen was fired.
August 15, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen looks at his play chart against the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
No city or franchise loves an outcast like New Orleans.
After a year away from football, Sean Payton hired on Allen last year as a defensive assistant. And not long after as they say: ‘the rest is history’.
Rob Ryan’s defense imploded on itself, and Allen was left to pick up the pieces midway through the season.
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This year, the defense is now in his control, and the Saints playoff hopes are contingent upon Allen righting a sinking ship.
Actually, that might be an understatement, seeing as last year the Saints gave up the most passing touchdowns in NFL history — as well as allowing the most rushing yards per attempt in the NFL.
To be fair to Allen, he is tasked with fixing the equivalent of the Titanic.
His job hasn’t gotten any easier over the summer, either.
One of the biggest questions on the Saints defense has been how they would pressure opposing quarterbacks. They signed Nick Fairley and drafted Sheldon Rankins in the first-round to address the issue of interior pressure. As for the edge, the plan was for last year’s standout Hau’oli Kikaha fill that role.
Unfortuantely, Kikaha tore his ACL in the final week of practice during OTAs, leaving yet another void for the Saints to fill.
Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton walks past defensive coordinator Dennis Allen in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Allen has a herculean task ahead of him to be sure.
But he also has an incredible opportunity. If he is able to fix the much maligned Saints defense, the city will rally around him, and it’s very likely that Allen will be offered a head coaching position down the road.
The much more immediate impact for the Saints would be a return to the playoffs.
Dennis Allen got his start in football by upgrading the secondary at Texas A&M. It’s fitting then, that one of the strengths of his new defense lies in the secondary.
In order to get the job done he will need them, along with every ounce of defensive acumen he’s acquired over his coaching career……