There was a lot of information to process in the Saints loss to the Houston Texans the other night.
From the defense forcing a three and out to start the contest, to Garrett Grayson’s less than inspiring performance to close it out — from start to finish, Saints fans and coaches alike learned a lot about their team heading into 2016.
One immediate takeaway: in the overall scheme of things, the promise on the defensive side of the ball means much more than their struggles on offense heading into the new year.
From the outset, the narrative for the Saints has been clear for the last few seasons: with a mediocre defense the Saints would make the playoffs. However, in the first two Preseason games, there has been a new trend for New Orleans.
In what can only be deemed to be a stunning role reversal, suddenly the Saints defense is better than the offense.
Make no mistake, it was a disappointing night for the offense.
Drew Brees threw an ugly interception, and the Texans defensive line made mincemeat of the Saints O-line.
Aug 20, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (90) sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints finished the game with 26 rushing attempts for 82 yards, which comes out to 3.2 yards per carry.
Sadly these woeful numbers exaggerate the Saints success running the ball as Luke McCown — the backup quarterback no less — inflated those numbers by being the team’s leading rusher with 25 yards, often times because he was under pressure.
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Without McCown’s numbers, the Saints rushed for a pathetic 57 yards on the ground, which equals out to 2.4 yards per carry.
Daniel Lasco, the rookie 7th round draft pick; had the Saints longest run of the night: an 11-yard scamper, the longest run by a running back this Preseason.
If you take out Grayson’s 16-yard scamper in the 4th quarter, the results are truly discouraging.
However, while the offense struggled, the starting defense was more than impressive for the Saints.
Free agent acquisition Nick Fairley shone in the absence of rookie Sheldon Rankins, coming up with a sack and multiple stops in the backfield. Last night, Fairley showed why he can still be a disruptive force for the Saints.
Nov 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux (40) against the Houston Texans during a game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
In limited action, Delvin Breaux showed the potential to be a truly “lock down” corner in this league.
He was only tested once and it came on the first play of the game. Houston’s quarterback Brock Osweiler tried to get the ball to superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the first play from scrimmage. Breaux broke beautifully on the ball and was in perfect position to break up the pass.
Having a corner like Breaux who can match up 1 on 1 versus the opposing team’s best receiver gives defensive coordinator Dennis Allen a plethora of options.
He can roll coverage to aid likely number two corner P.J. Williams, or he can bring additional rushers on blitzes to bring more pressure.
On the negative side, former first round pick Andrus Peat struggled mightily.
He was flagged twice for holding penalties, and additionally was absolutely steamrolled by Jadeveon Clowney on a play where Drew Brees was sacked for a 14 yard loss.
In Peat’s defense, his struggles did come mostly when he was lined up against the former no. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Let me say that again: the former number one overall pick .
Clowney has been plagued with injuries the past few years, but when healthy, he is an absolute MONSTER.
A much more interesting matchup would have been Clowney against starting left tackle Terron Armstead.
Clowney clearly dominated against the less polished second year player. Hopefully, the second year player learns from his mistakes and grows from this somewhat humiliating performance.
Ultimately, the flashes on the defensive side of the ball are far more encouraging than the offensive struggles.
Let me phrase it this way, I trust Drew Brees and Sean Payton to make adjustments and be successful far more than I do Dennis Allen and the defense.
Sep 13, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) talks with head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints have had one of the more prolific offenses for the past decade for a reason.
They WILL figure out a way to hide their weaknesses and emphasize their strengths, even if it means moving to a Patriots strategy where they utilized empty backfield sets and throw the ball quickly to hide the offensive line.
Fans should take heart in the promise of the cornerback tandem of Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams, as well as the push of Nick Fairley.
Who knows, in Rob Ryan’s first year as defensive coordinator, the Saints fielded a top 5 defense in yards allowed.
Fans might be in for a similar surprise this season, and that would almost certainly mean a return to the playoffs, even with averaging a measly 2 yards per carry when running the football.
Relax, Saints fans.
You should be more happy about the defense, than being mad at the offense….