You know who the MVP of the New Orleans Saints 2016 season is?
It's not Drew Brees and his potential career-setting season.
It's not Michael Thomas and his amazing rookie year.
It's not Cam Jordan and his magnificent all-around campaign.
The 2016 Saints MVP is defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
Allen kept the defense from being 2015 catastrophic-level bad when injuries crushed it early in the year and now that key players have returned he's fashioned the defense into a unit that is plenty good enough to win games.
Here's a few things the Saints defense has been up to in 2016...
- In the last five weeks the Saints defense hasn't allowed more than 23 points (if you don't count Kansas City's defensive touchdown it's six weeks).
- Have allowed one second half touchdown the last six weeks.
- Have 22 sacks through 11 games, which is only 9 less than entire 2015 season, and already have 14 more hits on opposing quarterbacks than they did for the entire 2015 season.
- Have allowed 17 touchdown passes in 2016 compared to 45 they allowed in 2015.
-Are ranked 12th in rushing defense (99 yards-per-game) compared to 31st in 2015 (129 yards-per-game).
About the only thing Allen hasn't improved is third down defense. The Saints still allow 40 percent conversions, which is exactly the same as last last year.
Did I mention Dennis Allen took corners he found on the nearest street corner (Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb) and helped get the Saints to 4-4? I feel like when we yell at Webb and Moore for struggling we forget the fact they aren't Brandon Browner level bad is a minor miracle. It's not a 'turn water into wine' type miracle but it's definitely 'found $150 and can keep the lights' type good fortune. Defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn deserves some love for that but so does Allen for putting them in positions to succeed.
Allen has also turned a healthy Dannell Ellerbe into the terrorizing linebacker he was when Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2012. Ellerbe has played only four games for the Saints in 2016 but he's only 1.5 sacks away from his career high. It might be time for Saints to invest in bubble wrap or one of those hyperbaric chambers for Dannell. I would gladly give up all my Twitter Ellerbe injury jokes for a 16 game 10 sack season from him.
My old joke about defeating the Saints defense used to be, "Can you block Cam Jordan?" If you did, you could light up the Saints for as many points as necessary. The mid-season additions of Ellerbe and rookie Sheldon Rankins mean the Saints have a legit pass rush now and Allen has gotten creative in getting to the quarterback.
The injuries at corner may have forced the Saints into playing three safeties but its worked. Kenny Vaccaro is playing at a pro bowl level, Vonn Bell has been up and down as a rookie, and Jairus Byrd, despite getting a ton of fan criticism, has mostly been a solid last line of defense and sure tackler.
The Saints wasted the defense's three best outings (New York, Denver, Carolina) but that's not Dennis Allen's fault.
If you told me in August, "The Saints will give up less than 100 yards rushing per week and potentially cut touchdown passes allowed in half." I'd have said they are going 10-6 and that's the WORST case scenario. No one could predict the special teams would be the worst in Saints history.
The Saints defense has allowed 21.5 points per game the last six weeks. That'd be good enough for 12th best in the NFL over the entire season. That's not average or mediocre, that's damn good defense.
Dennis Allen the real MVP y'all.
16 for 50: Attack of the Billy Joes
Since the Saints are celebrating their 50th Anniversary, every week I'm going to talk about a memorable moment from team history. Some everyone will remember and some will be odd and forgotten moments.
The Mike Ditka Era was mostly awful as far as actual football but the overall entertainment value wasn't bad. Ditka pulled off the ridiculous Ricky Williams trade, had some great press conferences, and he gave us the Billy Joes at quarterback.
Most Saints fans consider the Billy Joes as Billy Joe Hobert and Billy Joe Tolliver, but truthfully I like to consider ALL of Ditka's Saints quarterbacks as 'honorary' Billy Joes. Danny Wuerffel, Heath Shuler, Doug Nussmeier and Kerry Collins were all Billy Joes in my heart.
Each was awful in their own way.
Fun fact: Danny Wuerffel is last quarterback drafted by the Saints to actually start and win a football game.
Probably the moment that sums up how bad Ditka's quarterbacks were was the 1998 game vs Seattle. The game went to overtime tied at 17, Saints linebacker Winfred Tubbs intercepted Warren Moon, and instead of running even one play Ditka decided to kick a 38-yard field goal to win the game.
Why risk the disaster of having a quarterback take even one snap?
The one great question of the Mike Ditka era was what if Billy Joe Hobert had stayed healthy in 1998? The Saints stumbled onto Billy Joe Hobert late in 1997 after Buffalo cut him, and while he wasn't what you'd call 'good', he was mobile, tough, and could make some plays. Also, he probably was the perfect quarterback for Ditka in that he was hard-headed and kind of charming in an honest, arrogant kind of way.
Hobert started four games in 1997, was named starter in 1998, Ditka was upbeat, and was convinced he had found his guy. Opening day in 1998 Hobert and the Saints looks surprisingly very good in St. Louis, but Hobert ruptured his Achilles in the second half and the Ditka quarterback carousel was cranked back.
The final playoff spot in the NFC was a free-for-all in 1998 and the Saints, even with their horrible quarterbacks, were in contention into December. In a parallel universe, Hobert stayed healthy, the Saints went 9-7, made the playoffs ,and beat Dallas. Ditka and Billy Joe were both named Bacchus in 1999 to celebrate and the Ditka era is remembered kind of fondly. Instead it was two more years of the worst Saints quarterbacking we will hopefully never experience again.
Last Week: 1-5 Season: 28-27
New Orleans (-5) vs. Detroit: The Lions are the Saints with slightly better luck and a lot better special teams. The Lions have yet to play a game decided by more than a touchdown. They have trailed in the fourth quarter of EVERY game.
Yet they are 7-4.
Detroit ranks 15th in allowing 21.6 points-per-game, which seems pretty average, until you factor they've only faced two top 10 scoring offenses and played six offenses ranked 24th or lower. Detroit won't be so lucky Sunday.
This tweet from Black & Gold Review BLEW MY MIND... "Saints offensive rankings since the bye: 1 in passing, 1 in completion %, 4 in rushing, 6 in yards per rush, 1 in points scored, 2 in yards per snap"
The Saints are doing whatever the hell they want, however they want, whenever they want. Those numbers include two so-so performances at Carolina and Kansas City. I know Mathew Stafford has been great late in games but the Lions are only 19th in points-per-game on offense (22.5). The question Sunday is can the Saints make the game not close enough so their terrible special teams can be as little of a factor as possible because the Lions advantage in the kicking game is MASSIVE.
Detroit, according to Football Outsiders advanced stats, has the 4th best special teams unit, including #1 in punt returns. Andre Roberts has returned two punts for touchdowns. The Saints rank 28th in special teams according to Football Outsiders and that ranking includes a six-spot drop following the horrible special teams display against the Rams. Just because Wil Lutz didn't have a kick blocked doesn't mean the rest of the special teams weren't awful.
The Saints need to get this win as this will be the final home game I'll be attending in 2016.
Kansas City (+3.5) at Atlanta: The Falcons win this game and the NFC South is basically a wrap. Counting on Alex Smith to save us is not the ideal place to be. Sort of like being on the Titanic with a pair of floaties to keep you from drowning. In theory it can work. In theory.
Chiefs 27-21 San Diego (-4) vs Tampa Bay: Are the Bucs good? The Magic Eight Ball says, "All signs point to yes." Stupid Magic Eight Ball!
Seattle (-6.5) vs Carolina: Just when Seattle looked like they were going to begin to lock down the #2 seed in the NFC, their sorry offensive line reappears and reminds us all how sorry they are.
Washington (+2.5) at Arizona: If the Saints get hot and make a December run, Washington is the team to watch in regards to the wild card. They need to lose but it's too bad Arizona is quietly terrible.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.