Note: Ralph lives in Houston and assures us that he and his family are okay so far. He considers himself one of the lucky ones.
The New Orleans Saints have achieved peak preseason optimism levels.
Preseason football is a lot like those ink paintings where you stare at them and can see whatever your heart desires. If you want to pick out good plays, ignore others, or just write off terrible performances just cause you feel like it, you can! Cause the games don't count! “Sure (insert player) looks awful, but preseason never matters anyway. Once real games are here it's gonna be fine or at least not as bad as it looks right now.” We have been saying this about the Saints defense for 3 straight years. It's pretty great to actually see good play from the guys paid to stop other teams from scoring.
The defense, which has been torpedoed the last 3 seasons, hasn't allowed a point in 8 quarters of practice football. You are probably going to read a bunch of local and national media telling you to calm down and not get overly excited about games that don't count. They'll tell you 13-0 wins over the Houston Texans don't predict success in the regular season. Ignore those people. Get excited. *You are doing it anyway. Talking ourselves into 10-6 is 35 percent of the fun of being a Saints fan. The other 65 percent of fun is making jokes on Twitter and laughing at Atlanta for losing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.
We have waited 8 months for football to return and waited years for the Saints to actually look competent on defense. It might actually be happening. Besides, if we can't convince ourselves the Saints might actually have a defense when they go back-to-back weeks without allowing a point what's the fun of even emotionally investing our fall Sundays in this team?
In the Saints third preseason game in 2016 the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks went 31-39 for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Saints defense looked completely lost, clueless, and devoid of hope. I know the Texans aren't the Steelers, but Pittsburgh's backup quarterback Landry Jones went 19-22 for 206 yards. Houston quarterbacks combined went 23-42 for 189 yards.
Is this defensive for real? Nobody knows. Kenny Vaccaro seemed pretty excited after the game, “I’ve been waiting for us to take that turn. It’s still preseason, but I don’t know if even in 2013 if we played this good early on.” This feels different doesn't it?
The Saints defense has collected 12 sacks the last 2 weeks, which is a great sign because success in 2017 depends a lot on how good the defensive line can be. The Saints have a pair of young and potentially good corners in PJ Williams and Marshon Lattimore, but they will likely take time to become good NFL players. I don't see a path for the Saints to be good in 2017 without the defensive line contributing at least 30 sacks and a lot of quarterback hits and pressures.
When Nick Fairley was lost for the season, 30 sacks from the defensive line seemed like wish wrapped up in a dream, and about as likely as my plans to buy the Pelicans when I won the Powerball. Then preseason started and Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Alex Okafor, Hau'oli Kikaha, and Al-Quadin Muhammad all were making plays and creating pressure on quarterbacks. Suddenly 30 sacks, if not likely, seems possible now.
The Saints are likely going to count on 5 first and second year players on defense (Sheldon Rankins, Vonn Bell,Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Alex Anzalone.) That's usually not a recipe for success, but the Saints have Drew Brees, so the defense need not be great or good. Just don't be one of the 8 worst defenses in football, and the Saints in 2017 can be all sorts of fun. If Kikaha and Anzalone are both good in 2017, the Saints will lead the NFL in fantastic defensive hair. Even when Anzalone makes a bad play, I can't hate him, his hair is just too majestic. Also is it just me or does long hair make a player seem faster? It looks like the Saints have finally figured out how to draft well again and have infused the roster with young talent. The only question now is there still time for 38-year-old Drew Brees to take advantage of it?
At the start of training camp this year really felt like the end of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. Everything seemed headed in the wrong direction injury wise and there wasn't any real reason for optimism to me. A month later and suddenly 2017 is looking a lot brighter for the New Orleans Saints.
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. Please note, since the Saints blow off the final preseason game, so do I. No column until opening week.