Ralph Marlborough / Contributing Writer
Suddenly three weeks in to the 2013 season the New Orleans Saints are sitting very pretty. While the Saints were dismantling the Arizona Cardinals 31-7, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Green Bay all fell to 1-2. It's only three weeks but being two games clear of three of the supposedly elite teams in the NFC is huge.
Would you have called me crazy if I told you in August after three weeks the Saints defense would have only allowed 38 points, had 8 sacks and was only giving up 22 percent conversion rate on third-and-more than 6 yards? Probably.
Funny thing is, Rob Ryan told us all summer he loved Junior Galette, Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan. I didn't really believe him. The man with the long flowing hair was telling the truth.
The biggest factor in the defense's quantum leap is Cam Jordan. He has gone from looking like a solid pick to a really nice player to potentially a dominant force.
For the first time in ages on third-and-long, I wasn't watching the ball. I was looking to see if Jordan and Galette were going to abuse the Cardinals tackles and crush Carson Palmer. I'm not ready to call this defensive line dominant, but against mediocre to poor offensive lines like Arizona, I'm confident they are going to wreck them.
When you have a defensive line getting sacks and pressure, the turnovers always follow. If you thought it was fun against an average NFL quarterback like Carson Palmer, it's going to be big fun against the rookie quarterbacks of Buffalo and New York Jets.
Now that Saints can bring pressure from their defensive line, the secondary looks pretty good. It helps to have a budding star in Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro's interception will get replayed on all the highlight show, but his open field tackle on a third-and-short in the first half had me celebrating like he scored. It was a thing of beauty and exactly the kind of plays elite safeties make consistently.
While the defense is getting better by the week, the offense is still not hitting on all cylinders. They scored 31, Jimmy Graham continues his 2013 'Pay Me Tour,' and Brees threw for 340 yards and three scores. Heck, Robert Meachem even got in on the fun by grabbing a touchdown but the line is still struggling to protect Brees. He was sacked four times and took another shot that made me shudder.
Not having Jahri Evans was a factor but Drew Brees hasn't taken a beating like this since the first four weeks of the 2007 season. It's not a crisis because 3-0 teams aren't in crisis, but it's a big problem.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you know I don't pretend to be some football X-and-O expert who breaks down game tape. All I can tell you is Brees can't continue to get hit this much. The scariest thing about the offensive line is they are struggling and the Saints haven't really faced a deep hole yet. Imagine the Saints down 14-0 to a team on the road with a pass rush? There isn't enough liquor in my cabinet to calm me down watching that scenario.
If the Saints can figure out how to protect Brees better, a better running game will follow. It looks like Khiry Robinson might be pushing Mark Ingram out the door, and if you read my Friday column, you know I'm in favor of it. The Saints did manage 104 yards on 24 attempts and the running game showed life to close out the game so Sean Payton brushing off concerns was fair.
If Drew Brees is under center and the defense can get and stay healthy the Saints will be among the NFC elite all year. Fix the offensive line and get some injury luck and the 2013 regular season will look a lot like the 2009-2011 ones.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.