The New Orleans Saints scored 12 points in a football game, on the road no less, and won. The Saints 12-9 win against the Carolina Panthers was an early Christmas defensive miracle we never knew we wanted until the Saints gave it to us. It was like watching a game from the 1950’s, the only thing missing was commercials with doctors telling us cigarettes were good for us and Sean Payton wearing a fedora and suit on the sidelines.
It’s hard to believe three months ago the Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons 43-37, looked completely helpless on defense, and on December 18 are the best defense in the NFL. How did this happen? Wasn’t Calvin Ridley just burning the Saints secondary to the ground? Last night the Saints held Carolina to 250 yards of offense and if not for a fantastic trick play and a Drew Brees pick-2, the Panthers wouldn’t have scored at all.
How in the heck did the team who cycled through defensive coordinators like Taylor Swift cycles through boyfriends become a dominant force on defense?
Before we complain and demand answers to where the fun video game scoring offense has gone, can we just take a moment and enjoy that the Saints after 12 years of fans wishing and hoping for a defense to compliment and support Drew Brees, we finally have the defense of our dreams.
The Saints have allowed the fewest points since Week 4 (17.2 points per game). The Saints defense is the best in the NFL. We are way beyond, “Just good enough to win a Super Bowl.” This Saints defense is good enough to win playoff games if the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.
The Saints front-7 on defense is something we haven’t seen around here since 2000 when they sacked quarterbacks an absurd 66 times. So how’d we get here? How in the heck did the team who cycled through defensive coordinators like Taylor Swift cycles through boyfriends become a dominant force on defense?
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The short answer is Sheldon Rankins became a Pro Bowl-level defensive tackle and the Saints signing of free agent Demario Davis might have been the best free agent signing in football this offseason. Oh, and GM Mickey Loomis executed the greatest in-season trade in the history of the world by acquiring Eli Apple from the New York Giants. Ok, it might not be the greatest trade in world history; Thomas Jefferson trading a pile of money to Napoleon for Louisiana might have been better. But did the Louisiana Purchase ever intercept Cam Newton?
The Saints having linebackers like Davis and Alex Anzalone who can fly around in space, cover passes, and tackle is like going from coach to first class on a flight; you know it’s an upgrade but don’t really understand how amazing it is until the stewardess brings you a complimentary drink.
While Saints fans were freaking out over the Saints offense struggles, I must admit it was kind of cool watching the Saints get into an old school defensive struggle. I’m not going to break out the cliché ‘defense wins championships’ or anything, but defense can be fun too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as fun as scoring 40 points, but it’s entertaining in a watching guys punch each other in the face kind of way.
On the night when Sean Payton and Drew Brees passed Don Shula and Dan Marino with their 117 victories together for second all-time among coach/quarterback tandems, I ask you the question I never thought possible; Is the Saints defense better than their offense?
The NFL always tempts us to be prisoner of the moment and to believe whatever we just saw is now how everything will be for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, but experience tells us the Saints game next Sunday might be completely different.
We were 1 more Saints offensive linemen getting hurt last night from Sean Payton signaling to Saints play-by-play man Zach Strief to come out of the booth and grab a helmet.
The Saints offense wasn’t good Monday in Carolina, but it didn’t feel like two weeks ago in Dallas. The Cowboys game looked and felt like the Saints offense was getting whipped from top to bottom and the Saints could’ve played another two quarters vs. Dallas and not scored.
Against the Panthers the Saints offense reminded me of my 3-year-old running around unsupervised in the kitchen – it was just one self-inflicted disaster after another -- from burning their hand on the stove, to shoving a fork in the electrical outlet and dumping over the container of flour, there was no catastrophe the Saints couldn’t run into head first. From a Drew Brees interception that bounced off Dan Arnold’s face, to penalties and dropped passes that wiped out big plays, the Saints offense was a tour de force of stepping on rakes that reached a crescendo when Tommylee Lewis fumbled into the end zone.
Brees said as much after the game, “I'd say for us offensively, walking off the field just a little while ago, I just felt like, 'Man, there was tons of opportunities out there.' We killed ourselves on a few drives with just some stupid penalties.”
The most concerning thing about the Saints scoring issues is the offensive line is suddenly missing center Max Unger and both left tackles (Terron Armstead and Jermon Bushrod). We were 1 more Saints offensive linemen getting hurt last night from Sean Payton signaling to Saints play-by-play man Zach Strief to come out of the booth and grab a helmet.
The Saints offense needs rest, but the good news is if they can find a way to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they can clinch homefield advantage, and take off the season finale and get 2 weeks of rest before the playoffs begin.
I have 13 years of evidence the Saints offense will be fine when it’s healthy and playing at home. I refuse to panic. Besides, haven’t you heard, the Saints win with defense now anyway.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.