NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Not too long ago, Saints coach Sean Payton was designing and calling out some of the most prolific pass offenses the NFL has ever seen.
That was the identity of the Saints for most of the past 15 years, when Drew Brees was their quarterback.
The 2021 Saints are more like the New Orleans teams coached by Jim Mora three decades ago, when the defense was led by the franchise’s first Hall of Fame player, linebacker Rickey Jackson.
In a 28-13 triumph over New England on Sunday, the Saints’ defense produced three interceptions, including a return for a touchdown by safety back Malcolm Jenkins.
“We are finding out that we are the strength of our team – and we will have to play big for our team to be successful,” Jenkins said. “It’s just the identity and the formula that seems to work for us; we are very stingy in defense, we take the ball away, we give attacking opportunities.
“We believe that the heart of our team will be our defense,” he added.
The good news for New Orleans is that the formula Jenkins described produced wins in two of the first three weeks of the regular season, starting with a 38-3 rout of Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. in a game moved from New Orleans to Jacksonville. , Florida, from Hurricane Ida.
Now, the New Orleans defense can expect this week to finally play in the Superdome, where crowd noise is known to hamper pre-snap communication from opposing attacks.
“Oh man, I can’t wait for this. It’s going to be electric there, for sure, ”said Saints linebacker Demario Davis. “I just know what this means for the city and the fan base. It’s gonna be crazy in this building.
Before the Saints returned home to New Orleans on Sunday night, they had been moved from their evacuation to the Dallas area the day before Ida made landfall as a destructive Category 4 storm on August 29.
While the Superdome and team headquarters weathered the storm relatively well, the Saints opted to give the New Orleans area time to re-establish itself as a community and restore most normal services. – such as electricity – before returning. They trained at the TCU and AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys from the last week of the preseason to the first three weeks of the regular season.
“It’s crazy, it’s been a month since we left,” Davis said Monday. “It was just good to be back home, to see his wife, to see the kids, to sleep in your own bed, even to walk into the facility. The facility is even weird because we haven’t been there for a while. So I’m just trying to get back to some normalcy. ”
The Saints’ run defense has seen virtually no decline despite opening the season without their top three inside linemen from last season. That, and the pressure the Saints are capable of creating in the middle, should only improve when David Onyemata returns from a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance improvement policy. Meanwhile, Shy Tuttle, Malcolm Roach, Christian Ringo and Albert Huggins teamed up to solidify an interior that lost Sheldon Rankins in free agency and Malcom Brown in a trade that helped New Orleans cut player payrolls. .
WHAT NEEDS HELP
While the Saints don’t need to rely as much on the passing game as they did in Brees’ days, they will need to be more productive in the air to keep the NFL’s best defenses honest. It would help new starting quarterback Jameis Winston as veteran receivers Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith return from injuries, but in their absence Winston may need to develop a better relationship with receivers Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris, as well as with the young tight end. Adam Trautman.
Jenkins, who at 33 is the oldest player on the roster, has proven he can still make big plays with his pick of six pivot. The Saints expected the veteran to be a leader who could improve communication and reduce crossovers in pass cover missions. Its ability to produce big games individually only increases its value.
Kicker Aldrick Rosas had competently replaced injured veteran Wil Lutz until Sunday, when he missed two baskets over distances of 52 and 36 yards.
Left tackle Terron Armstead has a left elbow injury after being inadvertently hit by teammate, running back Tony Jones Jr. If center Erik McCoy isn’t ready to come back from his Week 1 calf injury , the Saints will lose two starters on the offensive line this week.
30 – Winston’s ranking for total passing yards so far with 387. But he also ranks fifth in passing touchdowns with seven.
The Saints will have some distractions from football this week as they return home and the incumbent players take stock of how their homes have passed through Ida. Those with damage to repair may need to compartmentalize a bit more this week as they prepare to welcome the winless but increasingly desperate New York Giants.
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