The New Orleans Saints defense went wild against the Chicago Bears last week, sacking quarterback Jay Cutler six times during the 30-13 rout at the Superdome.
Yes Chicago’s offensive line is suspect — even more so since they lost rookie Gabe Carimi for 2 to 4 weeks with a dislocated knee — but the Saints defensive line looked sharp in their ability to collapse the pocket and pressure Cutler most of the game.
It was the kind of game that Saints fans has been hoping to see after the team put so much emphasis on re-building the unit this off-season.
Shaun Rogers was signed in free agency, as was Aubrayo Franklin at defensive tackle, to couple with the addition of first rounder Cameron Jordan and ex-Lion Turk McBride at defensive end.
The Saints hoped their addition would improve what had been a mediocre run defense in 2010, and one that cost them a play-off win in Seattle during wild card weekend.
So far things are looking good this season as the defense is ranked 12th overall, 7th against the run (81.5 yards per game), and 18th against the pass (241 yards per game) entering week three’s game against the Texans.
But the defense has been handicapped without their top defensive end Will Smith, who was suspended for the first two games of the season for testing positive for Bumetanide in 2008.
Jeff Charleston and Junior Galette have taken turns at Smith’s left defensive end spot in his absence with some success — Galette is currently tied for 5th in the NFL for total sacks with 2.5.
Smith is now back from his suspension and will resume his starting role against the Texans, a huge boost to the Saints defense as he has long been the teams most productive defensive lineman both against the pass and the run.
The Saints requested that he bulk up in 2010 to help against stopping opposing runningbacks, which unfortunately declined his sack total to 5.5 after posting a career high 13 in 2009.
Now lighter and more explosive than in 2010, the Saints are hoping he can once again run up his sack total.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub is currently leading the league with a 71.7% completion percentage, making Will Smith’s return even that much more important to the defense.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will turn him loose Sunday with the sole purpose of getting to Schaub and slowing the Texans passing offense.
As happy as the Saints are to have Smith back in the lineup, the defense will possibly be without another on of it’s leaders Sunday — middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Vilma injured his knee last week in the second quarter against the Bears. He was knocked out of the game momentarily, but did return to the field for the remainder of the contest.
The Saints have held Vilma out of practice the last three days and he is currently listed as doubtful to face the Texans.
It’s hard to believe that he won’t play considering he has missed only one game since becoming a Saint in 2008, and he returned to play against the Bears, but the team will side with caution and rest him if he is not 100 percent.
If Vilma becomes a scratch Sunday then the start will go to his backup JoLonn Dunbar, an undrafted free agent out of Boston College who has been with the Saints since 2008.
Dunbar was placed at outside linebacker his rookie season, but was returned to his natural position of middle linebacker this off-season given the depth at both strong side and weak side linebacker positions.
One more bright spot is the Saints will likely return starting cornerback Tracy Porter, who sat out last weeks game while nursing a calf injury. Currently listed a questionable Porter has returned to practice in a limited capacity, and reports are he is doing just fine.