Saints defense in preseason: real life or fantasy?
By Tony Twillie
The Saints defense is looking like a beast 3 games into this preseason. How much of this is real and will carry over to the regular season?
“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”
In 1975, Queen asked those questions opening up the classic gem, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Who Dat Nation has to be asking the same questions watching the opening 3 preseason games. For the most part, we accepted that the New Orleans Saints’ defense had improved. But could it have improved THIS much?
Because of injury to cornerback Delvin Breaux (as well as the possible career ending loss of Nick Fairley), we have yet to see the complete complement of the “ones” (the starters). But the starters they’ve put on the field have done well for themselves, particularly up front.
The big scare coming into camp was the loss of Fairley – did we have personnel to handle that hole? Thus far, the answer is a resounding YES. Tyeler Davison as come into his own at the DT spot. David Onyemata has also shown that he’s learned much as he begins his sophomore campaign, and only his 7th year playing American football.
Players on that defensive front are making it tough on the Saints to determine who will make the 53-man roster.
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The linebacking corps of Manti Te’o, A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone and Craig Robertson has also made their presence known. It’s a positive sign that after the Saints went out and revamped the defense and basically have an entirely new LB corps from 2 seasons ago, the new guys are working out well. Obviously the addition of linebackers coach Mike Nolan is having a positive effect on that crew.
In particular, Anzalone has shown great range and speed as a rookie. In the scheme the Saints like to play, Anzalone will be of great benefit and he should see plenty of time on the field this season, particularly in passing situations if not as a starter.
This front six/seven (depending on how you like to see the scheme, 4-3 or 4-2-5) has been very stingy so far in preseason. They’ve allowed only 194 rushing yards in 3 games. The pass rush has been much improved also, seeing the Saints get a bit of pressure with the four man front as opposed to having to rely so much on blitzes.
In fact, the Saints’ ones haven’t truly given up a TD. Cleveland scored, but by that time liberal subbing was taking place – DeShone Kizer, who was the second QB in for Cleveland (though he’s now been named the starter) scored following a Saints turnover on our own 21 yard line. That hamstrung the Saints defense to begin with.
Even with them scoring, the Saints defense has only allowed 3 TDs in 3 games, all against Cleveland. The TD in San Diego was a pick-6 and Houston was shut out.
Does it mean anything?
So if they are improved, why should the Who Dat Nation be scared? It’s preseason. We fool ourselves often into thinking these games mean more than they do. It was absolutely important for the Saints to get some wins in preseason. Wins are validation that your team is winning some of the positional battles you look for in training camp.
Wins sometimes show progress. Even when the starters don’t play. You look to see if your team’s twos and threes can play the game and be better than the other team’s twos and threes. For the most part, they have been.
As we didn’t play our big 3 on offense before this game against Houston, other teams have been holding out their studs too. And let’s face facts. We’ve played Cleveland, a Philip Rivers-less Chargers, and Houston. None of these teams strikes offensive fear into anyone.
And to underscore the meaninglessness of preseason, recall the year that Detroit went 4-0 in preseason and then proceeded to lose every single regular season game? Cleveland is currently 3-0. Last season’s Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta is 0-3. No one would or should expect to see that through the first 3 weeks of the regular season.
So should we get excited about the prospects of the Saints D being improved and noteworthy? Yes, but temper it with some reality as well. Preseason fantasy doesn’t necessarily equal regular season real life.