The New Orleans Saints have produced high octane offenses during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. With Brees retiring and a number of question marks at wide receiver, the team will be leaning heavily on its defense in 2021. The underappreciated unit appears up for the challenge of becoming the dominant side of the ball for New Orleans. Looking a little more closely, the defense has been the team’s strength for a few years now. The 2021 Saints defense holds the key to success in the NFC South.
New Orleans Saints 2021 Success Will be Carried by Defense
For the many feats during the high-flying offensive days of Brees, the defense has been near the top of the NFL for the past few years. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints ranked second in defensive DVOA in 2020. DVOA measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. The team has not been lower than eighth in those rankings the past four seasons. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen deserves a lot of the credit as does general manager Mickey Loomis, who has drafted well on that side of the ball.
Free-agent Losses May Test the New Orleans Defense
The 2020 New Orleans defense ranked fourth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed, and third in turnovers. The defensive line has lost Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson, and Malcom Brown. Alex Anzalone is gone from the linebacker group. The secondary will need to replace Janoris Jenkins. A suspension to David Onyemata and legal trouble for Marshon Lattimore are among the problems piling up in the Bayou. Even with all of the losses and issues, there are many capable veterans remaining including Cameron Jordan, DeMario Davis, and Lattimore. Allen knows that the team has lost some key players but believes the Saints are well-positioned to replace them
“When you look at some of the talent that walked out of our building, you have to replace that. But that’s the nature of the NFL,” said Allen to The Athletic. “Are there some areas that we need to look to continue to improve? Yeah. I think maybe we got a little bit spoiled last year with the talent that we did have.”
Jordan has started 159 of 160 games in 10 seasons with the team and is the key to the defensive line. He is coming off a down year in 2020 by his standards but still put up 7.5 sacks. Jordan remains one of the elite defensive players in the NFC South. Davis anchors the linebacking core and is coming off his third straight season with 110-plus tackles in New Orleans. Lattimore is the team’s shutdown corner, making three Pro Bowls in his four NFL seasons. New Orleans has added some veterans to the mix recently, including bringing back linebacker Kwon Alexander, following his March release.
2021 Saints Defense Looking for Growth Among Young Players
Some of the improvement will have to come from young players making a step up. Loomis focused on defense early in the 2021 draft. The team selected defensive end Payton Turner out of the University of Houston in the first round. They followed up in the second round with linebacker Peter Werner from Saints-factory Ohio State. In the third round, Loomis went defense again by selecting cornerback Paulson Adebo from Stanford. Turner has reportedly looked impressive early in training camp, and the other rookies have held their own. All three will be counted on in some capacity to help this season and in future years for the Saints.
Payton Turner had some excellent moments during today’s session. Got a couple sacks, very disruptive
— John Hendrix (@JohnJHendrix) August 4, 2021
The young player with the most to prove this year is undoubtedly Marcus Davenport. The defensive end has had three up-and-down seasons since joining the Saints in 2018. New Orleans traded up to the 14th pick in the 2018 draft to select Davenport. It cost the team their 2018 first-rounder (27th overall) and fifth-rounder along with their 2019 first-round pick. The UTSA product has started 14 games in three seasons, recording 12 sacks and 74 tackles. That production is not exactly what the Saints envisioned when trading up to get him. Early indications from training camp suggest that a breakout may be coming in 2021. That would be music to the ears of Saints fans and management alike.
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