How quickly can new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen bring the Saints out of the cellar in the league’s defensive rankings?
The Saints were the worst of the worst in 2015 when it came to defense—they gave up the most points in the league (28 points more than the 31st-ranked Jaguars) and the second-most total offensive yards. Their defensive deficiencies earned national attention in Week 8’s 52–49 win over the Giants, the only team that gave up more yards last season.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was sent packing late in the year, in a move that looked to be the first of many changes to come. But for better or worse, the off-season passed without much major turnover on the roster or in the coaching staff. Former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was promoted to defensive coordinator, and the Saints drafted two defensive players with their first three picks—Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and Ohio State safety Vonn Bell—who bring immediate upgrades to their positions. How quickly can Allen coach up the team’s young talent and turn its weakest link into a respectable unit?
The Rookie: The Saints lacked any semblance of an interior pass rush last season, so their first-round pick Rankins will be expected to emerge from camp with a starting job. New Orleans chose him over A’Shawn Robinson and other top defensive tackles available, knowing they needed immediate help.
Position Battle Spoilers: Veteran Keenan Lewis, who is coming off multiple surgeries last season, will battle P.J. Williams, who spent his entire rookie year on injured reserve, for the second cornerback spot across from Delvin Breaux. At age 30, it’s a big ask for Lewis to keep up with Williams, who shined at Florida State two years ago and should earn the spot across from Breaux.
The Stat: 2nd, opposing offenses’ rank in both passing and rushing yards in games against the Saints last year, a testament to how complete the defense’s dysfunction was.
Preseason Watchability Guide: A Week 3 date with the Steelers and their big-play passing game should provide an important test for the Lewis–Williams battle. Breaux will likely cover Antonio Brown when the first teams are on the field, but someone has to cover Markus Wheaton.