2020 Saints Defense has traits of the 2009 Squad, Pt. 1
Kyle T. Mosley
I recall a story about Sean Payton being in his backyard, drinking a beer, and thinking about his team's future. New Orleans was coming off an 8-8 season under Payton. The team performed well at home in the Superdome but struggled in tight contests on the road. Why? The Defense. The Saints had defensive talent, but the players needed someone to mold, shape, refine, and define their identity. He made the call. The call was to Gregg Williams.
Payton parted with some of his salary to bring Williams into the Saints family. The rest is history. One Super Bowl championship, one football scandal, broken allegiances - you get the picture. But Payton knew Williams could develop a championship-caliber defense.
The antithesis of Williams' personality lies within current defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. In Allen's second stint with the Saints, he has carefully crafted a winning defensive unit of his own. With rising assistant coaches like defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, linebackers coach Michael Hodges, and defensive assistant Michael Wilhoite and others, Allen has positioned the 2020 New Orleans Saints defense as "scary good" in the NFL.
Here are several points about the defense.
A COHESIVE UNIT
The team returns nine starters from last season. The addition of safety Malcolm Jenkins (Vonn Bell) and linebacker Kaden Elliss are new inserts to the team's defensive starting lineup. Janoris Jenkins started for an injured Eli Apple several games in 2019.
SHUTTING DOWN THE RUN
The Saints defensive front-seven has prevented a 100-yard rusher since November 2017. Yesterday against the Bucs, the streak extended to 44 games when running back Ronald Jones rushed for 66 yards in their 34-23 loss to the Saints.
ADJUST THE GAMEPLAN
Allen and Nielsen made the necessary adjustments at halftime. In the second half, defensive end Cam Jordan and his crew of wrecking balls upfront applied pressure on Brady most of the second half. The contributions of DE Trey Hendrickson, LB Demario Davis, and DE Carl Ganderson terrorized Brady for three sacks in the game. Rookie defensive tackle Malcolm Roach led the interior linemen with 2 tackles, and a quarterback hit on Brady in his debut. Onyemata, Margus Hunt, and Sheldon Rankins collapsed the Bucs pocket a few times to rattle the six-time Super Bowl champion.
Defensive Secondary has Improved. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins are the "real deal." You rarely heard the names of wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin affecting the game on yesterday. Lattimore is Evans' Achilles Heel. Once again, Evans was ineffective only until he scored over linebacker Demario Davis' coverage on him in the endzone. It was his solitary reception for the game. Janoris Jenkins robbed Tom Brady and scored on a pick-six. Jenkins' interception has his sitting at 8th in NFL history for pick-six interceptions.
Tom Brady took shots downfield and created four pass interference calls on cornerbacks Patrick Robinson, Marshon Lattimore, and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams. But for the most part, the play of Malcolm Jenkins (6 tackles, 1 pass defended, 100% snaps), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (10 tackles, 1 Pass Defended, 87% snaps), Marcus Williams (1 tackle, 1 interception, 100% snaps), D.J. Swearinger(4 tackles), and Patrick Robinson (1 tackle) stood firm against Brady's weapons. Also, Lattimore and J. Jenkins played 100% of the 70 defensive snaps in the game.
COMPLEMENT THE OFFENSE
The defensive unit's performance is a carry-over from 2019. Dennis Allen's crew is a complementary piece to Sean Payton's offensive scheme. An aggressive style, opportunistic play, and the ability to create turnovers were the staples of a Gregg Williams' defense. The names of like Vilma, Sharper, and Porter conjure fond memories of how the Saints defense can impact a game with turnovers. These traits are eerily similar to one another - 2009 and 2020.
Last night, CB Janoris Jenkins did precisely that on the Bucs' second-half opening drive in robbing Tom Brady for the pick-six. The Saints' defense is just priming their engines with the shellacking of the Bucs. Will they prove to a championship squad the Saints needed after eleven futile seasons since Super Bowl 44?
We shall see.