Known for a historically productive offense for most of the past two decades, the New Orleans Saints have put together one of the league's best defenses over the last four years.
No longer a team that was reliant on the amazing abilities of QB Drew Brees, the Saints became a team that beat opponents on the defensive side of the ball just as effectively.
New Orleans allowed the fifth fewest points per game and were fourth in yardage allowed in 2020. They led the NFL in interceptions, were third in turnovers forced, and held seven of their opponents to less than 20 points.
The Saints suffered some personnel losses on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Gone are starters like CB Janoris Jenkins, LB Kwon Alexander, DT Sheldon Rankins, DE Trey Hendrickson, along with major contributors like DT Malcom Brown and LB Alex Anzalone.
The personnel losses created some crucial questions for the unit at the cornerback position, along with concerns about depth at linebacker and defensive tackle.
New Orleans responded to the offseason departures by spending their first three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft on defensive players. First-round choice DE Payton Turner, second-rounder LB Pete Werner, and third-round choice CB Paulson Adebo are all expected to play major roles this season.
The newcomers will be a big factor in how the Saints defense performs in 2021.
Here are four other reasons to believe that the team's defense will again rank among the league's best this season.
The Saints have at least one All-Pro caliber player at every level of their defense. Linebacker Demario Davis, DE Cameron Jordan, and CB Marshon Lattimore are among the league's best players at their positions.
The 31-year-old Jordan is coming off a down year by his lofty standards and undoubtedly will play with a chip on his shoulder. Davis is perhaps the league's best linebacker and is one of the NFL's most underrated defenders. Lattimore is a true lockdown corner with the elite coverage skills to consistently nullify an opponent's top receiver.
Free safety Marcus Williams has yet to earn Pro Bowl honors, but is considered one of the top safeties in the game. His outstanding range caused New Orleans to apply the franchise tag to prevent him from hitting the open market in free agency.
Third-year defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is among the team's most valuable defensive players. He has spectacular versatility - creating havoc near the line of scrimmage and also providing standout slot coverage.
Defensive tackle David Onyemata is an emerging star. He has improved in each of his first five seasons and produces consistent disruption for the New Orleans defensive line.
The New Orleans rookies, along with second-year LB Zack Baun, face high expectations. However, this team's corps of leadership make it one of the strongest locker rooms in the NFL.
Demario Davis took the mantle as one of the team leaders since his arrival in 2018. With the retirement of QB Drew Brees, Davis is now the team’s unquestioned vocal leader.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is entering his 13th NFL season, seventh with the Saints. He is still playing at a high level, but also adds valuable stability and experience to the team's secondary.
Cam Jordan was one of the NFL's most respected defensive players even when the team ranked among the league's worst defenses through the middle part of last decade. Nearly important as his production was the fact that Jordan has acted as a mentor for the team's young defensive linemen.
The Saints defensive leadership is as strong as any in the league, but the unit also has great continuity. Players like Lattimore, Williams, Onyemata, and several key role players have also been together for playoff runs over the last four years.
After early season struggles in 2020, the New Orleans secondary came together to play spectacular football down the stretch and led the league with 18 interceptions.
They were helped by a devastating pass rush that recorded 48 sacks and 119 QB hits. Trey Hendrickson, who led the team with 13.5 sacks in 2020, is gone, but the Saints have plenty of disruptive players left up front.
Jordan has had double digit sack totals five times in his career, including three of the last four seasons. Fellow DE Marcus Davenport has proven to be a disruptive pass rusher when healthy.
Third-year DE Carl Granderson is already a handful for single blockers and looks on the verge of a breakout season. Onyemata is a major disruption for opponents inside and commands double-team blocking. First-round pick Payton Turner caught the team's eye early in the draft process and has terrific pass rush potential.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen runs an aggressive defensive scheme and is not shy about blitzing Demario Davis, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, or Malcolm Jenkins in any situation.
The Saints have 145 sacks over the last three regular seasons. Their ability to keep opposing quarterbacks under constant duress creates opportunities for their talented secondary. It will also help mask a potential weakness at cornerback opposite Lattimore in 2021.
Even in today's pass-heavy NFL, most coaches put an emphasis on stopping opposing running games. The Saints have been one of the best in the league at doing just that over the last three seasons.
New Orleans ranked 4th in the NFL against the run in 2020 and allowed the second fewest rushing touchdowns in the league. They allowed less than 94 yards per game on the ground and just 3.9 per carry.
The Saints have held a top-five ranking against the run in each of the last three years. They've allowed an average of less than 88 yards rushing over their last 48 regular season games.
New Orleans has made most of their opponents one-dimensional while winning four straight NFC South titles. The suffocating run defense has allowed them to unleash a chaotic pass rush and has helped the defense create turnovers.
The New Orleans defense relentlessly pursues ball carriers and plays outstanding team defense while creating big mistakes in crucial moments.
Even with personnel losses this offseason, this unit still has plenty of talent to fuel a championship run in 2021.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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