Saints' blueprint for championship repeat may hinge on stingy defense
NEW ORLEANS -- Things we learned while watching the Saints begin their Super Bowl title defense with a gritty 14-9 victory over the Vikings at a ready-to-rock Superdome ...
1. I'm not yet sure the Drew Brees-led Saints are capable of another 510-point season and No. 1 offensive ranking again this year; but if Thursday night was an indication, they might not need to hit those lofty benchmarks to contend for another Lombardi Trophy. And it's because this New Orleans defense looks even more legit in Year 2 of playing in coordinator Gregg Williams' system.
The Saints defense sent a message with their performance against the Vikings, a team that averaged 29.4 points per game (second in the NFL) and finished fifth offense last year (379.6 yards per game). Minnesota scored just nine points, amassed a paltry 253 yards, and had only 12 first downs against a defense that was merely average in most categories last year, except takeaways (25th ranking, 21.3 points and 357.8 yards allowed per game).
"Nine points. Nine points,'' said Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis in a New Orleans locker room that was quite business-like after the hard-fought win in a rematch of last season's NFC title game. "That says it better than anything. We played good tonight, held them to nine points, and we're excited about it.''
There was a lot to be excited about if you're a lover of the Saints defense. Like the strong play of the New Orleans secondary, including new free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who's replacing the injured Darren Sharper for the time being (and maybe longer if he keeps this up). Jenkins and fellow safety Roman Harper had standout games, but cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter were crucial in limiting Brett Favre to just 15 of 27 passing for 171 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and a measly 71.7 QB rating.
The Saints defense didn't blitz or hit Favre anywhere near as much as they did in the NFC championship game, sacking him just once, and getting real pressure only a few other times. But the Saints kept almost everything Favre threw in front of them, and correctly guessed that Minnesota's early focus would be establishing the running game through Adrian Peterson.
Imagine this defense with another strong DT to help with the run.
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