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Underhill: Saints defense proves it can succeed when opposition isn't forced to be one dimensional

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Old 12-10-2018, 12:08 AM   #1
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Old 12-10-2018, 12:09 AM   #2
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Re: Underhill: Saints defense proves it can succeed when opposition isn't forced to be one dimensional

BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Dec 9, 2018 - 5:50 pm

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Forget about the NFC South title, the playoffs, anything like that.

The Saints were finished. The best team in the NFL, the one with the special quarterback and special wide receiver and special running backs, couldn’t move the ball. This team didn't seem like it could win another game.

It went six quarters — six! — playing offense like one of those teams stationed on Lake Erie. Something was off. All the stats and praise and reputations meant nothing. For two quarters during Sunday’s 28-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints performed like a songster with a blown vocal cord. They were on stage, in costume, but everything else was off.

The performance was confounding and troubling. It made you wonder whether Dallas exposed some flaw last week that everyone else could pick up on. No one really understood the slow start. They just knew it was happening and it needed to stop.

“If I knew,” coach Sean Payton said, “it wouldn’t take a little while then.”

But here’s the thing: New Orleans can play poorly for two quarters, figure things out, and still manage to score 28 points. Let’s not blow this up into something more than it needs to be. Most teams would love for that to be their “problem.”

"A lot of the times we forget that this game is not perfect," running back Alvin Kamara said. "A lot of people expect us to come out and be perfect, but that's just not reality. People make mistakes. We may start slow sometimes, but it's not (about) when adversity hits; it's how you respond to it."

The offense responded in a big way, and most weeks it will even if it takes some time to get going. The panic was for nothing. What’s even better for the Saints is the defense is proving itself capable of keeping the team afloat on days when the offense struggles.

There were times early in the season when all the defense had to do was get a stop or two to support the offense. Sometimes those were all the stops the Saints got. Lately, they've been doing a whole lot more than that. They suffocated the Cowboys and Bucs. In one game the offense figured it out; the other it didn’t.

No, the Bucs aren’t what you would call a good football team, but they did lead the NFL in yards entering action. They only managed 279 on Sunday, including 81 in the second half. Of those second-half yards, 49 came on the final drive when New Orleans was playing prevent defense.

“This is like Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl,” defensive end Cam Jordan said. “That’s how they came in, and they tried to match that intensity in the first half. For us, we were coming in to win, so we had to take their best shot and give them a better shot.”

The New Orleans defense has continued to prove itself week after week. It showed up with four more sacks (two for Jordan, one for A.J. Klein and Sheldon Rankins), and should have had two more, but David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport whiffed on Jameis Winston. That brings the season total to 41, which should keep New Orleans in the top five.

Winston getting out of the pocket and running for first downs was the only major downside of the defensive performance. That will need to be better next week against the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton, who can get out and run. But otherwise, there aren't many complaints to make.

In the past seven games, coinciding with cornerback Eli Apple's arrival, New Orleans has allowed an average of 334.1 yards, 252 yards passing, 82.1 yards rushing and 17.1 points per game. Those marks would rank eighth, 20th, second and first in the NFL if extrapolated over the whole season. The numbers are even better if trimmed down to the past five games.

It is probably unfair to ask this defense to prove itself over and over before stamping it official. The run defense was asked to clear this hurdle and that hurdle until it limited the impact of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and there was no longer anything left to prove.

The passing defense has had to do the same thing, over and over, only because it came out flat in the season opener and its best cornerback, Marshon Lattimore, gave up some yards to Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans after shutting down everyone he faced as a rookie. Lattimore bounced back Sunday and, before confirming on film, only allowed what looked like one catch for 36 yards to the wide receiver.

“I told you I had to win this game,” Lattimore said. “I let him get the first one. Good pass. Good catch. Other than that, I was looking to stop all that. I’m still mad about the first one.”

The secondary probably isn’t going to be smothering every single week. There are going to be times when Lattimore gives up a couple of catches, or Apple gets beat deep like he did a week ago by Dallas’ Michael Gallup. But Tampa Bay tried to challenge Apple the same way this week with him in coverage of Chris Godwin, and he handled it. That's progress.

Maybe this defense isn’t good enough to hold someone like the Rams to 17 points, but it might be good enough to limit them to, say, 27 in a rematch. If the offense shows up that day, it would be more than enough.

Maybe that’s the silver lining about how the past two weeks played out. The defense had no cover, and it came out and did everything it had to do when the opposition wasn't forced to play a one-dimensional brand of football.

Maybe that makes the Saints even scarier.


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Old 12-10-2018, 10:24 AM   #3
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Re: Underhill: Saints defense proves it can succeed when opposition isn't forced to be one dimensional

Our defense has been stellar for the last few weeks. We owe them a couple for sure.
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Old 12-10-2018, 11:01 AM   #4
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Re: Underhill: Saints defense proves it can succeed when opposition isn't forced to be one dimensional

Been saying for weeks, this defense is definitely Mothership worthy. Whether it actually gets beamed up to the Mothership or not, depends on the rest of the team. Now it's up to the offense and special teams to match the defense's intensity, and get the job done. To me the single most important takeaway from this game, the thing that is so nice about this defense is that NOW, we can see that Drew might throw his occasional derp interception, which happens from time to time, and we know that we can still win the game-- if Drew throws the derp INT, it's a setback, but we still got this. A lot of times in the past, the derp interception from Drew was the death knell in a game. Now that's not automatically true.
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Old 12-10-2018, 11:47 AM   #5
 
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Re: Underhill: Saints defense proves it can succeed when opposition isn't forced to be one dimensional

Originally Posted by lumm0x View Post
Our defense has been stellar for the last few weeks. We owe them a couple for sure.
Well, the defense does owe the offense quite a few over the years. I've lost track, really.
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Old 12-10-2018, 06:34 PM   #6
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Re: Underhill: Saints defense proves it can succeed when opposition isn't forced to be one dimensional

Originally Posted by SaintsBro View Post
Been saying for weeks, this defense is definitely Mothership worthy. Whether it actually gets beamed up to the Mothership or not, depends on the rest of the team. Now it's up to the offense and special teams to match the defense's intensity, and get the job done. To me the single most important takeaway from this game, the thing that is so nice about this defense is that NOW, we can see that Drew might throw his occasional derp interception, which happens from time to time, and we know that we can still win the game-- if Drew throws the derp INT, it's a setback, but we still got this. A lot of times in the past, the derp interception from Drew was the death knell in a game. Now that's not automatically true.


Nailed it
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