For most of sean payton’s 16 years as head coach of the new orleans saints, his teams were known for their offensive prowess. Led by record-breaking QB Drew Brees, the Saints struck fear into defenses across the NFL.
over the past few seasons, as brees declined, the saints became a stronger defensive team. During four straight NFC South titles from 2017 to 2020, defense was as critical to the team’s success as Brees and offense.
Brees retired after the 2020 season and the Saints’ offense was hit by a mountain of injuries in 2021. Those injuries, plus ineffective play, caused New Orleans to fall to the bottom of the league in most games. offensive ratings.
Despite a stagnant offense, the Saints finished with a winning record and nearly qualified for the playoffs. it was thanks to a tremendous defensive performance that they managed to stay in contention.
Here’s how the Saints defense ranked in 2021.
- points allowed = 4th (19.7 per game)
- yards = 7 (318.2/game)
- billings = 10 (25)
- first attempts = 2nd (304)
- third percentage from bottom = 8th
- red zone efficiency = 1st
- yards = 14 (224.8/game)
- interceptions = 6 (18)
- touchdowns = 3rd (20)
- sacks = 7th (46)
- yards = 4th (93.5/game)
- yards per carry = 1° (3.7)
- touchdowns = 6th (12)
- attacks: demario davis (105), malcolm jenkins (79)
- tackles for loss (88): cam jordan/demario davis (13), marcus davenport (9), kwon alexander (7)
- sacks (46): cam jordan (12.5), marcus davenport (9), tanoh kpassagnon (4)
- qb hits (113): cam jordan (22), marcus davenport (16), demario davis/david onyemata (10)
- interceptions (18): marshon lattimore/paulson adebo/chauncey gardner-johnson/p.j. williams (3)
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saint defensive leaders
For the fourth year in a row, the Saints ranked among the best rushing defenses in the league. they held 12 of their 17 opponents to less than 100 rushing yards and didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher.
new orleans was able to win in the trenches with defensive tackles that weren’t a big factor as a pass-rusher, but did clog up the running lanes. the team’s defensive ends play the run as well as anyone in the league.
disruptive dt david onyemata missed the first six games due to suspension. he again played excellent run defense and, although he only had two sacks, he was among the team leaders with 15 qb pressures.
tackles shy tuttle and christian ringo didn’t stand out on the stat sheet. however, they were strong against the run and effectively pushed pass pockets.
Tanoh Kpassagnon’s veteran was an underrated addition to free agency during the offseason. in just eight games before being sidelined by injury, kpassagnon had 4 sacks, 11 pressures and 3 tackles for loss.
Payton Turner’s rookie, the team’s first-round pick, also showed potential, but was limited to just five starts. Carl Grandrson had 3 sacks and 11 reserve serve pressures along the rim.
The saints edge tandem of cameron jordan and marcus davenport created havoc throughout the season. Davenport had the best year of his four-year career, despite missing seven games. he was a force against the run and nearly unblockable as a pass-rusher. Davenport’s 9 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles were career highs.
jordan had a quiet start to the year, drawing unfair criticism in some circles. he finished the year on a tear, with 8.5 sacks in the last four games. Jordan also led the Saints with 33 rushes while hitting six passes, forcing two fumbles and playing his usual top-tier run defense.
The Saints attacked the offenses with three athletic linebackers, each of whom was a side-by-side playmaker against the run and the pass. Rookie Pete Werner, a second-round pick, showed the promise of a bright future. Werner is a smart player with underrated outfield athleticism who was strong in coverage and in run support.
inexplicably, lb demario davis was passed over in pro bowl voting yet again. Davis, one of the best defensive players in the league, was a force against the run, superlative in coverage and a devastating pass-rusher.
Davis had more than 100 tackles for the fifth consecutive season. he also broke up 7 passes, had a team-high 13 tackles for loss, and recorded 3 sacks and 10 qb hits.
Lb veteran kwon alexander had one of the best years of his career after a remarkable recovery from an achilles tendon injury in late 2020. the athletic alexander had a monster stretching career and posted top marks for his career in sacks (3.5) and qb hits (7) while adding an interception and 7 tackles for loss.
The Saints secondary, like the passing rush, overcame a slow start to dominate the latter part of the year. New Orleans allowed four 300-yard passers, but none in the final nine games of the season.
Opposing quarterbacks completed 62% of their shots against New Orleans coverage. The Saints blew out some of the best wide receivers in the NFL thanks to a deep and talented defensive backfield.
pro bowl cb marshon lattimore was instrumental to the team’s aggressive man-to-man scheme. Lattimore gave up just 57.4% completion percentage when targeted and was among the NFL leaders with 19 interrupted passes.
rookie cb paulson adebo, a third-round pick, was an excellent complement to lattimore. the physical and athletic adebo broke up eight passes and allowed for a 62% success rate, despite being heavily targeted.
adebo’s play limited the plays of veteran cb bradley roby, who was acquired in a trade earlier in the season. Roby still gave the team three early quality corner kicks. versatile defensive backs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and P.J. williams also took on slot coverage duties almost perfectly.
gardner-johnson is a do-it-all defender and was an underrated star of the unit. despite missing five games, he posted career bests in interceptions (3), sacks (2), rushes (7), while stopping seven shots and allowing a 63.2% completion percentage.
p.j. Williams quietly had the most productive season of his six-year career. veteran malcolm jenkins and fs marcus williams formed one of the best safety tandems in the league. Jenkins has lost a step in coverage, but makes up for it with heady play and aggressive tackling.
marcus williams has as much range as any safety in the nfl. he, jenkins and p. J. Williams combined for 6 interceptions, 18 interrupted passes and six tackles for loss.
The Saints became a contender after 20 years of existence in 1987. Over the next six years, they made the playoffs four times and were considered among the best teams in the NFL. Those New York squads were led by an impressive corps of linebackers dubbed “The Dome Patrol” who fueled intimidating defenses.
At times, the 2021-22 New Orleans Saints defense looked like those ferocious squads. with a struggling offense, the responsibility for the victory fell squarely on the shoulders of this defense, which almost carried the team to the postseason.