Back Up Back Up, Cause It’s On

2 Oct
More of this, please.

More of this, please.

The Saints defense has allowed less than 20 points in each of its first four games.

Yes, that point is already beaten to death; indeed, its postmortem beatings will increase in ferocity with each week that this surprising trend continues. I join in on the giddy drubbing of this astonishing defensive accomplishment for one reason: it provides a smooth segue to the bit of hyperbole I have planned for later.

See, if we’re going to throw a statistic like this around, we should understand just what it means – and it means a whole hell of a lot. Only the Chiefs have met this benchmark through four games this year, as Reid points out. More importantly, however, for us as Saints fans, for those who compulsively compare every great defense to our own gold standard The Dome Patrol, these Regulators of 2013 have allowed less than 20 points for more games to start the season than any group in New Orleans since 1992 (6). That defense went on to do so in 12 games on the season, the most in club history.

If you are not a fan of PTOMAC, please direct your attention to the yardage totals through four games in each of the two seasons. “Bend But Don’t Break” shall not apply: the 2013 Saints defense has given up 1218 total yards; through four games in 1992 the Saints defense gave up 1312.

That defense, of course, was the last of the great Dome Patrol defenses. No defense under Mora after 1992 finished better than 18th in points allowed; Ditka and Haslett followed, between the two of them offering one very good defense in 2000. You shouldn’t yet need a refresher on the years that followed, nor on the roller coaster that has been Saints defense under Sean Payton.

As in the decline of any team, squad or position group, the usual factors led to the end of the great defenses of the late 80s and early 90s: free agency, age, injury, a changing game. It is not my intent to argue over the weight of each of those factors, only to point out that the 2013 defense, should it continue at the current pace, has a closer analogue in the 80s than it does in the 90s. The group is young; a forward-looking and yet somehow old school defensive coordinator suddenly realizes talent that apparently existed before on the defensive line; unsustainable blitz schemes are not seen on the field this year; and he is young (and young-minded) enough to relate to the players: they clearly have bought in fully to this scheme, in contrast to the nightmare that was Spagnuolo’s.

Read The GOAT’s diatribe on youth, but pay special attention to this bit:

It continues — through four games, we have 12 sacks, by seven different players, including super-young UDFAs Foster, Gallette and Walker, and seven interceptions, by seven other players, thus 14 Saints with difference-making defensive plays in the first quarter of this 4-0 Saints season.

Just wow.

In the eighth year (!) of Sean Payton’s regime, The Window is a constant thought in the back of our minds. How long do we have? For every Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers there exist numerous Jay Fiedlers. Drew Brees will walk away one day, and unfortunately, the most likely replacement is a Jay Fiedler.

But perhaps, at the end of this Window, just as the Window begins to close, something amazing happens: a really impressive defense pokes its head through. Hello, defense. I’m glad you came.

Is it too great a dream? Is it too early to imagine, only four games through one season, that for a year or two or three, we can pair a perennial top-5 offense, a group historic in its efficiency, with a top-10 defense?

Perhaps. But I’ll do it anyway. Goddamnit, I think I deserve it after 2012. If it’s too good to be true, we’ll find out soon enough. But for now, I don’t think it is. I think it’s coming together right before our eyes, and we better damn well appreciate it while it’s happening.

So where will this defense stand in our collective memories when 2013 is over? We can’t say for sure, but I make one point with delirious confidence: if this defense allows less than 20 points in any game, we win. The same couldn’t always be said of that 1992 team, or the 2000 squad that played so well. Drew Brees will outscore any-fuckin’-one who is held to 7, or 14, or 17 points. With or without an offensive line.

And yes, this team lacks perfection. The offensive line is worrisome to say the least; Drew Brees must dance a bit in the course of a 38-point performance. And the running game is – I’m not breaking any news here – nonexistent.

Can a team with a top-10 defense, allowing under 20 points a game, with a passing attack that is arguably the best professional football has ever seen, survive and win everything without even a hint of a running game?

Well, why the fuck not? The entire premise of “You gotta have a running game” is laid upon a simple principle: that an inability to run allows a defense to key on the running game, to attack the quarterback, to drop 10 guys in coverage (pick your poison here).

There’s one problem with that argument: even the absence of a running game, and a defensive scheme to remove passing threats from the game, is not enough. The Cardinals successfully shut down the Saints’ wide receivers for a significant portion of the game, and thusly felt the wrath of Jimmy Graham. The Dolphins removed Jimmy Graham from the equation for much of Monday night (not preventing him from finding the endzone, but not allowing him to factor the way he did against Arizona either), and Sproles just destroyed them for an entire half. Key on Sproles, and you get a face full of Marques Colston.

By the way, the second best wideout on the team isn’t even playing right now.

Frankly, I don’t see the running game getting better. The offensive line isn’t going to experience any enormous changes this year, Mark Ingram is what he is, Khiry Robinson can close but apparently not do much else, and Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are too busy demoralizing secondaries to fuck around with 4-yard runs between the tackles.

So this offense may just be what it’s going to be already – I hope I’m wrong – but I’m okay with that. It’ll be an interesting experiment to see if a team that maintains a ranking of 28th in the league in yards per carry during the first three quarters of football and 29th in the league in attemps during that same period, can be a Super Bowl contender.

Right now, it looks like they can. Enjoy the 15 tests of this hypothesis yet to come.

Next up: the Bears. Ugh, indeed. But these aren’t your 2006 Saints, everyone. To hell with the history, this opponent just allowed 40 points to the Detroit Lions. Jay Cutler can look forward to, for lack of a better term, a Regulating. Another relaxing Sunday afternoon is in your future. Because as the defense gets better and better, Drew Brees is really hitting his stride, and shit’s about to get really fun. I just hope we don’t get too caught up in the Soldier Field mystique and try to run the fucking ball. It’s obviously unnecessary.

Saints 47, Bears 9

5 Responses to “Back Up Back Up, Cause It’s On”

  1. cajuncommando58 October 2, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Many point to the 09 season, and say man had a running game then. Please, shut the f**k up. Stu I’m looking at you. Yes we were good running in ’09, but we have always been a Pass to set up the run Team. Sean has tried to reverse this, with the first two games, and almost cost us, those games. Now he is back to what we do. Pass, heavily, then run the clock out. It’s always been our modus operandi, and I see no reason to change it now.
    By the way, didn’t know your rules on cussing here, so I truncated.

    • The Angry Who Dat October 2, 2013 at 10:41 am #

      You can say whatever the fuck you want here. Inviting Stu to show up in my comments, however, is frowned upon.

      I didn’t get into it in the post (maybe I will at a later date) but I think our definitions of “running” and “passing” are even a little obsolete in 2013. A dump pass to Sproles in the flat, a wide receiver screen, even a Pierre Thomas downfield screen, are these running plays or passing plays? I think it’s more arguable than it seems at first glance. Hell, you’re looking to make the defense put more defenders up front, make them hesitant to blitz outside, play less safties deep, don’t tell me a quick slant or a dump to Sproles out of the backfield don’t accomplish those goals just as well as a 3-yard gain up the middle.

      • cajuncommando58 October 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

        Point taken…I think the only place he hasn’t been banned from is the Falcoholic.

      • Bernie October 3, 2013 at 7:25 am #

        This!!!! We did it to the dolphins on multiple plays. Brees feels pressure and puts a dump pass over the top to Sproles or PT. These play designs not only keep the defense honest, but also have the potential for huge yardage as we saw this past Sunday, especially when the O-line blocks downfield. These types of plays are great because they alleviate the need for the O-line to create a hole (something we,admittedly, are not doing well this season) and allows our backs to play to their strengths: their speed and acceleration in the flat.

        There is a large downside risk of tipped (and intercepted) and dropped passes and we need to accept that this will happen before the season ends, but as a substitute for a traditional run game, it is worth it.


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