If not now, when?
If ever the New Orleans Saints (4-4) need their defensive unit to show up, man up and shut up the critics and naysayers, the time is now against the battered and bruised Denver Broncos at noon Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Seriously. If not now, when?
A win against the defending Super Bowl champions would push the Black and Gold above the .500 mark for the first time since 2013 and be a huge confidence boost going into a Nov. 17 Thursday night showdown at Carolina.
A loss surely would be a demoralizing step backward, reminiscent of years past when the slow-starting Saints huffed and puffed their way to reach .500 by midseason, only to regress in November and December and miss the playoffs.
If the 2016 Saints want to be mentioned in the NFC playoff conversation, their defense must play complementary football and help ease the weekly burden on quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees and company can only do so much, though scoring 30 points per game is going above and beyond the call of duty.
Truth be told, the Saints defense isn’t being asked to suffocate, dominate and eradicate opponents. But coach Sean Payton and coordinator Dennis Allen do expect their statistically challenged defensive unit to play better than it has played this season and in past seasons.
Simply, giving up points and yards in mass quantities is not acceptable.
Allen’s “D” is showing signs of improvement. For instance, it has yielded 23, 20 and 27 points in the last three games compared to 38, 34 and 45 in the previous three and 35 in Week 1.
There are other encouraging signs. Consider:
- The Saints defense has not allowed three touchdown passes in any one game this season, compared to eight games last season when it ended up yielding an NFL-record 45 touchdown passes.
- Seattle was limited to 20 points in the Superdome in Week 8, snapping an ignominious eight-game home streak during which the Saints allowed at least 25 points.
- After giving up a paltry 23 points against the dysfunctional San Francisco 49ers, the Saints are no longer yielding 30 points per game. That figure has dipped to a season-low 29.8.
- The defense is getting healthy. Delvin Breaux, the team’s No. 1 cornerback, and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins are back in the fold after recovering from broken fibulas.
The bottom line is the Saints appear to be catching Denver at a good time. The elite Broncos defense is dealing with a handful of injuries to key players, most notably cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall and end Derek Wolfe.
Equally important, the Broncos offense is struggling mightily under rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian and without injured running running back C.J. Anderson. Now trailing Oakland (7-2) and Kansas City (6-3) in the AFC West, these are desperate times for Denver (6-3).
In a word, the Broncos are vulnerable.
The time has come for the Saints defense to play big-boy football.