New Orleans Saints

Saints’ defense already looks better, even in loss

New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) reacts after a play against the New England Patriots during the first half of a preseason game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass.
New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) reacts after a play against the New England Patriots during the first half of a preseason game Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. AP

You’ve heard the statistics about the Saints defense so many times since the end of last season that you’re probably sick of them.

But let me remind you one last time, perhaps closing the book on those woeful numbers.

Dead last in the NFL in points allowed.

Dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per play.

Next-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed per game.

It made the 2015 season hard to watch. And it made the Saints fan base eager to find out whether Dennis Allen, author of the 2016 defense, could come up with anything worth looking forward to.

It’s still early, but at least the preface to this book — the Saints’ preseason opener Thursday night against the New England Patriots — gave a glimpse that it could have a happier ending than last year’s horror story.

You don't often hear about the defense after a 34-22 loss, but 14 of those points were scored by the Patriots' defense.

The Saints' first-team defense, which played the first quarter and kept the Patriots out of the end zone, looked solid.

Yes, it was only the preseason. And, yes, the only time Tom Brady was on the field was when the Patriots dance team spelled out his name before kickoff. (Brady, who is suspended for the first four games of the season but is eligible to play in the preseason, attended a memorial service for a family member Thursday and wasn’t in Gillette Stadium.)

But despite Brady's absence, Saints fans still should have noticed plenty of signs of an improved defense. A lot of what Allen’s defense showed the previous two weeks in training camp at The Greenbrier apparently transferred to Foxborough.

The defense allowed Brady fill-in Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots just 25 total yards in the first quarter (12 rushing and 13 passing).

Defensive end Kasim Edebali, who played his college ball just 45 minutes away at Boston College, had a nice homecoming, recording a pair of sacks in the first quarter. One of them came on the Patriots’ third offensive play. The other came after Garoppolo somehow eluded new linebacker James Laurinaitis. Kenny Vaccaro and Dannell Ellerbe defended well on back-to-back plays on New England’s next possession.

It was just the kind of start the defense needed, bailing out a Saints offense that often found itself trying to bail out the defense a season ago.

The offense got off to a woeful start, turning the ball over on two of its first four plays. And that, of course, left some early critics dissatisfied.

But it shouldn’t. The offense will be fine, just like it always has been with Drew Brees running the show. He completed a 37-yard strike to Brandin Cooks to start the game and handed off to Mark Ingram the next two before calling it a night.

But this night was all about gauging just how much the defense has improved. And there were some pages missing from the book on this night.

The two guys projected to start at cornerback, New Orleans natives Delvin Breaux and Keenan Lewis, didn’t play. Neither did defensive end Cam Jordan, a Pro Bowler from a season ago and one of the few bright spots on last year’s unit.

One not-so-bright spot: Linebacker Stephone Anthony got carted off.

So consider Thursday night just a CliffsNotes version of what might be in store for the Saints defense.

It’s way too early to determine whether Allen has penned a best-seller. But, at least for now, you won’t cringe to see what’s on the next page.

Chapter 2 comes next Saturday night in Houston.