Brian Allee-Walsh

Improving Saints defense continues to trend upward as final cut nears

Saints columnist Brian Allee-Walsh
Saints columnist Brian Allee-Walsh Biloxi

The post-game focus normally would fall on the preseason debuts of quarterback Drew Brees and running back Adrian Peterson, both Hall of Fame bound once their stellar NFL careers come to a grinding halt.

But they become a sidebar to the surprising developments happening on the other side of the football for the New Orleans Saints under second-year defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

Now, three exhibition games hardly qualify as a true litmus test but inquiring minds want to know in the wake of Saturdaynight's 13-0 victory against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

Who are these guys?

That final score is not a typo.

The Texans failed to score on 13 possessions and generated a mere 246 yards on 67 offensive snaps under three different quarterbacks including playmaking rookie Deshaun Watson. Going into Sunday's three remaining exhibition games of the weekend, the Saints' whitewash of the Texans represented the only shutout in the NFL this preseason.

It gets better.

The Saints have not allowed an offensive touchdown in eight consecutive quarters, only two in 12 quarters, both by the Cleveland Browns against Saints scrubs in Game 1. By my unofficial calculations, the Saints' No. 1 defensive unit has not yielded a point in the preseason, suggesting we have seen the last of those laughable lugs who yielded yards and points in alarming fashion since the end of the 2011 season.

The Saints (2-1) close out the preseason at 7 p.m. Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens (3-0) at the Superdome. Teams must pare their rosters to 53 by 3 p.m. next Sunday.

So I ask again: Who are these guys?

I am most impressed by the corps of linebackers — A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o, Craig Robertson, third-round pick Alex Anzalone, Nate Stupar, Michael Mauti, Hau'oli Kikaha and Stephone Anthony (when healthy and focused). And the secondary is filled with ballers — Kenny Vaccaro, Vonn Bell, second-round pick Marcus Williams, top pick Marshon Lattimore, Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley, Raphael Bush, Eric Harris, Chris Banjo, Damian Swann, Sterling Moore, De'Vante Harris and Arthur Maulet.

Lest I forget the D-Line which features two-time Pro Bowl end Cam Jordan, up-and-coming tackle Sheldon Rankins, end Alex Okafor, and tackles Tyeler Davison, David Onyemonta and third-round pick Trey Hendrickson. Sixth-round pick Al-Quadin Muhammad leads the team with three sacks in the preseason.

Much has been made of the notable defensive improvements made in Atlanta and the defensive prowess on display in Carolina and Tampa Bay.

But the Saints defense appears to be quietly closing the gap, getting younger, faster and stronger under Allen, Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis.

Brees and the team's perennially prolific offense may no longer have to win it by themselves.

Help is on the way.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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