Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this defensive performance is that it wasn’t as frustrating to watch as other weeks.
No, it wasn’t perfect. New Orleans got off to a slow start and gave up two early touchdowns en route to losing to the Houston Texans, 24-6, on Sunday at NRG Stadium. It still isn’t good enough, but defensive coordinator Dennis Allen introduced some changes that at least made the performance more visually appealing.
That should count for something.
The mistakes were diagnosable. When a tight end got free, you could follow his route back and see where that he was covered and figure out why he shook free. There were efforts made to cover the flats and running backs coming out of the backfield. Everything felt tighter and more fundamentally sound than it did in previous weeks.
There were still some broken coverages, the run defense could have been better and there were a few bad drives. And it bears mentioning that Houston isn’t exactly the best offense in the league, so perhaps some of the success was artificial.
But it meaningful that cornerback Brandon Browner had one of his better performances of the season and was put in a position to succeed with safety Jairus Byrd often providing him help over the top. And the fact that there were as many breakdowns also matters. Those issues are often self-inflicted.
New Orleans once again didn’t get enough of a pass rush. Quarterback Brian Hoyer was only pressured a handful of times. But New Orleans was more aggressive than usual, blitzing on 11 of Hoyer’s 27 attempts. He completed five passes on those plays.
It was a decent starting point for Allen, who took over for Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator during last week’s bye. It could go either direction moving forward, but it looked like he cleaned up some of the errors.
That’s better than nothing.
DEFENSIVE LINE – 1.5 out of 4
The rest of this one can probably summed up in a familiar line: Cam Jordan had a good game but the rest of the line didn’t produce enough. Jordan had a sack, batted a pass (that was still caught), recorded a pressure and had a handful of run stuffs. Everyone else combined for six other pressures. Jordan owes some credit to Byrd for taking out the running back on his sack. … Everyone else was decent. Bobby Richardson had some moments, Kevin Williams had two quarterback hits and Tyeler Davison did some decent things as a substitute. Defensive tackle John Jenkins struggled against Houston center Ben Jones. He had a couple positive moments against the run, but struggled in his individual matchup.
LINEBACKERS – 2 out of 4
The Saints have struggled to find a linebacker who can cover tight ends since Dannell Ellerbe was knocked out of action with a hip injury. It was Hau’oli Kikaha’s turn on Sunday, and the results were mixed. There were a few plays where he was able to hang with his man, but he also struggled at times. He gave up a 21-yard reception to tight end Ryan Griffin after running into a pick, though it was a tough play to make. He was surprisingly shaky in run support, too, in his first game back from an ankle injury. … Rookie Stephon Anthony had a strong performance. He cleaned up a lot against the run and helped limit the among of big plays. One of his finer moments came in the second quarter when he diagnosed a screen, crashed down and stopped the play. Anthony also had a hit on quarterback Brian Hoyer on a blitz. He still needs to get better in coverage situations, but he had a nice bounce back in this game. … Ramon Humber had a nice blitz but whiffed on what should have been a sure sack.
SECONDARY – 3 out of 4
It would have been nice to have the coaches film available for this game to get a better look at how the Saints covered DeAndre Hopkins and to see if there any changes to the coverage. Still, the TV tape showed enough to get a pretty good read on things. This was probably Browner’s best game as a member of the Saints. He gave up receptions of 7, 7 and 13 yards to Hopkins, who is one of the better wide receivers in the NFL, and broke up two passes. It appeared safety Byrd often provided help over the top of Hopkins, but one of Browner’s better moments came when he was left alone on the receiver, ran with him to the end zone and broke up a fade. There was one play when tight end Ryan Griffin got up for a 21-yard reception. That might have been Browner’s responsibility but the limited view makes it impossible to assign proper blame. … Delvin Breaux had another good game, surrendering one reception for 1 yard. He was flagged twice for penalties in the second half. The first one was legitimate. The second one, a holding call, was hard to see. There hasn’t been much positive to highlight since the Saints started struggling, but Breaux has remained a bright spot all season. … The limited view made it difficult to see everything Byrd was doing. He did have an interception and appeared in run support. … Kenny Vaccaro had another really strong game. He had several run stuffs, cleaned up in support, forced a fumble and broke up a pass. He gave up a touchdown to Griffin, but that was more the result of the pass rush allowing the play to go on for too long. It didn’t even look like Griffin was supposed to run a route on the play. While the scope here is limited to the Saints and the teams they’ve played this season, it’s hard to imagine there are many safeties who play in the box performing better than Vaccaro this season.