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 is 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 pressured only 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 off week. It could go either direction moving forward, but it looked like he cleaned up some of the errors.
That’s better than nothing.
QUARTERBACK: 1.5 out of 4
Drew Brees didn’t have a good game. It didn’t help that his offensive line allowed so much pressure and that his receivers weren’t getting open. But Brees looked like he was rattled and was hurrying himself into throws even when he had time.
The Texans got to him, and it showed. He missed a number of throws he should have made.
He also didn’t always see the field well. On the interception he threw in the fourth quarter, he had C.J. Spiller open on the right sideline. No one was covering him. Brees will bounce back. But this was a rare bad performance.
RUNNING BACKS: 2.5 out of 4
Mark Ingram was the bright spot of the offense. It’s too bad the Saints didn’t keep this closer, because it seemed like they were having success opening up running plays.
Credit the blocking on his 29-yard run. The Saints had Zach Strief pull on the play, allowing defensive end J.J. Watt to pass through the line. Wide receiver Willie Snead then did just enough to keep him from Ingram, who hit the hole and turned up the sidelines.
Ingram was also one of the most effective receivers during the game, though he dropped one pass.
RECEIVERS: 2 out of 4
There wasn’t much memorable from any of these guys, other than Willie Snead’s back-shoulder catch on a third down.
The coaches film, which shows the full field, wasn’t made available by the NFL in time for this review, so it’s difficult to comment on the route running or coverage. On the telecast, it was clear Houston’s secondary performed well and denied several opportunities.
The quality of the coverage was evident during the fifth drive of the game when Brees had to throw the ball away after scrambling for seven seconds.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 1.5 out of 4
Everyone in this unit struggled at some point during Sunday’s game.
Strief allowed four quarterback hits. Andrus Peat, starting at left guard, allowed two pressures, a hit, run stuff and a sack. Right guard Jahri Evans allowed a hit and a pressure. Left tackle Terron Armstead allowed a sack, a hit and one run stuff.
No one in this group has much to feel good about.
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.
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 Sunday, and the results were mixed. There were a few plays on which 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.
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 were 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.
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.