Why the Saints defense is really an elite unit

Marshon Lattimore leads a scary Saints defense

By: Jake Rajala

Every individual that has heard of the sport called American Football predicted the Green Bay Packers to win their Week 1 matchup against the “rebuilding” New Orleans Saints. Many analysts even suggested that Packers would win and it wouldn’t even be a close matchup.  Well, what exactly happened? 

The Saints, who were without Michael Thomas, Bradley Roby, and Will Lutz, went into the matchup and absolutely mopped the floor against the loaded NFC favorite in the Green Bay Packers. The Saints wounded up unveiling 38 points and allowing a mere three points against the 2020 MVP Aaron Rodgers

So, does that mean that the Saints team was very underlooked heading into the matchup and it’s time to give them a boatload of credit? The answer to that is apparently not. Instead of handing the Saints its true due, countless national sports outlets just state the Saints “played well” or the “Saints were the more prepared team”. They will go on to state the narrative that Rodgers was sluggish and just happened to have the “worst game of his career” because he didn’t show up until training camp. At the same time, many of these analysts believe/admit A-Rod will quickly turn things around in Week 2. 

I don’t see the national crystal ball reasoning behind Rodgers’s absence as a major factor in his horrid performance. It’s fun and easy to poke at Rodgers’s new mantra and the fact that he was reluctant to be a Packer for much of the offseason. However, it wasn’t like Rodgers took a plane from Hawaii to Jacksonville in early September. The former MVP has been in sync with the Packers for many weeks already. Also, this new idea of “not showing up until training camp” correlated with a disastrous Week 1 performance didn’t become a thought until Aaron Rodgers came along. I believe many people are taking the combination of taking the opportunity to jab at the polarizing QB and not admitting they were wrong about the Saints. It also could be said that the Saints couldn’t have played any better against Aaron Rodgers to garner the large praise they deserve, simply because they couldn’t have played any better.

I actually believe that Rodgers isn’t a large portion of the blame and that the Saints defense will go down as the top unit that Rodgers will have faced this season (barring a second matchup). Here is why the Saints defense deserves a significant approval rating and why the unpopular Rodgers truly faced a wall in Week 1. 

  • Marcus Williams and Marshon Lattimore

Remember the Saints historically great draft class in 2017? Well, profiles like Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Marcus Williams, and Trey Hendrickson were all taken by the great organization. Well, I believe some of these players that actually found great success early on in their careers, are just evolving into their prime selves in year five. Most notably, the Saints CB Marshon Lattimore and Saints FS Marcus Williams seemed to have transformed into more talented studs. 

Marcus Williams had one of the best plays of his career in Week 1 against Aaron Rodgers. The Packers future Hall of Fame QB actually got Williams to play towards Adams’s side of the field on a deep passing route, which led to Rodgers quickly turning and unleashing a bomb to Marquez Valdes – Scantling. Williams managed to allow Rodgers to believe he had him falling for a pass intended to Adams, but managed to see Scantling go deep down the field and trace back to make a great play on the field. In live-action, it seems like Rodgers just threw a prayer, but it was a route combination that GB practiced and Williams truly made an outstanding play on the football field. This is the same Willams that Payton has called a very smart football player and safety that showed his athletic ability at the NFL combine (top vertical jump, third in broad jump). 

We know Williams had a great Week 1 showcase, but Marshon Lattimore was also very stout in a day that would also turn to be a huge payday. On a 4th downplay, Lattimore beautifully broke up a pass against one of the top WRs in Davante Adams. Lattimore routinely shut down Adams and when he missed a drive, his value to the defense showed, as GB marched up and down the field. Thankfully, Lattimore returned and his value resurfaced in the game. Saints will also have the prominent CB Bradley Roby in the fold moving forward.

  • Saints LB tandem 

The Saints found one of the all-time FA (free agent) gems in Demario Davis a few years back and he continues to make the case as one of the game’s best LBs. Davis has been ranked as the top LB by PFF in the past and he’s arguably the best LB against the run in the league. He’s a huge reason why the Saints can play two safeties on the back end against elite passing offenses and hold up against the run. He now also introduces the pre-game speeches with Brees out of the locker room. 

We know Davis is a Top 100 football player in the NFL, but re-signing Kwon Alexander to pair with him was a very underrated move. If the Saints didn’t acquire one of the fastest LBs in the league, there may have been a few more first downs picked up last week by the Packers offense. Then who knows what the Packers could have done with a stronger rhythm. Alexander was able to chase down not only Jones from a few yards away and hold him from picking up a first, but he was making great plays on WRs in the open space. When Alexander is healthy, the Saints have one of the best 1-2 punches at the LB position. 

  • DL Depth

The Saints didn’t have David Onymeta and no longer have Sheldon Rankins (despite Rankins usually being MIA), but the DL had a strong performance against Rodgers. Sure, the Packers were missing interior OL and didn’t really attack the Saints DTs. Yet, when the Saints DL was tested at various spots and on occasion, the Saints held up in defensive trenches. As mentioned, the Saints are reaping the benefits of already solid young players taking that next step. It was easy to witness 2018 first-round draft pick Saints DE Marcus Davenport growing into full form, as he had a sack and TFL against GB. Davenport will miss a few weeks with an injury, but he will be back for the majority of the season, and for the crucial game matchups against Tom Brady. 

Outside of Davenport taking the next step, the Saints have numerous playmakers on the DL. The veteran Cam Jordan showed he still has a lot of gas left in the tank as he essentially quickly pressured and forced Aaron Rodgers into throwing his first INT of the game. The Saints also reaped benefits from first-year Saint Tanoh Kpassagnon, who managed to get home on a pass rush when the Saints just sent three down linemen at the QB. Then there is even one other pass rusher that is left to attack QBs: Saints 2021 first-round draft pick Payton Turner. The Saints will undoubtedly have the best edge-rushing rotation when Turner sees the field moving forward and when Davenport returns from his minor injury for the large chunk of the season. The Saints ferocious pass rush will truly continue to prove to complement the back end quite well in all of 2021.

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