While most of the spotlight was shed on the return of head coach Sean Payton, the coaching savior for the Saints was Rob Ryan
In an opening week in which many NFL offenses succumbed to stingy defenses, the defensive performance put on by the New Orleans Saints in their 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons stands out as the best of Week 1,
While there were other teams that surrendered fewer points than the Saints, the offenses those teams opposed were nowhere near as efficient as Atlanta’s—or any Blaine Gabbert-led offense in the case of Kansas City’s Week 1 opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 17 points and 367 yards allowed by New Orleans may not jump off the page as dominant, but trust me when I say that the Saints defense dictated the Atlanta offense in this one.
Nothing showcased the Saints' bend-but-don't-break defense more than the game's final drive highlighted in the following video:
Furthermore, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan dialed up consistent pressure on Matt Ryan en route to three sacks and numerous rushed throws.
Even when Ryan had a clean pocket to throw from, he got stonewalled at times by the complex looks the Saints gave him, most notably being the use of three safeties by New Orleans in its nickel package.
In order to further put New Orleans’ defensive performance into perspective, I must remind you that Atlanta’s lone game last season in which it didn’t have more than 17 points was in the meaningless season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was just last season that the Falcons converted 45.1 percent of their third downs , finishing second in the league.
Against the Saints, Atlanta only converted on three of its 11 third downs, a dismal 27.2 percent conversion rate.
This performance by New Orleans elicited this response from ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth:
Big win by Saints and welcome back to the NFL saints Defense.— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) September 8, 2013
With New Orleans finishing with the worst defense in NFL history last season, Saints fans—or all fans, for that matter—had to be hollering the New Orleans rant, “Who Dat,” when faced with the unrecognizable unit they saw in the opener.
This astonishment was shown in a tweet by Comcast's Vance McCullough:
You can scream it's Week 1 or that the Falcons were rusty if you want.
In response, I will tell you that Atlanta scored 40 points in Week 1 against the Chiefs last season.
Care to try again?
Which Team Had the Most Impressive Defensive Performance in Week 1?
Don't think of New Orleans' defensive resurgence as a flash in the pan.
If New Orleans can turn in such a performance against Atlanta in its first game utilizing a 3-4 defense, then one can assume that, as players get acclimated to Ryan's scheme, its defense will only improve.
Couple that with a relatively light schedule in terms of playing high-powered offenses, and it’s in the realm of possibility that New Orleans could actually register a top-10 defense by season’s end.
With the offensive weapons New Orleans is stocked with, that all but spells a return to the playoffs for "Who Dat Nation."