Going into this past off-season, the New Orleans Saints spent a good deal of money on revamping its pass defense in order to strengthen its biggest Achilles heel.
On Sunday, the Saints only gave up 221 yards passing as Quarterback Jeff Garcia completed 24 of 41 passes. Garcia had to spend much of his time running out of the pocket in order to get some passes off, as the front four on the defensive line and the linebacking corps converged on the backfield. The Saints defensive finished the game with an interception by fan favorite Scott Fujita and two sacks.
Cornerback Tracey Porter became the ball hawk the team knew he could be, as he batted down numerous passes and did not seem to give much yards after catch when the receiver he was covering actually caught a pass. It was Porter’s first start in the first game of the season, and hopefully the first of many great games by the second round pick.
New corners Randall Gay and Aaron Glenn filled in well for usual starter Mike Mackenzie. The two rotated in on different packages and kept to their assignments very well. Corner Jason Craft also got some time on the field, doing well but giving up a touchdown in the second half.
The starting Safety tandem of Kevin Kaesviharn and Roman Harper solidified the secondary and did not allow the deep passes Saints fans had become accustomed to. Former starting Free Safety Josh Bullocks did get some playing time, but was not put in any sort of situation where he could have given up costly yards on a pass.
Maligned corner Jason David did not see the field of play for the entire game, which was a relief for all who have seen him play throughout last season and this preseason.
But the biggest problem game with the run defense, which was never seen as a problem after drafting Defensive Tackle Sedrick Ellis in the first round and bringing in Linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Yet the Saints gave up nearly 150 yards on the ground, most of which seemed to be right up the middle. Though, the Saints may have read pass instead of run before the snap, there is no excuse to give up that many yards through the middle of the line.
Most point out the fact that Ellis was double teamed a number of times, while the rotation of Antwan Lake and Kendrick Clancy never seemed to plug up the other side of the line. This leaves question marks, now that Lake is injured and the run-stopping giant Hollis Thomas is still a month and a half away from even returning to the field.
Perhaps the Saints should just leave pass rushing specialist Bobby McCray in at Defensive End and just move Charles Grant to Defensive Tackle, where he could run around blocks with Ellis getting double-teamed and vice versa.
Grant and Ellis could be a very dangerous one-two punch in the middle of the line, which could also free up McCray and Will Smith on the ends. Otherwise, the Saints may have to question why they released training camp standout Orien Harris and only flirted with the idea of bringing in former LSU standout Anthony McFarland.
With games against strong running teams like Minnesota, Oakland, Carolina, San Diego, and even Denver still on the schedule before Thomas returns, the Saints better find a way to plug up the running hole before it’s too late.