Saint defense reverts back to 2012 form in week-one loss

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan diced the Saints' secondary for 448 yards and three touchdowns. Photo by Michael C. Hebert.

To many Saints fans, Sunday was like a bad dream. To others, it seemed like they hit 88 in the Delorean and stumbled back into 2012.

The shoddy defense that crippled New Orleans that year reared its ugly head on Sunday for their season opener as they gave up plenty of points and yards to the Falcons in a 37-34 overtime loss.

Very similar to 2012, the offense did their part. The Saints put up the 34 points in regulation and added 472 total yards with a 62-percent conversion-rate on third downs.

With the exception of one bad throw, Drew Brees was close to flawless--completing 29 of 42 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown.

Even the running game was productive with New Orleans compiling 139 yards on the ground with a five-yard average per carry. Mark Ingram led the way with 13 rushes for 60 yards and two scores.

Each time the Saints fell down in the second half, their offense had the answer.

After giving up a 54-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons up 24-21, New Orleans went 80 yards in 12 plays to regain the lead.

When Jacquizz Rodgers scored from 17 yards out to put Atlanta back in front, the Saints promptly responded by driving 71 yards in just eight plays to take a 34-31 lead with just 1:30 remaining in the game.

However, the New Orleans defense couldn't hold up their end of the bargain.

With just 20 seconds remaining in the first half, the Saints took a 20-7 lead but saw it quickly disappear when the the Falcons marched 58 yards in just two plays.

They added a field goal to cut the deficit to 20-10. From that point on, the Falcon offense absolutely shredded the Saint defense.

The Saints took the 27-24 lead with 6:35 left in the game just to see Atlanta go 94 yards in eight plays to regain the advantage.

But the most disappointing defensive performance came at the end of the game when New Orleans had taken the 34-31 lead with just 1:20 left to play.

All they needed was one stop, but they couldn't make it. The Falcons drove 47 yards in just eight plays and kicked a game-tying field goal as time expired.

And in overtime, a Marques Colston fumble did the Saints in; it set up a 52-yard game-winning field goal by Matt Bryant.

Overall, the Saint defense got off to a rocky start in 2014. They gave up an alarming 568 total yards.

During the offseason, it looked like New Orleans' secondary would be the strength of the team, but it proved to be their greatest weakness on Sunday. They were abused by Matt Ryan and the Atlanta receiving corps.

Ryan threw for a career-high 448 yards and three touchdowns. He was only sacked once.

The Saints aren't used to seeing those types of staggering numbers since Rob Ryan took over as defensive coordinator.

In Ryan's first year, New Orleans became the most improved defensive unit in the league--finishing the year ranked fourth in total defense and No. 2 against the pass.

They were expected to be just as good this year--if not better--with the offseason addition of safety Jairus Byrd.

Keenan Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro, Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette all had breakout years in 2013--just skyrocketing expectations for this season.

But Saints fans didn't see the kind of defense they had grown accustomed to seeing in last year's big turnaround. Instead, they saw shades of the 2012 unit that ranked as one of the worst in NFL history.

Perhaps New Orleans' loss of long-time cornerback Jabari Greer and the recent release of offseason acquisition Champ Bailey have come back to bite them.

Greer sustained a season-ending knee injury last season but before he got hurt, he played very well as the Saints' No. 2 cornerback. Bailey surely isn't the perennial Pro Bowler of old, but he helped provide New Orleans with depth at corner.

With both players gone, they're only left with one true No. 1 corner in Keenan Lewis.

Corey White and Patrick Robinson are being looked upon to cover teams' No. 2 and 3 receivers. Both have had well-documented struggles in doing so in the past.

The Saint secondary will have a good chance to get their confidence back this week against the Browns.

After facing a solid quarterback in Ryan and one of the best receiving corps in the league with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, they'll be facing Brian Hoyer and a receiving corps absent of Josh Gordon.