2021 Saints Defensive Rankings – Sports Illustrated New Orleans Saints News, Analysis and More

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For most of Sean Payton’s 16 years as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, his teams were known for their offensive prowess. Led by record QB Drew Brees, the Saints have struck fear into NFL defenses.

In recent seasons, as Brees has declined, the Saints have become a stronger defensive team. In four consecutive NFC South titles from 2017-2020, defense has been just as critical to the team’s success as Brees and offense.

Brees retired after the 2020 season, and the Saints offense was hit by a mountain of injuries in 2021. Those injuries, along with ineffective play, dropped New Orleans to bottom of the league in the most offensive ratings.

Despite a stagnant offense, the Saints still finished with a winning record and nearly qualified for the playoffs. It was thanks to a formidable defensive performance that they managed to stay in contention.

Here’s how the Saints’ defense ranked in 2021.

Total Defense

New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) sacks Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports

  • Points allowed = 4th (19.7 per game)
  • Third down percentage = 8th
  • Red Zone Efficiency = 1st

Defense Pass

  • Yards = 14th (224.8/game)

run defense

  • Yards per carry = 1st (3.7)

Holy defensive leaders

  • Tackles: Demario Davis (105), Malcolm Jenkins (79)
  • Tackles for loss (88): Cam Jordan/Demario Davis (13), Marcus Davenport (9), Kwon Alexander (7)
  • Bags (46): Cam Jordan (12.5), Marcus Davenport (9), Tanoh Kpassagnon (4)
  • QB hits (113): Cam Jordan (22), Marcus Davenport (16), Demario Davis/David Onyemata (10)
  • Interceptions (18): Marshon Lattimore/Paulson Adebo/Chauncey Gardner-Johnson/PJ Williams (3)
New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) tackles Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady (12) and forces him to fumble the ball.  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) tackles Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady (12) and forces him to fumble the ball. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth straight year, the Saints ranked among the league’s top rush defenses. They held 12 of their 17 opponents within 100 rushing yards and didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher.

New Orleans was able to win in the trenches with defensive tackles that weren’t a major factor as passers, but effectively clogged running lanes. The team’s defensive ends play the run as well as any player in the league.

Disruptive DT David Onyemata missed the first six games with a suspension. He came back to play outstanding run defense and although he only had two sacks, he was among the team leaders with 15 QB pressures.

Tackles Shy Tuttle and Christian Ringo didn’t show up big on the stat sheet. However, they were strong against the run and effectively pushed pass pockets.

Veteran DE Tanoh Kpassagnon was an underrated free agent this offseason. In just eight games before being sidelined by injury, Kpassagnon had 4 sacks, 11 pressures and 3 tackles for loss.

Rookie DE Payton Turner, the team’s first-round pick, also showed potential but was limited to just five outings. Carl Granderson had 3 sacks and 11 spare pressures along the edge.

The Saints’ leading tandem of Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport have wreaked havoc all season. Davenport had the best year of his four-year career, despite missing seven games. He was a force against the run and nearly unblockable as a passing thrower. Davenport’s 9 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles were all career highs.

Jordan have had a quiet start to the year, drawing unfair criticism in some circles. He finished the year on a tear, with 8.5 sacks coming in the last four games. Jordan also led the Saints with 33 pressures while suppressing six passes, forcing two fumbles and playing his usual high-level running defense.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher - USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher – USA TODAY Sports

The Saints attacked the offenses with three athletic linebackers who were each playmakers against the run and the pass. Rookie Pete Werner, a second-round pick, showed promise for a bright future. Werner is a smart player with underrated outdoor athleticism who was strong in coverage and running support.

Inexplicably, LB Demario Davis was once again overlooked in the Pro Bowl vote. Davis, one of the best defensive players in the league, was a force against the run, superlative coverage and a devastating passing thrower.

Davis had over 100 tackles for the fifth consecutive season. He also broke up 7 passes, had a team-high 13 tackles for loss, and recorded 3 sacks and 10 QB hits.

Veteran LB Kwon Alexander had one of the best years of his career after a remarkable recovery from an Achilles injury at the end of 2020. The athletic Alexander had a monstrous stretch run and achieved top marks career sacks (3.5) and QB hits (7) while adding one interception and 7 tackles for loss.

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass intended for Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17).  Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass intended for Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17). Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY

The Saints’ secondary, like the passing rush, overcame a slow start to dominate throughout the year. New Orleans allowed four 300-yard passers, but none in the final nine games of the season.

Opposing quarterbacks have made 62% of their throws against New Orleans coverage. The Saints completely shut down some of the NFL’s best wide receivers with a deep and talented defensive backfield.

Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore was paramount in the team’s aggressive man-to-man plan. Lattimore gave up just 57.4 percent completion percentage when targeted and was among the NFL leaders with 19 broken passes.

CB rookie Paulson Adebo, a third-round pick, was a great addition to Lattimore. The physical and athletic Adebo broke eight passes and allowed a 62% completion rate, despite being heavily targeted.

Adebo’s play has limited shots for veteran CB Bradley Roby, who was acquired in a trade early in the season. Roby still gave the team three starting quality corners. Versatile defensive backs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and PJ Williams also performed slot coverage duties with near perfection.

Gardner-Johnson is an all-around defender who was an underrated star in the unit. Despite missing five games, he had career-high marks in interceptions (3), sacks (2), pressures (7), while breaking seven shots and giving up a completion percentage of 63.2%.

PJ Williams has quietly had the most productive season of his six-year career. Veteran S Malcolm Jenkins and FS Marcus Williams formed one of the best safety tandems in the league. Jenkins lost a step in coverage, but makes up for it with heady play and aggression in the tackle zone.

Marcus Williams has as much range as any safety in the NFL. He, Jenkins and PJ Williams combined for 6 interceptions, 18 broken passes and six tackles for loss.

The Saints became a contender after 20 years in existence in 1987. For the next six years, they made the playoffs four times and were considered among the best teams in the NFL. These New York squads were led by a spectacular linebacking corps dubbed ‘The Dome Patrol,’ which fueled intimidating defenses.

The 2021-22 New Orleans Saints defense looked like those fierce teams at times. With a struggling offense, the blame for the win rested squarely on the shoulders of that defense, which nearly carried the team into the playoffs.

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