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Is the New Orleans Saints’ defense legit?

The red-hot Saints are generating plenty of buzz with a new twist. Is their defense as good as the hype?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The buzz surrounding the New Orleans Saints the last few weeks has been anything but business as usual. Drew Brees finds himself in alien territory, taking a back seat to his running backs and the Saints’ defense. On Thursday, WGR 550’s Howard Simon graced Buffalo Bills fans with this “less than reassuring” tweet regarding the New Orleans Saints defense:

“Stat of day nominee: Saints gave up over 1000 yards and 65 points in first 2 games. Since Week 3, New Orleans is 2nd in NFL in yards allowed, and tied for 2nd in points allowed.”

Simon’s nominee for stat of the day should be scary news for the Bills, who rank 26th in yards per game and 16th in points.

Don’t abandon all hope yet, ye who enter here. Let’s dive into the six games where they’ve earned their shutdown reputation (and here's our more comprehensive look at the Saints). The opponents (Carolina, Miami, Detroit, Green Bay, Chicago and Tampa Bay) include some pretty good offenses upon first glance:

  • Cam Newton’s good days are a thing of beauty. They’ve been few and far between this year, with the Panthers ranking 21st in yards per game and 24th in points.
  • Miami has been shut out twice this year (once against the Saints). They’re 31st in yards per game and dead last in points.
  • Detroit comes in at 16th in yards and 9th in points, meaning they are indeed a pretty good team on offense.
  • Green Bay is 23rd in yards and 12th in scoring. That’s a decent team, as well.
  • Chicago is barely outpacing Miami and lands at 29th in yards and 27th in points per game.
  • Tampa Bay has been 13th in gaining yards and 21st in scoring points. Sounds like a team that’s decent but struggles to finish.

Using those measures, that means they’ve faced three bad teams and three average to good ones, but diving deeper into those games, New Orleans has benefited by facing backup and beaten up quarterbacks.

Tampa Bay hasn’t been a juggernaut by any means. Following an injury to Jameis Winston, the Saints squared off against Ryan Fitzpatrick for a significant amount of the game.

Green Bay was starting Brett Hundley for the first time following an injury to Aaron Rodgers. With Rodgers, Green Bay averaged 27 points per game. With Hundley, Green Bay isn’t quite making it to 15.

Detroit had no excuses, as starting quarterback Matt Stafford was running the show. They managed to drop 38 points on the Saints. They were playing from behind, and this includes some garbage time points; however, the Lions put up 24 points on offense before the 4th quarter. Detroit capped the scoring with two touchdown returns, but they still scored that 38 despite handing out turnovers like candy on Halloween.

Oh yeah, rookie Mitch Trubisky was under center for the Bears. He’s completed 47% of his passes in four games and is averaging 128 yards through the air.

This isn’t meant to say the Saints aren’t playing well on defense. They’ve been opportunistic and effective no matter what disclaimers I might have added. They’ve shut down the offenses they should have and are providing breathing room to an offense that’s used to doing all the heavy lifting. However, don’t buy all the hype just yet. There are opportunities to be had against this defense, and Buffalo has the playmakers to create some points. The Bills will need them to show up on Sunday in order to earn the win.