The Saints defense stepped up to the challenge in the 2021 opener
The New Orleans Saints walked into the 2021 season with varying expectations of just how the team would look a year removed from another playoff defeat after regular season success. The defense especially had questions in the secondary after losing Janoris Jenkins to free agency and David Onyemata to a six-game suspension to kick off the new year, but they played better than anyone could’ve asked to start the season, keeping Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers out of the redzone entirely in route to a 38-3 victory.
The big key to the Saints defensive prowess on Sunday involved the two outside cornerbacks, Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo. While Lattimore came out of the game injured to start the second half, he helped lock down Packers star WR Davante Adams, giving up just two catches for 37 yards to the 8th year receiver. Antivax-Adebo spent most of teh time on the other side of the field and was targeted just four times, giving up a single catch to Allen Lazard for 14 yards. Adebo also managed an interception on his four targets, meaning his passer rating when targeted was a miniscule 2.1.
Here’s an example of one of the four times Adebo was targeted in this game. The previous play saw Lazard beat Adebo for a 14-yard gain, and on the very next play Rodgers tries to go back to his No. 2 receiever going up against the Saints’ rookie corner. Lazard tries a simple go route with Adebo in man coverage, and while Adebo doesn’t see the ball coming this way, he’s got tight enough coverage on Lazard to where Rodgers and Lazard both need to be perfect to make this play.
Even a better example, Rodgers tests Adebo again. Same receiver, same route, same result. This time Adebo has his head around and Rodgers has aboslutely no room to throw this ball. He tries anyway to an incomplete result, however the flag on #1 Chauncey C.J. Ceedy Duce Gardner-Johnson wipes out the play and gives the Packers a first down. Still a better result than Adebo letting this pass get by him.
This is the biggest sign of growth from the Saints defense this offseason. If there was a single play that killed the Saints last year, it was any sort of bootleg rollout. Here, sophomore linebacker Zack Baun recognizes it and covers the underneath route from the Packers tight end, causing Rodgers to hand on the ball en route to the only sack that Rodgers took in the game.
While the coverage was good, the pass rush still played their part in forcing Rodgers into early and/or unwanted throws. Rodgers was pressured on 34.5% of dropbacks, and while he was only sacked once, the pressure fazed the reigning MVP. Rodgers was given a 42.2 passing grade while under pressure by Pro Football Focus, the fifth-worst among all starting quarterbacks in Week 1
Here’s an example of the importance of the pressure. This was a 3rd-and-8 on the Packers first drive of the game. Rodgers is looking for Davante Adams on the hitch past the markers. Davante Adams is open. Davante Adams likely would’ve gotten a first down, continuing the Packers drive with the Saints only up 3. Instead, new signing Tanoh Kpassagnon is in Aaron Rodgers’ face, rendering Rodgers useless on the play and forcing him to scramble and throw a backfoot pass to Aaron Jones. The Packers punt, and the next time Rodgers gets the ball, he’s down by 10.
The Saints defense still has some work to do. They’ll likely be without new $100 million man Marshon Lattimore, however they’ll get Bradley Roby back from suspension who will step into Lattimore’s place if he can’t go.
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