Dennis Allen isn’t making excuses.
This offseason has been atypical, and he has been down a few players on his side of the ball, but the Saints should be playing better. He knows it. Sean Payton knows it. The defense knows it. Now, the defensive coordinator is putting it on himself to correct things.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is look at ourselves as coaches and make sure we’re telling them the right things,” Allen said. “We’ve put a lot of focus into that, how can we simplify the teaching, not necessarily simplify the scheme, but simplify the teaching so our guys can go out and execute.”
Payton made his displeasure with the defense known this week when he said the group looked like a “high school team” when attempting to stop Green Bay’s bootleg plays. The coach seemed bothered by those plays throughout the week and wasn’t shy about letting everyone know that rapid improvement is needed.
Allen and the coaching staff made a significant effort this week to make things easier for the players. They removed the variables to help make sure that the players are keeping their eyes where they’re supposed to be, and that things like a bootleg or play-action attempt get defended exactly the way it is supposed to be done.
There are many dirty hands on this, and one guy making a mistake can lead to several guys making mistakes. New Orleans can’t have that happen.
“It starts with the (coaches), and then what happens is when a team makes the play, and then all of a sudden the guy tries to maybe do a little bit too much to overcompensate for someone else,” Allen said. “Then there becomes a little bit of a steamroll effect. So, we just got to settle down and play the type of defense that we know we can play.”
The Saints still believe they have a good defense. The pieces are there for that group to excel and be one of the league’s better groups. The problem is that the team has undermined itself with foolish penalties, a lack of fundamentals, and tough luck with injuries. New Orleans is currently allowing 31.3 points per game after holding opponents to 21.3 per game last year.
Improving this week will be difficult. Defensive end Marcus Davenport is yet to play this season, and New Orleans is also about to be without both starting cornerbacks, Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, this week. That means Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams will be the likely starters at cornerback this week.
New Orleans says it will get through it.
“I will say this, those guys have to be comfortable in who they are and their techniques and what makes them successful,” secondary coach Aaron Glenn said. “It’s my job to make sure they’re put in position to be successful.”
Before Lattimore went out with a hamstring injury, the cornerback was one of the trouble spots on defense due to his inconsistent play. The fluctuations in the quality of his performance were central to the issues on Sunday against Green Bay.
The cornerback talked this offseason about how he needs to approach every player as if they’re as talented as Julio Jones and not fall into lapses. Lattimore played great in the season opener against Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans but has fallen into poor habits the last two weeks due to mental errors and a lack of focus. Allen took some of the blame for this, too.
“We’ve got to look at ourselves as coaches and make sure that we’re telling them the right things and putting them in the right position,” Allen said. “So, this is not just a player-oriented thing. I got to look at myself. We as position coaches got to look at ourselves and make sure we’re putting our guys in the best position and telling the right things to let them go out there and have success.”
New Orleans thinks it will figure everything out. Whether that happens this week against Detroit with so many key players out remains to be seen. But no one is hiding from the things going on, and Allen does see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re still trying to find our footing,” he said. “When we perform the way we’re capable of, when we do the things that we’re supposed to do, we can play pretty good defense.”
They just have to prove it.
I spoke with quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi and asked him for his take on the various talking points surrounding Drew Brees. Here is what he had to say.
NOF: How do you think Brees is playing as far as his accuracy and arm strength?
Lombardi: We see him in practice every day. So, I mean, we know what he’s capable of. And then I’d say that, it’s a very small sample size that everyone’s looking at. There hasn’t been a lot of opportunities for whatever reason, to push the ball downfield, maybe like we have in years past. He’s so damn accurate that even over the last few years we’ve made a living sometimes on some of the shorter and intermediate throws. Certainly, it’s not something that is holding us back compared to years past.
NOF: There have been a couple throws that look like they were a little off – especially for Drew. Is that a result of his age or bringing in new guys and needing to get all of that sorted out?
Lombardi: He’s such a precision guy. Having time on task with new guys, and even the guys he’s been with for years, the fact that we didn’t have the OTAs and maybe as much training camp, maybe not knowing exactly how a guy’s gonna come out of a break. That might be happening occasionally. But, I mean, listen, we could go back and look at film over the last 10 years and find throws that weren’t perfect. I don’t know what his completion percentage was this last game, but it was pretty damn good. I still think he’s, he’s the Drew Brees we know. We just got to play better.
NOF: Taking a guy like Mike Thomas out, like, what’s the impact there on Brees?
Lombardi: He’s in the conversation as the best receiver in the NFL. So, when you lose a guy like that, from any offense, there’s going to be an effect. But, man, we’ve got a lot of good players, and so it opens up opportunities for other guys. It’s our job as coaches to get guys in the right position. We just got to do a better job of doing that now. That being said, we haven’t been shut out or anything. I mean, we’re moving the ball. And, you know, everyone will tell you we’re one or two plays away from nobody talking about it. So, it’s just a matter of getting in rhythm and getting on track, and I think this will all go away when that happens.
NOF: Has anything changed about the way Brees moves in the pocket? Has there been any adjustment to how he needs to be protected now that he’s in his 40s?
Lombardi: I mean, he’s never been a guy that’s scrambling around and extending plays. He just gets the ball out fast. And that’s trust and anticipation and confidence. And he still has all those things. And he still does things in the pocket to avoid sacks and find time when he throws. So, no, I can’t say that there’s been a major drop off or anything over the last couple years physically for him. As he gets older, it takes him longer to get ready for practice. We’ve got to wrap up meetings earlier every year so we can get warmed up, but I don’t I don’t think there’s a significant physical issue that we’re noticing now.