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Barry Hirstius

THE LEARNING CURVE: Young Saints Defense is “Growing Up” Before Our Eyes

"If it first you don't succeed, try, try again". For the young New Orleans Saints defense, that old English proverb from back in the early 1800's came in handy yesterday while ironically, they found themselves in Merry Ol' England against the Miami Dolphins at the iconic Wembley Stadium in London.

The Saints defense -- which has a handful of rookies and 2nd year players scattered throughout its starting line-up -- continued its "learning curve" yesterday with one of the best performances of the entire Sean Payton Era; limiting the Miami offense to 186 total yards and earning their first "shut out" of an opponent since the 2012 season.

The impressive showing was only just 1 week removed from dominating a (now 3-1) Carolina Panthers team in their own stadium, in the previous game before.

This is the very same Saints defense that in the first 2 games of the season, gave up 1,025 yards of total offense and 65 total points; and was embarrassed nationally by several national media networks and writers that cover the NFL.

So what has happened in the last 2 weeks now that obviously didn't happen at all in the first 2 weeks?

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Like any small child or even when a kid reaches adolescence, these young Saints defenders are simply learning from their mistakes; and bringing to mind that old English proverb.

"I feel like the last game, that shutout, it was expected," 2nd year Saints CB Ken Crawley said to ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett and other reporters in the locker room after the game.

"That was our goal through camp. I feel like guys came together. We know what kind of defense we want to be. We always hear about other defenses around the league. We want to be that.

"We’re a young group. I feel like it’s giving us momentum. I feel like we’re going to go somewhere with this type of defense."

Indeed they just might. that it should be noted: the Saints' back-to-back impressive showings defensively did come at the expense of Carolina QB Cam Newton and Dolphins QB Jay Cutler; two players that haven't been exactly playing at an "elite" level recently.

Up next for the Saints defense?

After the Bye Week next Sunday, they get to face 2 of the very best QB's in the entire NFL: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford at the Superdome on October 15th, before a road trip the following week to the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin --- to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It goes without saying, that we'll get a REAL assessment of just how "good" or not this young Saints defense really is, after the next 2 games.

Still however, it's hard not to walk away with a good feeling about this young defense, and the thought of the unlimited potential that they have to continue in their growth from week to week, not only as individuals but as an entire unit collectively.

Unbelievably: the Saints defense is now ranked 11th overall in the NFL after 4 weeks in points allowed, having yielded a total of 78 points, or 19.5 per game.

If that trend were to continue (though it will be difficult with the Lions and Packers coming up), it certainly is a recipe for continued success.

“We’ve been working for a day like this,” said Saints defensive end Cam Jordan.

"Getting a shutout, of course, is significant," Saints head coach Sean Payton said to reporters in the post-game press conference afterwards. "It was obvious the game was being played a certain way. ... It was a good one to get."

Indeed, it was.

The Saints as expected made life miserable for Dolphins QB Jay Cutler, who after an impressive opening drive that was thwarted by a leaping interception by Crawley in the end zone, struggled mightily to get the Dolphins offense on track after that huge play.

Photo courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

Crawley's interception seemed to breathe new life into a Saints defensive unit that appeared to be "on the ropes" early, and helped set the tone for the remainder of the contest.

The Saints defensive line got 4 sacks for a 2nd straight week, and made things so unbearable that Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was visibly upset on the sidelines --- his frustration with a Dolphins offense that has scored a grand total of 6 points in 2 weeks, showing through his facial expressions masked behind his laminated plastic play-calling "cheat sheet".

Gase had referred to his offense's performance the previous week in a 20-6 loss to the Jets, as "garbage".

After yesterday's performance against the Saints, it probably could be labeled a full-blown "dumpster fire"

Photo courtesy of The Miami Herald

After Crawley's big play on that opening drive, the Dolphins' possessions afterwards ended with a Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, and then finally -- a Turnover on Downs.

The Saints completely shut down Dolphins All-Pro RB Jay Ajayi, limiting him to 46 yards on 12 carries and essentially turning him into a virtual non-factor after a few nice runs on that opening drive.

Cutler's frustration against the Saints historically continued as well, as the veteran QB fell to (1-4) lifetime vs. New Orleans, his only win coming back in 2008 when he was still a member of the Denver Broncos, the team that originally drafted him back in 2006.

Cutler went 20 for 28 for 164 yards, with an interception and a QB rating of 71.1.


Henry Browne/Getty Images

For the young Saints defense, it was a reason to happy, but they know they still have a long way to go before they will ever get a chance to rest on any proverbial "laurels".

But --- make no mistake about it:

This young Saints defense is growing up right before our eyes and getting better with each passing week --- and it's all just a part of the "learning curve" that they continually will find themselves on, as the season progresses.

Now let's just hope that they're "quick learners".......

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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