WRAPPED UP: Suffocating Defense Helps Saints Remain a Super Bowl Favorite

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A month ago if you would have told any football fan that the New Orleans Saints would win their next four straight games without their starting #1 and future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees, they would have laughed hysterically right in your face.

But thanks mostly to the phenomenal effort by the team’s suddenly-surging defensive unit that has been nearly dominant in their last four games, the Black and Gold now are positioned near the top of the entire NFL with a (5-1) win-loss record — and have reaffirmed themselves as one of the biggest favorites to make it to the Super Bowl next February.

Their most-recent effort in their 13-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field, was more reminiscent of the low-scoring, “slug-fest” type of defensive battles that were prominent in the NFL during the 1960’s and 1970’s before the League implemented many of the rule changes in the late 1980’s and 1990’s still in place today to increase offensive scoring and gain more fan interest.

For a lack of a better term: it’s safe to say that the Saints defense had the Jaguars “wrapped up” completely.

They figuratively suffocated the Jacksonville offense, limiting them to only 226 yards of total offense on the day. Additionally, they managed to stifle the Jaguars’ “Big 3” on offense, as they held Jacksonville rookie sensation and starting current QB Gardner Minshew to only 151 passing yards, while both RB Leonard Fournette and WR DJ Chark were essentially held at bay.

“I thought we did a good job of putting the quarterback (Minshew) on the spot where we wanted them, not allowing him outside,” Saints’ head coach Sean Payton told reporters in his post-game press conference. “Our objective was to make him play in that phone booth and give him looks defensively we felt like he hasn’t seen (before). I thought we did a good job of that. There were a couple of extended plays, but not many.”

As it turns out, that stellar defensive performance was needed since back-up #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t at his sharpest. The 26-year old struggled at times with his accuracy and was held in check for most of the contest, until leading the Saints on what ultimately was their game-winning drive midway in the 4th quarter.

With Bridgewater and company slated to face the Chicago Bears and their top-ranked defense on the road next Sunday in the Windy City in a nationally-televised game at Soldier Field, chances are pretty good that the Saints’ defense will need to do the same to a Bears’ offense that is much-less formidable than the one they dominated yesterday.

“I told our defense if we would’ve played eight quarters today I don’t think they would have scored a touchdown, honestly,” Payton said.

Two players stood out specifically for the defensive unit: All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan finished with four tackles and two sacks, while starting #1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore got his first interception of the year and continued his impressive play through the first 6 games of the regular season.

Jordan virtually destroyed Jaguars’ rookie right tackle Jawaan Taylor in their one-on-one match-up at the line of scrimmage, and his two sacks on the afternoon tied former Saints linebacker and “Dome Patrol” legend Pat Swilling for third place on the Saints’ all-time list with (76.5) career sacks. Jordan also now leads the Saints in sacks so far this season with five.

Meanwhile, Lattimore’s interception was the game’s only turnover, and once again he displayed his elite-caliber cover skills as he throttled Chark, who had been one of the NFL’s hottest young receivers in the past few weeks with five TD catches in his first five games. Chark caught four passes for 43 yards, and was rendered virtually ineffective for the majority of the contest.

Collectively, the Saints’ defensive Front 7 also rose to the occasion as they stuffed Fournette and the Jaguars running game. The New Orleans native and former LSU All-American RB finished with only 72 yards on 20 carries.

That effort at Jacksonville now makes 32 straight games that the Saints have played without allowing a 100-yard rusher (including the NFL playoffs), which is currently the longest such active streak in the entire NFL.

However, to say that it was a “pretty” win over the Jaguars would be false, since it clearly wasn’t. The manner in which New Orleans won their fifth game out of their first six is often referred to by the term “winning ugly” – something that Jordan told reporters in the locker room afterwards doesn’t bother him at all.

“A win is a win,” Jordan said. “It doesn’t matter how you get them, as long as you get them. Nobody talks about ‘How did you lose?’ They only talk about how you win. At the end of the day, we’ve got to put these games together.”

Yesterday on the northeast coast of Florida, the Saints and their suffocating defense did just that against the Jaguars to win their 4th straight game without Drew Beees  — and in the process, they have helped New Orleans remain a Super Bowl favorite.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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