Saints' D taking more positives than negatives
By GUERRY SMITH
METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints’ defense is taking more positives than negatives from Friday night’s 17-13 victory over Kansas City in the preseason opener.
Adjusting to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, the Saints liked the way they held the Chiefs to 135 yards and two field goals after giving up a long touchdown drive to open the game. Of course, Kansas City pulled its starters after that first series.
“They just came out with a quick tempo and a good game plan to start, and it took us a while to adjust and get settled down,” Saints outside linebacker Will Smith said. “Once we got settled, we did what we wanted to do. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go against them (the Chiefs’ starters) again.”
After allowing the most yards of any team in NFL history last season, almost every Saints defender has a new role in Ryan’s scheme.
Operating without a huddle, Kansas City went 80 yards in 14 plays on its first series. Quarterback Alex Smith converted two third downs easily and completed seven of eight passes before Jamaal Charles scored on a 1-yard plunge.
New Orleans then held the Chiefs to 135 yards and two field goals the rest of the way, rallying to win 17-13. The Saints had four sacks, limiting the Chiefs’ offense to two first downs in five possessions under second-string quarterback Chase Daniel.
“We kind of got put back on our heels a little bit, but after that we got a good feel for the game and got a couple of three-and-outs,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “We really got after the pass rusher, stopped the run and didn’t let anything behind us. Overall we did a pretty good job.”
Lofton helped spark the revival, combining with end Cam Jordan to stuff running back Knile Davis for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 on the Chiefs’ second possession.
Rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins, a third-round pick, sacked Daniel to stop another series. Undrafted rookie end Glenn Foster stripped Kansas City quarterback Tyler Bray on a sack in the third quarter, causing a turnover at midfield.
Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints’ first-round pick, led the team with six tackles.
“I thought it would be a lot faster, but I was prepared and it slowed down for me as the game went on,” Vaccaro said. “We have a long way to go, but after that first drive we played really well. Everyone was tackling. We were physical, and I think we outhit them.”
The players did not expect a totally smooth transition on Friday. Smith, a 4-3 defensive end for his first nine years, struggled in pass coverage on the opening series. Rotating three or four players on every snap for that drive, the Saints felt like they were a step behind Kansas City’s offense.
“We were trying to do a little too much and trying to be more exotic than what the tempo was allowing,” Lofton said. “We just settled in and started playing our base front, and we actually got off the field.”
New Orleans limited Kansas City to 3 of 14 on third-down conversions. The Chiefs’ longest gain was 18 yards.
“As you start winning the down and distances early on, you start getting the offense in predictable yardage situations, and that began to work in our favor,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We had good energy to the ball. That was good news.”
NOTES: Running back Pierre Thomas (unspecified injury) and outside linebackers Junior Galette (left knee injury) and Martez Wilson (dislocated left elbow) remained out for Sunday evening’s practice after missing Friday’s game. Payton said Galette likely would miss Monday’s workout as well.