- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Legit D: Safety Malcolm Jenkins didn’t want to go too far in declaring the Saints’ defense as “legit.” But he did say that it's doing a better job of creating pressure with just a four-man rush than in any of his five years with the team. “They’re doing a phenomenal job, even in the run front,” Jenkins said. “I think I’ve made one open-field tackle in three games, which is a lot different than last year.”
The Saints’ coverage on the back end has been equally impressive. Through Sunday, the Saints rank fifth in the NFL in yards allowed (295.7) and points allowed (12.7). The defense has allowed only 10.3 points per game, since one of the opponents’ touchdowns came on an interception return by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2. The Saints have also forced six turnovers and eight sacks.
Obviously there will still be some growing pains to come with this revamped unit. But it’s clear that the Saints have bona fide young talent, and their confidence continues to grow under new coordinator Rob Ryan’s energetic approach and versatile schemes.
Back in the red: The Saints' offense cleaned up its red zone problems on Sunday, scoring touchdowns on three of its first four trips inside the 20. And their 31-point outburst was by far their best offensive showing to date. Quarterback Drew Brees said it still wasn’t perfect, because they lagged for a long stretch in the middle of the game. But he was especially happy with the way they finished strong, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Brees and go-to guys Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston were especially solid.
Run down: The biggest issue with the offense remains the run game. The Saints finished with a season-high 104 rushing yards, nearly half of which came on the final drive, but they started way too slow. They had a total of minus-5 yards on just three carries in the first half (not counting a kneel-down by Brees). And primary runner Pierre Thomas had just 17 yards on his first 10 carries. Coach Sean Payton said he’s not concerned, because the Saints made a strategic -- and effective -- choice to pass against a heavy Arizona front. And players said they were happy with the in-game adjustments they made. But this was the Saints’ biggest offseason concern on the offensive side of the ball, and that still hasn’t changed.
Rookie watch: First-round safety Kenny Vaccaro continued his impressive start. Not only did he have his first career interception in the fourth quarter, but his open-field tackle against running back Stepfan Taylor to force a punt on the Cardinals’ second drive was just as impressive and important.
On the flip side, undrafted rookie guard Tim Lelito struggled in his starting debut in place of All-Pro Jahri Evans, in both pass protection and run-blocking. Lelito has impressive potential, which earned him a spot on the 53-man roster. But the Saints need Evans to heal quickly from his hamstring injury. Evans said after the game he’s hoping to be back as soon as next Monday night’s game against the Miami Dolphins.