The Saints can play defense at home.
If you take nothing else away from New Orleans' 20-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, at least take that. While the Saints' offense struggled against a tough Vikings interior pass rush, the Saints' defense was saving the day, preserving a slim lead until finally Drew Brees and Marques Colston connected on a touchdown to basically end the game.
But will the Saints be able to take their Dome defense on the road?
Let's take a look.
First, let's identify the problems, which go back beyond the Saints' disastrous defensive performances during their 0-2 start on the road.
The Saints have had a pretty good pass rush since Rob Ryan showed up last year; it's the sixth-best in the NFL, as a matter of fact, with 53 sacks in the 19 regular season games between the start of 2013 and today.
At home, the Saints rank even better — they're fifth-best, with 30 sacks in nine home games. The problem is that number falls on the road, all the way to fourteenth. The Saints have managed 23 sacks in 10 road games. To save you from long division: That works out to 3.3 sacks per home game and 2.3 away.
It's a big drop. If you're curious about what's responsible for most of the drop — well, it has a beard.
In nine home games since the start of 2013, Junior Galette has 11 sacks. In 10 away games, he's got three. No other Saint has such a huge discrepancy, though Cam Jordan's numbers drop a bit too.
Probably because the pass rush isn't as good, the Saints force fewer takeaways away from the Dome than they do in New Orleans. (Of course, their current takeaway drought isn't limited to New Orleans; it's equal opportunity.) Of there mere 20 takeaways Rob Ryan's defense has managed, 13 of them have occurred at home. You won't win many games without the benefit of the occasional forced turnover.
Consider this: In 2009, the Saints forced 19 turnovers on the road. Is it any surprise they went 7-1 outside of New Orleans?
So Now What?
The Saints' defense is already, believe it or not, better at some things on the road than at home. Their rushing defense, for example, improves from over 4.6 yards allowed per carry to about 4.4. There are things to build on.
Most importantly, there are some good signs even this year. The aforementioned Junior Galette had a pretty good game in Cleveland, collecting, you know, 33 percent of his away game sacks under Rob Ryan in that contest alone. And the Saints have improved week by week since their utterly catastrophic performance in the opener against Atlanta.
In fact, this year the pass rusher who has to step up more might be Cam Jordan, in whom most fans were probably confident. Jordan collected his first sack of the year against Minnesota, but it'd be nice for him to add another one in Dallas.
More of that please, Cam.
But this time, take the show on the road.