Over the first two weeks of the season, the Saints had the worst pass defense in the NFL. New Orleans was torched by Sam Bradford and then Tom Brady — which admittedly looks less embarrassing in hindsight — as those two quarterbacks produced arguably the best two performances of the NFL those weeks.
Since then? New Orleans has had the best pass defense in the NFL by a considerable margin. The table below shows passing stats for each defense from weeks 3 through 10. Here’s how to read the Saints line. New Orleans has the best pass defense over that time period, and has won 100% of the team’s games. Opponents have completed only 121 of 226 pass attempts for a 53.5% completion rate, and are averaging only 9.8 yards per completion. The Saints have allowed just 1,036 passing yards (this is net of sacks), 5 TDs, and 10 INTs, while producing 22 sacks. Opponents have a 57.4 passer rating and have thrown for just 54 first downs. Finally, opponents are averaging just 2.77 ANY/A, and 4.54 Adj YPA (which includes a bonus for first downs), and have allowed a whopping 1,005 fewer adjusted yards than average, easily the best in the league.
What’s really remarkable is how the Saints pass defense has been across-the-board dominant. There are a number of stats that aren’t necessarily correlated with each other, but New Orleans still looks great in all of them.
The Saints defense is allowing a minuscule 53.5% completion rate, best in the NFL. Only the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Rams are close.
Yards per Completion
Kansas City ranks 31st in yards per completion, the Seahawks 25th, and the Rams 18th. After all, completion percentage and yards per completion are often inversely related. But not with New Orleans: the Saints remarkably rank 1st in yards per completion, too. Two of the other three teams (the Chargers and Bears) that have allowed 10.0 yards per completion or lower have a completion percentage that’s 10+ points worse than the Saints.
Yards per Attempt
Obviously the Saints rank 1st in yards per attempt given that the team’s pass defense ranks 1st in completion percentage and yards per completion. But at 5.23 Y/A, the Saints pass defense laps the field. The Jaguars are 2nd at 5.84 yards per attempt allowed, with the Vikings third at a full yard per attempt higher (6.23).
There often isn’t much of a correlation between Y/A and sack rate, but the Saints rank 2nd in this metric. The Jaguars rank first at 9.6%, with New Orleans and the Bears behind at 8.9%.
Net Yards per Attempt
If a team is first in Y/A and second in sack rate, they’re probably going to do pretty well in NY/A. Sure enough, the Saints rank 1st at 4.18, followed by the Jaguars (4.64) and Vikings (5.12).
Touchdown rate doesn’t have to correlate with any of the other statistics, but guess what? New Orleans is great here, too. The Jaguars are 1st at 1.8%, followed by New Orleans at 2.2% and then the Bills at 2.7%.
Here’s another metric that often isn’t correlated with other passing stats. But New Orleans ranks 1st in interception rate at 4.4%; the Rams and Jaguars are at 4.0%, and the Bills are fourth at 3.5%.
Ranking 1st in NY/A, 1st in INT Rate, and 2nd in TD Rate is a really good way to do well in ANY/A. Break it down further, and the Saints rank 1st in completion percentage, 1st in yards per completion, 2nd in sack rate, 1st in INT Rate, and 2nd in TD rate — that’s an amazing display of dominance in the component parts of ANY/A. The Saints are first at 2.76, followed by the Jaguars at 3.35, and then a big drop to the Vikings at 4.31 and the Rams at 4.68.
Here’s perhaps the most remarkable stat for the Saints defense. Opposing quarterbacks have picked up a first down on just 21.8% of dropbacks since week 3; the Jaguars are second at 25.1%, followed by the Chargers at 27.0%. First downs aren’t sensitive to big outliers, but New Orleans still ranks 2.63 standard deviations above average at preventing first downs. Just remarkable.
Adjusted Yards per Pass Play
This metric is just ANY/A with the first down bonus, so obviously the Saints look even better here. But again New Orleans stands out far ahead of the pack, ranking 2.62 standard deviations better than average.
I don’t know how long the Saints can keep this up — and the Redskins today will present a tough challenge — but for 7 weeks, New Orleans has looked like the ’85 Bears.