Sound familiar? Much like last year, Saints defense struggles early, then settles in, slows down St. Louis
ST. LOUIS — Maybe the defense needs to bleed a little bit.
During the 2013 regular season and playoffs, the Saints allowed opponents to score first 10 times.
That trend continued in this year’s exhibition opener Friday at the Edward Jones Dome.
Tight end Cory Harkey was all alone in the left flat and walked in an easy 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shaun Hill to give the Rams the first points of the game with 8:10 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Linebacker David Hawthorne was the closest defender to Harkey — and he was a good 10 yards away when Hill delivered the ball into the flat.
But the Saints continued another trend from last year: After taking that initial hit, the defense dug in.
The Saints defense allowed the Rams to march 47 yards on their opening drive. The defensive starters then forced two punts and gave up 5 combined yards on St. Louis’ next two possessions before many of the regulars were removed from action.
Nose tackle Broderick Bunkley had the highlight play of those two defensive stands as he bull-rushed up the middle to swallow Hill.
Bunkley didn’t record a sack during the regular season in 12 games (10 starts) after picking up 21/2 the year before. This was the 10-year veteran’s first preseason sack with the Saints, and it reminded fans why the team wanted him in the first place.
Drafted in 2006 by the Eagles, he’s in the third year of a five-year, $25 million contract.
Defensive ends Tyrunn Walker and Glenn Walker each sacked Rams third-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert in the third quarter.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was brought in to remake a unit that was the worst in NFL history after the 2012 season. Last year, of course, it was much improved, ranking fourth in total defense.
But you may have heard that one area that was lacking: turnovers. The Saints defense created 19 takeaways and finished 29th in the league.
Friday’s preseason opener came and went without the Saints forcing a single turnover.
Then again, former Pro Bowl selections Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey, vital free-agent acquisitions, were unavailable Friday. Byrd has a back injury. The reason for Bailey’s absence was undisclosed.
Byrd did play catch with quarterback Drew Brees during warmups. It was bit of a homecoming for Byrd, he led Clayton High School in suburban St. Louis to the 2004 Class 6A Missouri state championship at the Edward Jones Dome.
Byrd and Bailey are ballhawks capable of wreaking havoc in the defensive backfield.
However, neither of them will be asked to turn around the lack of turnovers on their own. It’s more than any one man can handle.
“You don’t put that all on one man,” Ryan said earlier in training camp. “We are going to strive to be better on these turnovers. We have to be. It is not a one man job. It has to be all of us.”