Saints notes: Defense showing new life with new scheme

After averaging fewer than two sacks a game last year, the New Orleans Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks 11 times through the first two games of the preseason.

But the sacks are just one of the early encouraging signs for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit. In wins at home against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders, the Saints allowed just 121 yards rushing, 279 yards passing, 3.5 yards per play, one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown.

The Saints in 2012 finished last in the NFL in yards allowed per game (440.1), yards per play (6.5) and rushing yards per game (147.6). They ended up second-to-last in passing yards per game (292.6) and points allowed per game (28.4), and they had just 26 sacks.

Defensive end Glenn Foster had three of the 11 sacks against the Chiefs and Raiders. Linebacker Baraka Atkins, cornerback Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper, defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebacker Ramon Humber, defensive tackle John Jenkins, defensive end Cam Jordan and linebacker Will Smith each had one.

Robinson making most of third-team carries

Undrafted rookie running back Khiry Robinson made the most of his third-team carries in the first two preseason games. He has 102 yards on 22 carries for a team-leading average of 4.6 yards.

Meanwhile, his chief competition for a spot on the roster, Travaris Cadet, is struggling with the second team. He has 35 yards on 18 attempts, and he fumbled twice against the Raiders, losing possession once.

Robinson in no way has locked up a spot behind running backs Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. But he has kept himself in consideration, and Cadet did not help his standing against Oakland.

Toon, Stills standing out

Wide receivers Nick Toon and Kenny Stills are pulling ahead in the race for spots behind starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore.

Toon, a fourth-round pick in 2012, leads the Saints in receiving yards with 122 on five catches, an average of 24.4 yards a reception. His 56-yard reception in the 28-20 win against the Raiders is the longest catch for the Saints so far.

Stills, a fifth-round draft pick this year, has five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown from a Drew Brees pass against the Raiders. Sixty-four of Stills’ yards and four of his catches came against Oakland.

Toon’s and Stills’ performances followed the Saints’ losing No. 3 receiver candidate Joe Morgan for the year to a torn meniscus and a partially torn ACL at the Black and Gold scrimmage Aug. 3.

“Since they’re in the game, they’re going to have the ball thrown their way,” Brees said about Toon and Stills. “Not every look they got was your standard look. They did a great job adjusting to that and playing with a lot of confidence.”

Statistically, behind Toon and Stills is Preston Parker, who had 73 yards on six catches in the first two games and caught a pair of touchdowns from backup quarterback Luke McCown in the 17-13 win against the Chiefs.

Hartley perfect so far

Saints kicker Garrett Hartley at times has struggled to convert field goals from fewer than 40 yards away, but that was not the case against Kansas City and Oakland. He made his one attempt against the Chiefs and all four of his tries against the Raiders, from 24, 28, 30, 31 and 53 yards out.

Saints await Texans

Next up for the Saints is a road game against the Houston Texas on Aug. 25. The Texans have racked up 854 yards on offense and allowed 504 yards on defense in a 27-13 win against Minnesota and a 24-17 win at home against Miami.