Film study: Reviewing Saints' defense

The play that best showcased the New Orleans Saints' impressive performance in pass coverage last Sunday was the one that ended with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel breaking his foot.

Cassel had to take off running when he couldn't find anyone open on third-and-10 from the Saints' 12-yard line. Saints end Cameron Jordan shed tight end Kyle Rudolph's block so forcefully that he knocked Rudolph to the turf. And Saints cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Corey White and Brian Dixon all got excellent jams on Minnesota's three receivers at the line of scrimmage. The pass rush from Junior Galette also helped quite a bit.

Cassel wound up with a broken foot after being tackled by Curtis Lofton and Kenny Vaccaro. And the Vikings had to settle for a field goal -- which became a recurring event in New Orleans' 20-9 victory.

The Saints' pass coverage had a few breakdowns, but it was mostly excellent throughout the day -- a much-needed turnaround after suffering too many breakdowns in the first two weeks. They limited the Vikings to a net total of 188 passing yards and kept them out of the end zone. The Saints did an especially good job of holding up when rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entered the game and started scrambling to keep plays alive.

Here are some more observations:

More on the pass defense: It wasn't perfect. The Saints had gaping holes in their coverage on a 41-yard dump-off pass to running back Matt Asiata in the second quarter, a 30-yard pass to Greg Jennings in the third quarter, a 17-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson on a first-and-19 play in the fourth quarter and at least one occasion where Bridgewater didn't see Jennings wide open deep down the field. Lewis and Vaccaro also assisted Minnesota's offense with one defensive holding penalty apiece.

But those errors become much more forgivable when the defense tightens up in the red zone like it did so consistently Sunday. And the Saints never let anything get behind them over the top. Lewis had another excellent day, highlighted by his third-and-5 pass break-up against Jennings in the third quarter. And White was very solid as the Saints' new No. 2 starter, highlighted by good coverage on an incomplete deep ball in the third quarter.

Lofton dominant: I'm very glad I awarded Saints linebacker Lofton with my game ball Sunday night. Because if I hadn't, I'd be kicking myself after watching the tape. Lofton's performance was even more impressive during a play-by-play breakdown.

Lofton was all over an end-around toss to the dynamic Patterson in the second quarter, slamming the 6-2, 220-pounder for a 7-yard loss. He also showed that same combination of recognition and power to stick Asiata for a 5-yard loss on a screen pass during another red-zone stand in the second quarter.

Lofton had at least four other impressive solo stops that I noted (once shedding a blocker, once reacting to a sharp cutback) as he helped the Saints shut down Minnesota's run game (a total of 59 yards on 22 carries).

Linebacker Parys Haralson also stood out with a handful of noteworthy stops or hits on the quarterback. Linebacker Ramon Humber had a couple highs and a couple lows, but he was mostly solid while starting in place of injured David Hawthorne.

Pass rush closer: The Saints' pass rush still wasn't as productive as they'd like, with only two sacks and no forced turnovers. But they did get consistent heat on both quarterbacks throughout the day. Galette had an especially strong day, highlighted by his second sack of the season against Bridgewater in the second quarter. Jordan had the other sack in the fourth quarter -- and nearly had two, though he let Bridgewater slip out of his grasp.

Both sacks came during a four-man rush. However, the Saints blitzed even more than I realized -- 15 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The results were hit or miss. Among the highlights were Asiata's 5-yard loss and Tyrunn Walker forcing a holding call. Among the lowlights were Asiata's 41-yard gain and a 15-yard pass to Jennings on a second-and-17 play.

Also, a 28-yard screen pass to Patterson burned a zone blitz when the Saints overloaded one side, and Galette wound up being matched up against Patterson in the open field on the other side.

Missed opportunity: Once again, the Saints failed to force a turnover. Their best chance came when Humber tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage and the ball fluttered in the air -- but no one got close to it. I couldn't help but notice that of the three defensive backs in the area, the one who instantly recognized the opportunity was safety Jairus Byrd, who is known for his “knack” for takeaways. Byrd shot toward the ball but couldn't reach it.