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Saints’ defense steps up game to make up for Drew Brees’ absence

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 22: Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the New Orleans Saints calls out plays in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during their game at CenturyLink Field on September 22, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The New Orleans Saints are using a complete effort to win games without quarterback Drew Brees.

In their loss to the Los Angeles Rams in week two, Drew Brees suffered a thumb injury that would keep him out for at least six weeks. In the middle of a tough stretch where New Orleans opened the season against four playoff opponents from 2018, this was originally a nightmare scenario for Saints fans.

However, two wins later, one on the road against the Seattle Seahawks and one at home against the Dallas Cowboys, the Saints have a 2-0 record against teams that should be competing for playoff position with backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

So, how are they doing it?

To start, the defense has been fantastic in the past two games. Starting with Seattle, the Saints defense held the Seahawks to only seven points in the first three quarters. Using a fumble returned for a touchdown and three turnover on downs, New Orleans opened up an impressive 33-14 lead.

Even though the defense was great for most of the game against Seattle, rookie Deonte Harris seemed to spark the team with a punt returned for a touchdown three minutes into the game.

With the Saints first offensive touchdown coming with just over 30 seconds left in the second quarter on a touchdown pass from Bridgewater to running back Alvin Kamara, the Saints had scored on all three phases of football in the first half. It was the first time they had done that in a game since 1998.

The Seahawks scored two late touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game, but the stingy defense for three quarters combined with the punt returned for a touchdown and a handful of good drives by the offense gave the Saints their first win without Drew Brees since he joined the team in 2006.

Alvin Kamara shined for New Orleans, leading the team in rushing with 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and leading the team in receiving with 92 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. It was arguably his best game of the season and the Seahawks defense struggled all day to tackle him.

If the Saints defense did not get enough credit for the win against Seattle, they deserve nearly all of it for beating the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys came into New Orleans in week four averaging over 32 points per game on offense, but the Saints defense shut them down for nearly the entire game.

Limiting possessions was a key for the Saints in the matchup. Keeping the Dallas offense off the field and allowing Bridgewater, Kamara and the Saints offense to control the clock was a point of focus going into the game.

“We had our gameplan, we went out and we executed,” Saints all star defensive end Cam Jordan said. “We focus on exactly what we need to do for the game, and then take the 24 hours and get ready for what's next.”

The Saints defense executed. In eight drives against the Cowboys offense, they forced three turnovers, including two key fumbles and a game-sealing interception by safety Marcus Williams as time expired. They also forced three punts and two three-and-outs. Overall, the Cowboys were 4-11 on third downs and were held to 257 total yards of offense.

The Saints defensive front, which boasted one of the best run defenses in the NFL last season, showed up with the return of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins from an Achilles injury in the 2019 playoffs. They held Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot to a season-low 35 yards on 18 carries.

Even though the Saints offense could not score a touchdown, the four field goal drives were enough with the performance that the defense put on, and they won 12-10, moving to 2-0 with Bridgewater as starting quarterback.

New Orleans is doing more than treading water without Brees like most people expected they would: They’re beating playoff teams with Bridgewater. Their backup quarterback does not need to be slinging the ball around the field like 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Bridgewater is managing games effectively and leading the Saints to wins, and, with the entire team playing like they have in the past two weeks, that’s all that matters.

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