METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Alvin Kamara is arguably the biggest star on New Orleans' offense and the Saints have started 1-0 without him as he serves a three-game suspension.
It helps to have a defense that has made holding opponents to 20 or fewer points look routine. Having a new franchise quarterback might have helped, too.
Derek Carr, the former Raiders starter who arrived as a free agent this offseason, was effective enough in his Saints debut to lead New Orleans to one more point than the Tennessee Titans scored in a 16-15 defensive struggle in Week 1.
Carr completed nearly 70% of his passes for 305 yards and a touchdown on a day when he was also sacked four times and the Saints struggled to run the ball.
“It was rough at times, but (I'm) encouraged that we did enough to make the plays that we needed to to win the game,” Allen said Monday after reviewing video of the opener. “Obviously they're a good defense.”
It took one game for Carr to exhibit good chemistry with second-year receiver Chris Olave, a 2022 first-round draft choice who led the team in receiving (72 catches for 1,042 yards) last year. Carr connected eight times for 112 yards with Olave, who seems to be benefitting from the attention defenses must pay to veteran Michael Thomas, speedster Rashid Shaheed and opportunistic tight end Juwan Johnson.
“I don't think it's going to be the last time we're going to see it,” Allen said of Carr connecting with Olave for 100-plus yards. “I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody else go for over 100 in another game. I just think we've got a lot of weapons and we've got to do a good job of protecting the quarterback so we can utilize those guys.”
The defense, as it usually has since Allen became the Saints' defensive coordinator during the 2015 season. As a head coach, Allen continues to design and call the defense, which ranked fifth in the NFL last season. If Allen had one major complaint in 2022, it was over the unit's relative lack of takeaways.
The defensive staff put extra emphasis on that during offseason work and training camp, and on Sunday, the Saints intercepted three passes — one each by cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo and safety Marcus Maye.
Then there were the three sacks to go with 10 third-down stops on 12 such plays. New Orleans also did not allow a Titans touchdown.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game managed just 69 yards — and 11 of those came on Jamaal Williams' game-sealing run in the final minutes.
“I don't think we got as much out of the running game as we could have,” Allen said. “It's certainly going to be something we look at from a schematic standpoint.”
Perhaps Kamara's return in Week 4 will help. New Orleans also played Sunday without rookie running back Kendre Miller (hamstring), a third-round draft choice out of TCU.
Rookie kicker Blake Grupe. The Saints made a somewhat unconventional decision to keep the unproven, undrafted rookie over veteran Wil Lutz. Grupe made team brass look good in the opener, hitting all three of his field goals from 26, 33 and 52 yards. He also hit his lone extra point kick and received good reviews on his kickoffs.
Left tackle Trevor Penning was having trouble containing the pass rush of Titans edge rusher Arden Key, who was credited with 1 1/2 sacks. The Saints had to adjust their blocking scheme in the second half to help Penning, a 2022 first-round draft choice out of Northern Iowa.
But Allen forecasted better days ahead for Penning.
“This guy is going to be a good player,” Allen said. “You’ve got a young guy that is playing against an extremely good front. Does he have to get better? Absolutely. Am I concerned? No."
Reserve defensive end Payton Turner, who rotated in regularly behind starters Cameron Jordan and Carl Granderson in the first half Sunday, “probably” needs foot surgery, Allen said. Turner is a 2021 first-round draft choice who's been plagued by injuries, appearing in just 14 career games so far. Allen compared Turner's latest injury to one Penning had last season that kept him out almost three months before he returned for the last six games.
9 — The number of consecutive regular-season games in which New Orleans has held its opponent to 20 or fewer points. Allen's defense also has done so in 10 of 11 games, starting with a shutout of Las Vegas and then-Raiders QB Carr in the middle of last season.
The Saints have a bonus practice day this week as they prepare to play a Monday night game at NFC South rival Carolina in Week 2.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Brett Martel, The Associated Press