Saints defense finds redemption vs. Bengals

The New Orleans Saints put together their best defensive performance of the preseason on Saturday night against Cincinnati, leaving head coach Sean Payton optimistic that the changes the team made this offseason are starting to take hold.

The USA men's basketball squad wasn't the only team that got redemption when it won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games on Saturday.

OK, it wasn't the Olympics and it wasn't even a regular-season game. But the implications were very much the same for the Saints' defense after a ragged performance one week earlier against the Houston Texans.

The Saints were seeking a little bit of redemption in their game with the Cincinnati Bengals. And considering that the starters were getting their last significant playing time before the regular-season opener on Sept. 7, they needed to come up big.

It didn't matter that the Bengals didn't have star wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and running back Rudi Johnson on the field.

The Saints had to still deal with two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer and his potent offense to make their point, which they did in a 13-0 win over the Bengals.

Cincinnati managed just 94 total yards in the first half, when Palmer was in the game, and 128 total yards through three quarters before finishing the night with 165.

"I thought we played much better defensively," coach Sean Payton said. "We were better on third down, we defended the run well even in our seven-man fronts, coverages were tight and we hurried the quarterback.

"So that was the big difference from last week, I thought we played with some energy and enthusiasm," he said. "You could see it on the sideline."

Most notably, the Saints showed improvement in the secondary. It also helped that the Saints generated a better push up front most of the night, but especially when the starters were still in the game. They sacked Palmer three times and knocked him out of the game with a bloody nose and cut lip late in the first half.

The Saints also had a good night against the run, holding the Bengals to 38 yards and a 2.2-yard average on 17 carries and limiting them to 4 of 14 on third-down conversions for 29.0 percent.

"We needed a little redemption because we wanted to get not only physically ready, but get in the right mindset for the regular season," said free safety Kevin Kaesviharn. "It's important to build on everything, and I think we did that tonight."

"Tonight, it was about us executing and showing people how good we can be," middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "We felt like we did some good things last week that were kind of overlooked. People are going to say things, so it's about us showing it."

On the other hand, the first-team offense wasn't as efficient as it had been in the first two games. Then again, it didn't have to be because of the defense's solid play.

The Saints had 237 total yards in the first half and 458 for the game. They rushed for 145 yards, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and three quarterbacks combined to complete 27 of 42 passes for 331 yards. But they were unhappy they failed to score more points -- turning the ball over on downs twice and losing a fumble in the red zone.

"I thought we got sloppy at times in the red zone. I was disappointed we didn't score more because we had a lot of opportunities inside the 30," said Payton. "We had penalties, a fumble. Those things, we have to clean up. But it was certainly a better performance for us coming off last week's game."


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