NEW ORLEANS — Defensive back has become an endangered species for the winless New Orleans Saints, which does not bode well for a talent- and depth-challenged unit going into Monday night’s nationally-televised clash against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Currently on injured reserve are cornerbacks P.J. Williams (concussion), Damian Swann (abdominal), Kyle Wilson (torn labrum) and Tony Carter (undisclosed injury), safety Jamarca Sanford (undisclosed issue) and S/CB Jimmy Pruitt (knee).
Cornerback Delvin Breaux is sidelined through the middle of October with a broken left fibula and remains on the active 53-man roster. Veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis remains a street free agent after being released during training camp because of various nagging injuries.
Williams. a third-round pick in 2015, is the latest to go down after suffering a potentially serious head injury during Sunday’s 16-13 loss against the New York Giants. He was placed on season-ending IR while dealing with a severe concussion.
Breaux and Williams entered the season as the starters in the team’s base 4-3 defense. Team officials had hoped Lewis could overcome injuries and return to being the player they originally signed to a five-year, $25.5 million contract in March 2013.
After coming off active-PUP status entering training camp, Lewis practiced once and returned to the sideline to continue rehabilitation. On Aug. 20, he was released, leaving behind $7.25 million in dead money this season ($3.65M) and next ($3.6M) and a sizable hole in the secondary.
Consequently, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton have had to piece together a secondary in-season that now includes journeyman cornerbacks Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb and a pair of undrafted rookies Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris.
Crawley has been victimized for a winning 2-point conversion by Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree in Game 1 and a crucial 34-yard catch on third down by Giants’ wide receiver Victor Cruz that set up their winning 23-yard field goal as time expired in Game 2.
Compounding matters is the Saints defense has been unable to muster a steady, disruptive pass rush this season with only two sacks through two games, only one from a frontline player (DE Cameron Jordan).
Despite the personnel problems facing defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, the Saints have yielded just one touchdown pass this season after surrendering an NFL-record 45 TD passes and a league-record 116.1 passer rating last season.
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr and Giants quarterback Eli Manning have combined for a 101.6 passer rating in the first two games.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has posted a passer rating of at least 100.0 against New Orleans in four consecutive games. He currently leads all NFL quarterbacks with a stellar 121.4 passer rating and hopes to build on that number with the help of a receiving corps that features wide receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy and tight end Jacob Tamme.
The league’s 31st-ranked defensive unit and patchwork secondary stand in Ryan’s way.
NOTE: Strong safety Kenny Vaccaro continues to nurse an injured ankle. His status for Monday night could come down to a game-time decision. … Two other [projected defensive starters also are sidelined with injuries — LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip) and DT Sheldon Rankins (broken leg).
* PPF — In memory of Peter Paul Finney (1927-2016).