Saints defensive turnaround leaves Dolphins searching for answers
Heading into Sunday's Wembley meeting between the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints all the talk was about running back Jay Ajayi.
Nobody was talking about the Saints defense, but there will be plenty of chatter about that unit after they helped spoil Ajayi's homecoming, almost completely nullifying the London-born star as they shutout the Dolphins to claim a 20-0 win and improve to 2-2 on the season.
It marked the second extremely impressive performance from a previously ridiculed unit that had shipped 29 points in the season opener with the Minnesota Vikings and then 36 against the New England Patriots.
The Saints held the Carolina Panthers to just 13 points prior to travelling to London, and a continuation of that strong form is an intriguing development in an NFC South division considered one of the best in the NFL.
With one of the most potent offenses in the league, led by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, a Saints team with at least a capable defense should prove to be a contender in the NFC.
Asked about the defense's performance, Brees told the post-game media conference: "It's huge. It's huge. Again, we talk complementary football. There's a winning formula on defense. There's a winning formula on offense.
"If you can put that together - at times, it may not be the most fancy-looking performance, and yet it's winning football."
It is indeed winning football, but the challenge for the Saints now is to sustain it long term. History is not on the side a team that has compiled three-straight 7-9 seasons, however defensive end Cameron Jordan has faith in the defense's continual efforts to improve and in the secondary, which has long been seen as the weak spot of the team.
The last time a Saints defense shut out an opponent was Week 15, 2012 in a 41-0 win against Tampa Bay-- NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 1, 2017
"This is the most communicative our defensive backs have been, this is as loud as it's been, usually got to keep encouraging that type of communication," Jordan said. "You can only hope they keep on doing what they're doing.
"I keep saying and keep asking for improvement, we're always going to respond well, we're always going to take criticism as much as you can in a loss, but the difficult thing is after a win you still take the criticism the same and I think out defense has shown again that we're trying to be better than what we were in the last week."
Improvement will be paramount after the Saints' bye week, with challenging games against the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers on the horizon.
Yet the Saints at least have something to build on, the Dolphins, having scored only six points in their last two games, head back to Florida searching for an explanation for their offensive woes.
Ajayi said: "I think everyone's frustrated. And even in Los Angeles [against the Chargers], we didn't, like, score in the red zone. We're not putting points up. It's frustrating.
"It doesn't make sense, because we have the talent. So we have to figure out ways to put points on the board."
Things can change rapidly in the NFL, and the Saints' defensive turnaround is just one example in what is becoming an increasingly strange season.
For the Dolphins to emerge from an AFC East populated by the defending champion New England Patriots, surprise leaders the Buffalo Bills and the even bigger surprise New York Jets, a sudden reversal in fortunes of their own is imperative.