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This chart says Dennis Allen is the NFL’s best defensive play caller

You won’t have a hard time convincing New Orleans Saints fans that Dennis Allen calls a mean defense — that’s his best strength, and it was the number-one reason so many people bought into the idea of promoting him to replace Sean Payton back in 2022. It’s Allen’s shortcomings as a leader and team-builder that drew criticism at the time and during the years since.

Still, it’s validating to see information like this plotted out to highlight Allen’s best qualities. NFL analyst Steve Patton ranked every defensive play caller from the 2023 season based on what he calls “coverage and market efficiency with team constraints” which examines how each defense performed relative to absences (for injuries and suspensions) and quality of opposition, among other factors.

And Allen came out on top. You don’t need to invent new metrics to see why. He fielded the league’s fourth-best defense on third downs (allowing a conversion on just 34.5% of downs) and the third-best unit on fourth downs (42.3%, with opponents going 11-for-26). Despite getting little production from his pass rush — the Saints finished with the NFL’s second-lowest pressure rate (15.1%) and fourth-worst sacks rate (5.7%) — Allen’s secondary held up even with Marshon Lattimore missing seven games to an injury. They allowed the 10th-fewest passing yards per game (207.3) and tied for the third-most interceptions (18).

But they weren’t perfect. Allen hasn’t been able to micromanage the run defense after being promoted to head coach, and it shows: even after drafting a first-round defensive tackle and signing two veteran free agents, New Orleans finished inside the bottom-10 in both yards per carry (4.4) and rushing yards per game (119.9). And he has to take the blame for a Saints pass rush that was asleep at the wheel for much of the season. Of their 34 sacks on the season, 15 came in the last five games. Allen’s reluctance to use undersized pass rushers like Zack Baun until the season was effectively over is a major blind spot in his coaching philosophy.

So take this chart’s findings with a grain of salt. Allen’s defensive play calling is an asset, sure, but he isn’t invincible. The Saints lost a pivotal early-season game to the Green Bay Packers when his defense gave up a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Sean McVay got the better of him in a late-season loss to the Los Angeles Rams that started with a 95-yard touchdown drive, and which got away from him when the Rams scored 20  unanswered points in four possessions before and after the halftime break. In this league, even a good defensive play caller can be outfoxed by an offense firing on all cylinders.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire