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John DeShazier: Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen focused on task at hand, not compliments

Allen: 'The success that comes our way is really due to these assistant coaches and really due to the way these players have gone out there and performed'

Dennis Allen isn't much for bow-taking.

Not that he hasn't earned the mountain of compliments he has received as the New Orleans Saints (11-5), the NFC South Division champions, enter their Wild Card playoff game against Carolina (11-5) on Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Allen, who is in his second full season as New Orleans' defensive coordinator, has helped choreograph a unit that has had a dramatic rise this year.

Last season, the Saints allowed 28.4 points, 375.4 yards per game, Nos. 31 and 27 in the league, respectively, with 30 sacks and 21 turnovers forced. The 2015 season was worse, when Allen took over as defensive coordinator in Week 11 after Rob Ryan was relieved of his duties, and the Saints went on to allow 29.8 points and 413.4 yards per game, Nos. 32 and 31 in the league, with 31 sacks and 22 turnovers forced.

This year, a slate of new players (draft picks and free agents) combined with several holdovers to help the Saints make a sharp turn toward respectability – 20.4 points and 336.5 yards allowed, Nos. 10 and 16 in the NFL, with 42 sacks and 25 turnovers forced.

And sometimes, there were flashes of dominance: a shutout and 186 yards allowed against Miami in London; 10 points allowed in back-to-back games, respectively, against Tampa Bay and Buffalo, who totaled 200 and 198 yards; 12 points and 307 yards allowed to Chicago; and 13 points and 288 yards allowed in the first meeting against Carolina, when New Orleans also collected three interceptions and four sacks.

The Saints had four three-interception games for the first time since the 2009 season, and had six games with four or more sacks.

See the best moments from the Saints defense in the Week 16 match up against the Atlanta Falcons.

"What he brings to the table is, he's coming to you straight at it," All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan said. "And it seems from last year to this year, he's grown as a D-coordinator as well, from, 'Hey, this is my defense and this is exactly what I need to do,' to, 'This is my defense, but at the same time, I understand that some guys are better at man coverage, or zone coverage, or the D-line likes stunting a little bit more.' So he has become a little bit more appeasable to the players."

The architect, a slender man who carries a pencil inside the strap on his visor, and his fellow coaches worked to find ways around injury losses (linebackers Alex Anzalone and A.J. Klein, safety Kenny Vaccaro, and defensive end Alex Okafor were starters that lost during the regular season, while projected starters like defensive tackle Nick Fairley and cornerback Delvin Breaux never took a snap) that might have devastated in other seasons.

Instead, Allen is credited with having done one of the NFL's best jobs.

"Quite honestly, I do not get into that," he said. "I just worry about trying to do the best I can to get these guys prepared, try to put a good gameplan together, and give them a chance to go out there and execute it, and be successful.

"Make no mistake about it: This is a players' game. Players go out and play, and players go out there and make plays. The success that comes our way is really due to these assistant coaches and really due to the way these players have gone out there and performed."

It's true that the Saints have benefited from several outstanding individual seasons.

Jordan, a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has been named to the NFC Pro Bowl team, had a career-high 13 sacks, an interception for a touchdown, 11 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and 62 tackles.

First-round pick Marshon Lattimore is a leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year; he led the team with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 18 passes defensed, while also forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and amassing 53 tackles. He twice was named Defensive Rookie of the Month.

Second-round pick Marcus Williams was the play-making free safety that the Saints envisioned on draft day. He had four interceptions (all against NFC South Division teams), six passes defensed and 70 tackles. Veteran linebackers Craig Robertson (77 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, six passes defensed, a fumble recovery and forced fumble) and Manti Te'o (61 tackles, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery) have filled in admirably, and strong safety Vonn Bell (78 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed) has been a productive bookend with Williams on the back end.

But Allen and his staff have had the responsibility of putting together the right pieces, and putting those pieces in position to best take advantage of their talents.

"I think the biggest thing is these guys come in and work and compete every day," Allen said. "That's really what you're looking for. These guys come out and compete on a day-in and day-out basis. They do a great job of getting themselves prepared.

"I think our assistant coaches have done an outstanding job of helping those guys get prepared. Really, since Week 2, just the consistency with which they've played and the ability to fight through different adversity with injuries and things of that nature. They just keep coming to work every day and playing hard."

Those first two games were disastrous, with Minnesota and New England combining to average 32.5 points 512.5 yards, and the Saints recording three sacks, no interceptions and no turnovers forced.

In the final 14 games, opponents averaged 18.6 points and 311.4 yards, and New Orleans rolled up 39 sacks, 20 interceptions and 25 turnovers forced.

"When you talk about, he had last year and he came back this year, we feel a bit more confident in the stability of his being a D-coordinator," Jordan said. "You get a little bit more comfortable in this defense."

Allen, too, appears comfortable, and effective. And he isn't willing to take a bow to acknowledge the praise, because there remains work to be done.

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