Tracking the Saints Defense

Posted: November 8, 2009 in Saints
Tags: , , , , , , ,

ScanAs the final seconds ticked off from the Panthers game in 2008 to put an ending on a very disappointing season for the New Orleans Saints, there was no doubt on what needed to still be improved with the Black and Gold: that sorry defense.

Three whole seasons went hopelessly by and still no answer ever arose from the questions of how the secondary would ever be be able to cover a statue, much less Steve Smith, or Roddie White, or any any of the other receivers in the league for that matter. It seemed like such a hopeless time.

After another pointless 16 game series outting, walking on the field in August and walking off in December, an offseason full of another set of defensive acquisitions followed in more hopes to beef up a defensive squad enough to be able to compete; only this time, a change in the coaching staff was in order. Gregg Williams was available on the market after serving as the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 2008 season. Sean Payton brought him in for an interview and was so impressed that he voluntarily took a $250,000 pay cut to hire him as the new defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints.

Williams, no doubt, had a proven record. While on the staff of the Washington Redskins, the Redskins defense ranked third and ninth in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Williams also led a few other successful defensive groups. This was promising, but how would he do taking over a defense that ranked 23rd the previous year and couldn’t cover what seemed like standing statues? Many were expecting some sort of change, at least enough to restore playoff hopes in the Big Easy.

Before anyone new it, training camp was in full swing and compliments of a new invigorated defense were raining down like Mardi Gras beads at a parade, which okay wasn’t all too convincing seeing that people have commended them before and nothing showed in the games. Preseason rolled on through and was one of the most promising in Saints history. The team finished 3-1, the defense put on very nice performances, and even nearly shut out the Raiders in game 3 while putting up an impressive point total; but how would they do when the games counted??

Week one; the Detroit Lions were in New Orleans and the first season under Gregg Williams was underway. The defense held their own limiting successful drives and covering receivers, yes covering. They did give up 27 points to Detroit and allowed an uncomforting amount of yardage, but they seemed to have managed to figure out how to play at that certain level of 2006 again. The “play well enough to win” level; because that’s all they needed with the type of offense the Saints were and are so fortunate to have. This left many of people feeling that the Saints defense did what they were expected and supposed to do this year, go from “Horrible” to “Average”.

After that came Philly and Buffalo. Saints fans, again, expected their defense to improve slightly under Gregg Williams. They weren’t looking for miracles. That, of course, would take a couple transition years, especially with new players such as Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer to learn and get used to the system. What fans got, though, was an even better defense. With a halftime score of 17-13 at Lincoln financial field in Week 2, the Saints were going to need more defense in the second half to put another W on the schedule. They got it. Philly scored nine second half points and the Saints would roll 48-22 in that game. Then came Buffalo where more of the same happened. The Saints were able to nurse a three point lead for nealy 2 quarters, that’s right TWO whole quarters against a good Buffalo offense with T.O. at their disposal. It was after game three, which the Saints won 27-7, that the defense went from “Average” to “Good”, and nobody expected that.

Now the Saints were riding the wave at this point, which they have done many times in the past. They were 3-0 and things were just all good in the Big Easy and nobody was sayin’ that they were gonna beat those Saints. But the true test was acomin’. The Saints had started 3-0 many other times and have lost the fourth game. This season did not make it look any easier to accomplish that elusive task. The hot Mark Sanchez and the Jets were coming to town. The Jets were undefeated and their new rookie sensation Quarterback could not be stopped. He had 4 touchdowns and one rushing touchdown coming in————Mark Sanchez, sacked in endzone, ball comes out, touchdown Saints; intercepted, Darren Sharper, he’s gonna take it all the way back: intercepted, Scott Shanle. Three interceptions were added to Mark Sanchez’s rookie season stats leaving the Dome on October 4th and the Saints won 24-10. After the Jets, the even tougher Giants came to town, one of the few complete teams in the league and the first matchup for the Saints that featured a true veteran quarterback on the other side of the ball. The D was good, but could they possibly be great? In just a quarter of a year under new direction? No they couldn’t. It’s not possible. Well, Eli Manning was certainly under deress all day and there were certainly more interceptions to be had in the dome that day and the Saints certainly shut down one of the best offenses in the NFL and won the game 48-27. They seemed to have done it.

Then came a looming late afternoon contest against the Miami Dolphins, a sneaky matchup with a 2-3 team on the road after a dismantling of one of the few NFL unbeatens in front of 70,000 of your own rabid squirrels. The Saints would fall to a 24-3 deficit by time most of the 2nd quarter and the daylight had gone by. The ride was over. It was to end and everyone was to be brought down to earth again.  Or was it. Or were they. Could they come back by 21 in a half, could they really, nah they can’t. —–Backed by a stingy defense in the second half, giving up 10 second half points and 17 rushing yards to the number one rushing team in the league who racked up over 100 in the first half,  Drew Brees showed he can play like a champion, have the “down, but certainly not out mentality” and lead a team all the way back and score when it mattered most. The ride wasn’t over and the Saints played like champions and got a well deserved result: A “W”. The final was 46-34.

The offense began to emulate champions while the defense helped them to that roll.

Then came Monday Night, which will conclude this little defensive analysis. Crowd screaming, people going nuts, playing the first division game of the season: Falcons and Saints, a game which has made a living out of being close and wild for as long as anyone can remember. I knew the defense would have to make plays, particularly at the goal line, I knew this for sure. Something just told me the game, at some point, would be divided by less than seven points and the Falcons would be planting themselves inside some 20 yard line. The Saints, after giving up an early touchdown played extremely well; intercepting a pass, taking it to the house, scored a few touches, getting off to a two touchdown advantage. Only one problem, though. These are the Falcons, and sure enough they came storming back to 24 points;… oh boy. Another thing, they drove the ball all the way down the field; and there they were, squatting their dirty bird asses inside that 20 yard line. This could be the first lead anyone has taken from us late in a game, and could be trouble.

Matt Ryan drops back, waits, throws over the left side (tipped by Jonathan Vilma), and………………………………………………… it’s INTERCEPTED, Tracy Porter, back to the 20 yard line.

The Saints would take the ball and score their only touchdown in the second half to seal the game. It was that moment that the New Orleans Saints defense had crossed a barrier. They went above and beyond the call, in a way. They had done what nobody had expected of them coming into this game, and then some, AND THEN SOME. Because nobody had expected a virtually nonexistent, hopeless, lost cause of a defense to go from “Horrible” to “Average” much less from “Good” to “Great”. And the Defense most certainly was not “Great” on this night. In front of 70,088 screaming fans and in front of a national television audience under the bright lights of primetime, they emulated Champions.

———– ——————- ————-

The Saints would remain unbeaten at 7-0 and are still cruising heading into tomorrows matchup with Carolina. Both sides of the ball have proven champion-like and have put forth a strong case for the Superbowl. The only thing to do now is get there. A journey which will continue tomorrow in the Superdome against the two headed rushing attack in Carolina. Here’s to continued success; tomorrow and beyond.

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Comments
  1. Chef Who Dat says:

    Champion analysis here.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. What a turn around by the D this year. It’s been so brilliant to watch. I grew up on the Dome Patrol and having an all singing all dancing offence has never sat easy with me as i’m a D kind of guy. So if the D ain’t there then I worry big time as the saying ‘D’s win championships’ is sadly true. That is why I feel so confident this year.

    The schemes Williams cooks up plus the execution has been genius. I keep awarding my player of the week award to D players, not because the offence isn’t great (it is), but because I so appreciate what an improvement the D have made. We are genuine contenders now that these guys have stepped up.

    Great free agent acquisitions, great depth (Hargrove stuffed up the middle big time against the Panthers after the early Williams TD), great progress.

    Oh and great blog!

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