Saints at the Bye: What's next for the defense?
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints are in the midst of their bye week, which provides everyone with an opportunity to look at the big picture – where the team stands going into the break and what should be expected of it coming out of the break.
NewOrleans.Com is taking stock of the 6-3 Saints, looking at the offense, defense, and where they fit into the NFC playoff picture, beginning with their return to action Nov. 21 against Seattle in the Superdome.
Today, the defense:
Personnel: The Saints are getting healthy on defense after an injury-plagued first two months. Only four players – end Alex Brown, tackles Sedrick Ellis and Remi Ayodele, and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma have started all nine games at the same position.
Malcolm Jenkins has started at both safety and cornerback because of injuries to Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, as well as Randall Gay (who’s on injured reserve). Scott Shanle, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and Danny Clark have taken turns manning the strongside and weakside linebacker positions, partly because of a hamstring injury to Shanle.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ insistence on players being able to play multiple positions has paid dividends as he has been able to move around Jenkins, Usama Young, Leigh Torrence, and Pierson Prioleau to fill in for injured players, as well as the linebacker rotation.
Ask Williams or any defensive player why the defense is playing better than a year ago and they all immediately point to greater familiarity and comfort in the second season in Williams’ complex series of packages.
With All-Pro free safety Darren Sharper returning after missing the first six games because of offseason knee surgery, the secondary has begun to stabilize. New Orleans should be the healthiest it has been on defense all season when it plays the Seahawks.
The good: New Orleans leads the NFL in net passing yards per game, is second in net passing yards per play, is third in total yards per game, and first downs per game, and fifth in points per game and yards per play.
The bad: The Saints are 25th in percentage of passes intercepted, 26th in net punting, and 27th in fourth-down percentage.
Summary: The Saints are a much better defense than they were a year ago on a play-in and play-out basis, which is significant. They are playing faster and more instinctively because they don’t have to think as much now that they are more comfortable in Williams’ system. The defense hasn’t been great against the run, but it has been good enough and has cut down on the long runs that plagued it last season.
The depth of talent in the secondary is among the best in the NFL (rookie Patrick Robinson has played well also), Vilma is the Drew Brees of the defense, and the line has been solid, with tackle Anthony Hargrove and ends Jimmy Wilkerson and Jeff Charleston providing a solid rotation off the bench.
The good news is that the defense is better at stopping the run and the pass than it was a year ago. The bad news is that it hasn’t had as many takeaways, especially point-producers, as it had a year ago. But that may be changing with the secondary getting healthy. Sharper has had a hand in a takeaway in each of the last two games and Greer ran an interception back for a touchdown last week.
There’s no reason to think this defense won’t continue its stinginess – the last six opponents have all gained fewer than 300 yards – and there is reason to think the turnovers will come with more frequency.
If this defense has better luck with health the rest of the way than it has had thus far, Williams might find himself orchestrating an elite unit.
I have a guy who works for me named Greg Weaber. I accidentally wrote a check to him made out to Greg Williams.
Nice read. I agree, our defense has much more depth right now and guys that are able to platoon positions. Healthy is the key. We keep it and we stay competitive with anyone.
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