Saints come off bye hoping to get added lift from LB Vilma
What the Saints need to figure out is a way to limit big plays and hold teams to fewer than 400 yards.
They rank last in total defense in allowing 456.0 yards per game and are 31st against the run in giving up 172.8 yards a game. Twenty running plays have accounted for about 400 of the 864 rushing yards allowed, Spagnuolo said.
“We’re not that far off, and yet you can’t allow those explosive plays because they lead to bad things,” he said. “The last game we played, there were a lot of positives, but we have a long way to go. There are a lot of places to improve.”
The Chargers’ game may have been a starting point, however.
After San Diego took a 24-14 lead early in the third quarter, the Saints bowed up and gave up just 114 yards on 28 snaps the rest of the way. They had two takeaways and four sacks in that stretch, giving them five for the game, and gave their offense a chance.
Another problem is scoring defense. The Saints rank 30th in allowing 30.8 points per game, which has put additional pressure on Drew Brees and the offense to score a lot of points.
“The No. 1 goal of a defense is to limit points, and we haven’t done that well enough,” Spagnuolo said. “The other part of it is to give our team the chance to win the football game. We would’ve liked to have instances in there where we would’ve done it. The explosive plays have certainly hurt.
“This past game, we got the win. Certainly the pass rush was better, so there’s improvement there.”
The Bucs could provide that opportunity to take another step forward. They rank 27th in the NFL in total offense with just 313.4 yards a game and rank 25th in passing with 211.6 yards a contest.
They’re also near the bottom in third-down conversions at 28.3 percent and completion percentage at 55.2 percent — ranking 30th in each category behind fourth-year quarterback Josh Freeman.
But the Bucs had 373 yards against the Washington Redskins in the game before their bye and piled up 463 yards in a 38-10 drubbing last week of the Kansas City Chiefs — the teams that defeated the Saints in Weeks 1 and 2.
Freeman has thrown for 627 yards and four TDs in those games.
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