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CheramieIII 09-11-2004 10:42 AM

First Priority to stop the run.
Saints' first priority is to stop run

Special to The Advocate

METAIRIE -- When the New Orleans Saints began preparing for this season, one of their top priorities was to do a getter job of defending the run.
Chances are they'll need to give up less than the 4.7 yards per rush and 140 rushing yards per game they yielded last season if they're going to give up less than the 20 points per game that opponents scored last season.

Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi has answered more questions about the run defense than he'd care to remember, but the fact remains that a defense's success almost always begins with how well it defends the run.

"I am not a slave to statistics," Venturi said. "This is a league where people run the ball and throw the ball. Obviously we want to be good at everything. We want to be able to stop the run.

"Obviously if we stop the run it will really help the overall defense, but it's all inter mixed and at the end of the day the most important thing in the National Football League is to keep the point total down."

New Orleans' defense will get a stern test in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks at noon Sunday in the Superdome. Seattle averaged 25 points last season, led by running back Shaun Alexander, who had 1,435 rushing yards and 1,730 total yards and scored 16 touchdowns.

In a 27-10 victory over the Saints in last year's season opener, Alexander ran for 108 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 16 yards and another touchdown.

"If you can keep him under control where he's getting the three and four yards and isn't getting the breakout," defensive line coach John Pease said, "I think over the long haul, they'll get a little frustrated with that. This guy is so good he may start at right outside and that ball may come all the way back to the left outside, if he sees it there."

Saints rookie No. 1 draft choice Will Smith is expected to start in place of injured Darren Howard (bulging disc in his neck) at right end and face off with left tackle Walter Jones, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound, three-time Pro Bowler.

"I'm sure they know Will is going to be in there," Pease said. "I would think they're going to test Will Smith. That's what I would do."

Jones lines up next to Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson to form one of the top left sides of an offensive line in the NFL.

Saints defensive tackle Brian Young, signed as a free agent from St. Louis during the offseason, is very familiar with Seattle's offense, having faced them four times in the last two seasons.

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