Maybe it was the constant blitzes. Maybe it was the inability to get a pass rush out of a four-man rush. Or maybe it was the lack of flexibility he showed in the San Francisco 49ers game when he kept Malcolm Jenkins singled up on the electric Vernon Davis.
Whatever it was, the final straw to Gregg Williams' tenure as Saints defensive coordinator came in obvious form Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. Granted, he was probably gone regardless of the outcome of that game, or the rest of the season.
Rumors had been swirling for over a week that Williams would follow Jeff Fisher to St. Louis. But there's little doubt that Saturday's head-scratching defensive performance by the Saints made it obvious the sometimes beautiful, sometimes tumultuous marriage between he and Sean Payton had seen its best days.
Williams had to go, one way or the other.
The reason: the defense had become stale, even predictable at times. And Williams lacked the flexibility to put his players in the position that made them most likely to succeed.
Jenkins is great in coverage, just not with zero help over the top against one of the five most dangerous matchups among tight ends in the game.
Cameron Jordan and Will Smith can be elite pass-rushers but not when all they are asked to do is speed rush. And the linebackers can all hold up in coverage, but not against elite slot receivers.
Spagnuolo knows how to get the best out of his defensive line. Yes, he'll blitz a ton. But he's smart with his pressures and knows the proper coverages to play behind them.
He won't play a linebacker in one-on-one coverage against Harry Douglas, or keep Jenkins one-on-one against an elite receiver (Davis really is a receiver who also happens to be a wonderful interior blocker).
And he's smart enough to move Jenkins in and out where he can use his unique ability to pressure a quarterback. Of course, Roman Harper possesses that ability as well. Think about a system where the offense has to prepare for two elite safety blitzers.
Now think about that system where the offense doesn't know which one is coming at any time.
I want to add one little caveat. It's hard for me to imagine Spagnuolo will come cheap. I imagine he will be wanted by just about everybody. Philadelphia was rumored for some time to be the leader in the clubhouse in the Spagnuolo sweepstakes.
If that comes to fruition I say the Saints must quickly turn to Mike Nolan, who can architect a pretty devastating 3-4 defensive unit (Note: Tuesday the Falcons formally named Mike Nolan their new defensive coordinator).
He too excels at creating pressure. The Saints have a number of players who would fit Nolan's version of the 3-4 scheme already. They just need someone who knows how to teach it and implement it.
That being said, Spagnuolo should be target No. 1. Then and only then, should other names even be considered.
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