An Improved Defense Will Spell Wins for New Orleans, Lots of Wins

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 9, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 07:  Cornerback Corey White #24 of the New Orleans Saints hits quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers as he throws the ball in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

With the bye week upon them, the New Orleans Saints will have an extra week to think about their first win of the season, a 31-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers. While spirits will be high because of the win and record-breaking performance by Drew Brees, the Saints shouldn’t smile for long.

There is still work to do, a lot of work.

A recent Times-Picayune article showed that the Saints defense has allowed 2,280 yards to opponents through five games, the second-most in a five-game stretch of any team in NFL history. Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan partially blames health and a change of playing style for this alarming-poor play on defense.

The dubious distinction is partially attributable to injuries and the Saints' slow adjustment to a new scheme. It's also points to the pass-happy nature of today's game. Of the 15 teams that have allowed more than 2,100 yards in the first five games of the season, eight have played in the past six seasons.

While NFL offenses are getting revved up with pass-first schemes and speed that allows advantages not seen in the past, the Saints' defense is still largely deficient, and that’s why it’s struggling right now.

Starting up front, the Saints rank 16th in the league with 11 sacks, five coming in Sunday night’s game against the Chargers. The defensive line is responsible for eight of the 11, and has had trouble producing any kind of pass rush at all.

That changed in the second half against San Diego. After giving up 288 yards of offense and 17 points to the Chargers in the first two quarters of Sunday night’s game, New Orleans attacked Philip Rivers with a vengeance, sacking him four times and causing two turnovers.

During the New Orleans bye week, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and the rest of the Saints coaching staff will look at the second half of that Week 5 game and try to find ways to continue the season with that same force.

Missed tackles will also be addressed, for sure. The Saints have missed 40 tackles through five games, according to Pro Football Focus (paywall).

Malcolm Jenkins is the biggest culprit with 10 missed tackles this year. Curtis Lofton has six and Corey White rounds out the top three with four missed tackles.

Tackling has been an issue since the preseason, and it’s an issue of fundamentals. But the poor tackling also tapered off in the second half Sunday, which speaks towards which direction this defense could be heading.

With confidence—both in improved fundamentals and the installation of Spagnuolo’s new system—this defense can be much improved, and the team showed that with the way it played in the second half against the Chargers.

There’s only room to improve for the NFL’s No. 32-ranked defense, and that’s why Spanuolo was brought in. As this defense improves, the offense will continue to roll. That could mean lots of wins for the Saints, who will need a long string of victories to get into the playoff conversation.