While Gibbs found some success in his first year with the team in 2006, coaching the Saints to 11th in total team defense, the defense has since dropped into the bottom third of the league, weighing down the Saints and placing an enormous burden on Drew Brees and the offense.
In the past two years the Saints defense has gained a reputation for nothing other than terrible coverage and bland packages which lead to almost no pressure on the quarterback. A defensive line that features Charles Grant and Will Smith should not have any problem getting to the quarterback, yet in 2007, the team finished 19th in sacks with 32, and in 2008 that number worsened to 22nd in the league, when the team recorded 28 sacks.
When a defense is unable to get pressure on the quarterback, the quarterback has all day to pick apart the secondary, throwing the ball all over the field as he tacks on completion after completion. And against the Saints, that is exactly what happened.
Over the past two seasons no team has come even close to giving up as many completions as New Orleans. In 2007 they were ranked dead last in the league, giving up an astounding 440 completions, while the second-worst team only gave up 403. In 2008 the team did not fare much better, giving up 416 completions, which was good for 31st in the league.
When opposing quarterbacks are able to complete passes effortlessly, the chains continually move. And when the chains continually move, the defense does not get off the field, giving less time for rest. That is why despite having the league’s top-ranked offense, the Saints were only 15th in terms of time of possession.
It should come as no surprise than that in the fourth quarter the defense continually looked tired, rarely getting stops. With the Saints offense working fast and the defense never forcing any incompletions, the defense spent much more time on the field than they should have. If this team does not start to force incompletions and get off the field (last year they were bottom-10 in the league in forced punts), Saints fans can expect more of the same from the defense in 2009.
Luckily for the Saints, Gregg Williams plans to change all of that. With him he brings a reputation for reigning terror over opposing quarterbacks, and an aggressiveness that the Saints have not seen in recent years.
Dating back to his days as the defensive coordinator of the Titans, when his team gave up the third-fewest points in history since the league switched to a 16-game schedule, his defenses have been characterized by blitz-heavy schemes that force quarterbacks to make quick and often unwise decisions.
While having a more aggressive coordinator will be a plus, the Saints still do not have the ideal personnel for an extremely blitz-heavy scheme. So even with Williams at coordinator, the Saints will not be able to go full-throttle after the quarterback yet.
Darren Sharper, a 13-year veteran and four-time pro-bowler, only has seven career sacks as a safety. In Jonathan Vilma’s five years, he has only accumulated 3.5 sacks. Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints’ recent first-round draft pick, only had one sack in his four years at Ohio State.
If the Saints are looking for players to blitz, there are two clear players to turn to: Roman Harper and Scott Fujita. Harper, the teams’ starting free safety, showed his blitzing ability in his second year with 4.0 sacks in 2007. Yet despite his success, he was rarely used in blitz packages last year, and failed to record a sack.
The same goes for Fujita, the eighth-year veteran linebacker. From 2003-2007, Fujita recorded 17 sacks, pretty good numbers for a linebacker in a 4-3 base scheme. Yet in 2008 he seemed to vanish, recording zero sacks.
When these two players are used to blitz, they have shown the ability to get to the quarterback and wreak havoc. Combined with a talented Saints defensive line that features countless players that have the ability to get to the quarterback such as Grant, Smith, Sedrick Ellis, Kendrick Clancy, Paul Spicer and Rod Coleman, and this team should be meeting the quarterback in the backfield a bit more often.
One reason the Saints may have been weary to blitz in the past is the lack of faith in its secondary. When blitzing, teams often leave receivers in single coverage, with nobody else coming over to help. For the Saints of the past, this was a serious area of concern—with corners such as Jason David, Mike McKenzie and Aaron Glenn garnering all the playing time, the Saints really did need all the help they could get in coverage.
But with Sharper, Jenkins and cornerback Jabari Greer being brought in, all of a sudden the Saints are sporting some talented players with great individual skills in the secondary. The Saints should no longer have as big a fear of leaving a corner on an island and sending six or seven guys to go after the quarterback. This means that linebackers such as Fujita will have to spend less time in coverage and can spend more time going after the quarterback, something the Saints desperately need.
While the personnel is not exactly ideal for a barrage of blitzes, between the talent on the defensive line and Greg Wililams' aggressive schemes and play-calling, do not be too surprised when you see six Saints players in the backfield celebrating and bringing the heat.