New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma Knows the N.Y. Jets, Saints D Dying to Meet Them
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan looks to give his former New York Jet teammates a rude welcome when the Jets visit the Superdome on Sunday.
Vilma, who was a first round draft pick by the Jets in 2004, is now in his second season as the leader of the Saints new and improved defense.
During his first two seasons manning the middle of the Jets' 4-3 defense, Vilma received numerous accolades. He was the AP Defensive rookie of the Year in 2004 and was named to the pro bowl the following season.
Coach Eric "the Mangenius" Mangini (how does that moniker look now?), who was hired as the Jets' head man in 2006, switched to 3-4 defensive alignment. The alignment, which does not suit Vilma's strengths, took a toll on his production.
Vilma was traded to the Saints after the 2007 season, a season which was mostly spent rehabbing an injury to his leg that he suffered in the seventh game of the season.
Vilma's impact was immediately felt in New Orleans in the middle of their 4-3 defense.
He led the team with 132 tackles and did not miss a single defensive snap.
Vilma's 2008 production came from necessity. No other Saints player came within 40 tackles of Vilma's total.
This year is a different story.
While Vilma's production may be down just three short weeks into the season (16 tackles, one sack), he has not had to be the only play-maker in the front seven this year.
Strong safety Roman Harper has been playing closer to the line of scrimmage this season and leads the team with 23 tackles.
Linebacker Scott Shanle has been all over the field stuffing the run, covering linebackers, and intercepting passes. He is on pace to set a career high tackle mark for a season.
Free safety Darren Sharper is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions.
As frustrating as last season may have been for Vilma, this season has been rewarding.
The Saints did not get their third win until week six against Oakland and did not post a winning streak longer than two games as they finished 8-8.
The defense, which now ranks 14th in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed, was ranked in the bottom half of both categories just a season ago.
The Saints will win on Sunday if they...
1. Run the ball effectively.
This will be the best defense the Saints have faced thus far and maybe the best they will face all season.
The Jets rank in the top five in points allowed, yards allowed, and passing yards allowed.
New York is tied for second in the league in quarterback rating against (50.2) and has only allowed five plays longer than 20 yards.
New Orleans proved last week against Buffalo that they can run the ball when necessary as they rolled up 222 yards on the ground. Pierre Thomas was a big part of that (126 yards, two touchdowns) and the Saints are counting on him again.
While the Jets have just four sacks in three games, they blitz often and aim to put pressure on the quarterback.
The best way to slow down a pass rush is with a good running game.
2. Neutralize tight end Dustin Keller.
Keller doesn't have overwhelming numbers, even for a tight end (nine catches, 140 yards, and a touchdown), but he could be a huge part of the Jets' plans against the Saints.
Philadelphia's Brent Celek (eight catches, 104 yards) showed that teams can have success with the tight end against the Saints.
The Jets are going to want to use the short passing game as a way to eat the clock and keep the New Orleans offense off the the field for as long as possible.
3. Shake, Rattle, and Roll quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Now we know why USC coach Pete Carroll advised against Sanchez entering the 2009 NFL draft. He wanted Sanchez for himself.
Sanchez has looked like anything but a rookie in his first three games as a pro.
He has completed 59 percent of his passes and owns a respectable 87.7 passer rating. He has been sacked five times in three games, and the Saints have the play-makers to get to the quarterback.
Sanchez will have to account Sharper on every play as the veteren will be looking to confuse the rookie on every snap.
Three questions to be answered in Week Four
1. How well will the Saints handle the success of starting 3-0?
It's easy to feel on top of the world when you've had consecutive disappointing seasons and are now experiencing success.
New Orleans last started 3-0 in 2006 on their way to their first ever NFC championship game.
The last time the Saints started 4-0 was in 1993 when they started 5-0 but finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
The year's squad has a much better quarterback to lead them than the 1993 team.
2. How will the pass protection on the left side hold up?
Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown's season is officially over before it begins now that he's been place on injured reserve.
Jermon Bushrod has done a decent job in his absence but he suffered an ankle injury last week and was replaced by third-stringer Zach Strief.
3. How will Marques Colston do against Darrelle Revis?
Revis faced Houston's Andre Johnson and New England's Randy Moss in the opening weeks of the season and held them to eight catches and 59 yards combined.
Colston has had a nice season so far but is going to have to be at the top of his game to produce against Revis, who has established as a top-five corner in the NFL.
I see this as a grind it out game that matches the wits of Saints coach and offensive guru Sean Payton and Jets coach and defensive whiz Rex Ryan.
However, don't forget to throw in Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer.
Williams has whipped this defense into respectability while Shottenheimer has been instrumental in Sanchez's development.
The Saints, who have not trailed at all this season, won't either in this game as they pull away in the second half.
New Orleans 23, New York 10
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