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2008 Defense – How Did We Do?

It almost goes without saying that 2008 was a disappointing year for Saints fans. The pre-season hype had people talking about the Saints as Super Bowl contenders and it looked like the team was going in the right direction with key players like Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey. But the team wasn’t able to meet those expectations. For the first time in its history, the Saints had the number one offense in the league but couldn’t even pull out a winning season.

Over the last few weeks, the Saints have cut ties with defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and signed sought-after defensive coach Greg Williams. I’ve even heard that Coach Payton had given up $250,000 of his annual salary to help get Williams. The fans are elated. Williams brings the promise of a strong pass rush and an aggressive defense that will disrupt opposing quarterbacks.

Williams will likely do it with many of the existing players. The Saints are in salary cap trouble and have several free agents that that would like to keep. Getting a couple of stud defensive players to sign will be hard without cap room. Williams will have to start with what he’s got.

Now that the dust has settled a little, let’s take a look at how the defense actually did this year.

The league ranks defenses by yards allowed per game – fewer yards allowed, the better the ranking. New Orleans finished 23rd in the league with 339.5 yards per game (Arizona finished 19th). Three spots above the Saints were Green Bay (20th), Chicago, and Houston. Three spots below were Atlanta (24th), San Diego, and Cleveland.

In rushing yards per game, the Saints were 17th with 117.8. That was better than all three of our division rivals (Atlanta -25th, Carolina – 20th, and Tampa Bay 19th). The biggest rush against us was for 46 yards. 23 teams did worse. We allowed two 40+ yard rushing plays and 10 20 yard + rushing plays, again better than our division rivals.

The Saints passing defense ranked 23rd with 221.7 yards per game allowed. This, of course, is where the stats reflect the dismal impression of the defense. All of our division rivals did better: Tampa Bay was 4th with 187.3 yards per game, Carolina was 16th with 211.7, and Atlanta was 21st with 220.4. Interestingly, the Arizona Cardinals finished one place above with 221.2 yards per game and the Jacksonville Jaguars (Greg Williams’ last home) finished one spot below New Orleans (24th) with 224.1 yards per game.

The biggest problem was the number of passing plays for 20 or more yards. The Saints allowed 53. Only Jacksonville and Seattle did worse. The Saints also got only 28 sacks (tied for 22nd) and 10 forced fumbles (tied for 29th in the league).

The defense surrendered 24.6 points per game, which puts them in 26th place in the league. That’s worse than Oakland and Cincinnati – two terrible teams this year, but better than Denver (which has been solid over the years) and Arizona (who is going to the big game).

Some good news : the defense allowed 21 touchdowns (tied for 18th), got 15 interceptions (tied for 11th), the biggest play allowed was 67 yards (tied for 9th), only allowed 5 passing plays of 40 or more yards (tied for 6th), and were penalized only 637 yards (9th in the league).

The Saints had only one player in the top 50 tacklers: Jonathan Vilma, who actually finished eighth in the league with 132, 98 of which were solo tackles (which also puts him in eighth place). Roman Harper is next (58th in the league) with 89 total tackles, 82 of which were solo. He is followed by Scott Shanle (63rd) with 87 (60 solo), and Scott Fujita (83rd) with 81 (63 solo).

Bobby McCray was our sack leader with six. He is tied for 32nd in the league. Rookie Sedrick Ellis had four sacks and was tied for 88th in the league. We had no other players in the top 100.

Some bad news for the Jason David haters: David had five interceptions which tied him for sixth in the league. Fujita had two which put him tied for 59th along with Kevin Kaesviharn.

I hope all of this provides some perspective – at least more than just remembering some play where we got burned and deciding that we are awful in some category or another. The rushing defense was average. It may look better because teams knew that they could pass on us so they ran it less. The passing defense – which is supposed to be Williams’ strong suit – needs a lot of work. The passing defense needs to focus on limiting yards, especially plays of 20 or more yards. The defense also needs to create more turnovers – 22nd in sacks and 29th in forced fumbles. We allowed too many points. How long has it been since we shut out an opponent? The high ranking for penalty yards showed that we played with some discipline. Maybe the trouble then was that we called the wrong plays.

The best thing that I got out of all this is how much better we will be with some improvement in our defense. We don’t have to be number one to go to the playoffs. Hiring Greg Williams was a good move. Let’s hope that the front office makes a few more.

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One Response to “2008 Defense – How Did We Do?”

  1. The best thing that I got out of all this is how much better we will be with some improvement in our defense. We don’t have to be number one to go to the playoffs. Hiring Greg Williams was a good move. Let’s hope that the front office makes a few more.

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