Playing the Saints’ Game

In the NFL, the ability of a coach to have a defense complement an offense and vice-versa is as important as anything. With Sean Payton back in charge this season, there is no team that makes others bend to their style of play like the New Orleans Saints do. Everyone knows what Drew Brees and this offense bring to the table. Consistently, they are one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL. However, it’s what this team does on defense that speaks to the intelligence and leadership of the coaching staff.

The Saints are not the most talented defensive team. Last April, they drafted Kenny Vaccaro, who will be mentioned as a top defensive player within the next few years. Other than that, there really isn’t a marquee name on the roster. They have some savvy and tough veterans for sure, including Jabari Greer, Curtis Lofton, Jonathan Vilma, and Malcolm Jenkins, but again, they’re not loaded with elite talent. This is where coaching plays a factor.

As we know, the Saints are deadly efficient on offense. They are going to score points and gain chunks of yards throughout a football game. The question is, can you either match them score for score, or slow the game down on offense, keeping Brees and company off the field? Theoretically, these strategies should work. But the Saints don’t allow teams to play either of these ways. This is where the hiring of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator was a brilliant move.

Ryan is an aggressive play caller on defense, much like Gregg Williams was when the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009. He is simply not going to sit back and let opposing offenses pick his defense apart and control the game. He’ll come after teams with blitzes, different personnel, as well as disguised coverages down after down. As an offense, you either have to respond with big plays, or be creative and/or physical enough to keep the defense off balance. There are absolutely ways to run the ball against the Saints and generate big plays, but you have to be consistent to keep up with Drew Brees on the other side of the ball. Failure to score, turnovers, sacks, or other negative plays results in extra possessions for one of the best offenses in football. So it’s not a coincidence that during their 6-1 start, the Saints defense is top 10 in the NFL in interceptions and sacks.

To beat the Saints, teams have to do what New England accomplished in week 6. In that contest, the Patriots ran the ball 35 times for 141 yards, only turned it over once, and won the time of possession battle. Even then, it still took a last minute drive to give New Orleans their first loss of the season.

Sean Payton has found the perfect mesh between his offense and defense. The Saints control the game when they have the ball, and when they don’t, they force teams to play at their tempo by being aggressive. As a result, he has this team in prime position to make a run at another Vince Lombardi Trophy.

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