The New Orleans Saints got to experience a Monday following a victory for the first time this season. It’s the team’s bye week is this week so they spent the day reviewing film before getting Tuesday through Sunday off. Monday the team will get back to practice with a bonus day before resuming a normal game week.
A 31-24 win over the Chargers sure put smiles on faces over at the training facility as the pressure to pick up a win kept building. “You feel pressure to do a good job with any job you have,” said interim head coach Aaron Kromer who picked up his first win as a head coach. “Pressure just makes you work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter and that’s what it’s done.”
“I thought we showed that improvement again last night and we just have to stay on that track,” Kromer says of just keeping the train of thought at one game at a time.” It’s the start of something good and we need to keep our focus on improvement each week, which you can see and you go from there.”
The Saints defense did show improvement although at times it seemed as if they were the same old defense that ranks last in the NFL. “I’m proud of the way the defense played, certainly the way they rose up in the second (half),” says defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo of the way his unit played. “I was proud of what they did there. They stuck with it. I didn't think it was always pretty in the way we did it.”
San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers was sacked five times and the defense forced two turnovers in the game. Still the defense gave up 427 yards of total offense and 117 of that game via the Chargers run game. Former Saints first round pick receiver Robert Meachem had a pair of touchdown catches against his former team, one of them a 44 yard score.
“There were too many big plays, but we were able to overcome those explosive plays against us by creating some negative plays of our own,” Spagnuolo said. “We still have a long way to go defensively, so we’ll focus on what it is that we need to correct.”
The Saints suffered a pair of injuries to starters in the game. Tight end Jimmy Graham suffered a sprained ankle in the game and continued to play on it. He left the locker room in a walking boot. Cornerback Jabari Greer reinjured his groin again, “It looks good, so hopefully he’s ready for Tampa Bay,” said interim head coach Aaron Kromer.
A report has the team re-signing cornerback Elbert Mack and releasing linebacker Barett Ruud.
Defensive end Martez Wilson was drafted by the Saints in 2011 as a linebacker. In my thirst for a play-making linebacker I dubbed him “Sack-tez” on my radio show “The Sports Hangover”. Wilson only had a sack during the regular season last year but a sack and a half in the Saints playoff game at San Francisco.
Wilson is a speedy player and when Spagnuolo took over as defensive coordinator he moved Wilson to defensive end to see if that speed could translate into him becoming a pass rusher. Through preseason and the early part of this season you can see the potential Wilson brings lined up on the line of scrimmage. The position move by the second year player at times has been risk and reward. Wilson bailed out San Diego late in the fourth quarter by being called for an illegal hands to the face penalty. It was 2nd and 37. Seven plays later Wilson would run past an injured Chargers left tackle, sack, force and recover a Phillip Rivers fumble.
“Martez is a pass rusher. That’s why he’s here. He’s here to rush the quarterback,” said Kromer Monday. “He had two penalties that hurt us and he has to be better than that. He knows it. We've already talked to him about it. He needs to continue in his growth, but right now, his role is to rush the passer.”
Wilson was trying to battle the San Diego lineman and in hand play got his hands caught up in the player’s face mask. A penalty like that is easier to swallow than others, “An aggressive penalty like that, they’re going to happen. I’m not going to be drilling Martez for that one,” says Spagnuolo. “It’s the offsides and the undisciplined ones, but he certainly had a relentless attitude all the way through the game and it helped at the end.”
Wilson is getting better game by game and he appears to be recognizing how different techniques can help his game. “I think their left tackle was a little bit hurt,” explains Spaguolo of the big play to end the Chargers chance to tie the game. “To Martez’s credit, he realized it, adjusted his pass rush game and got two what we call edge rushes that did make a huge difference on the last two plays. That was big for him to recognize that.”
Spagnuolo continued, “What he did on both those plays is he basically edge rushed and dipped his shoulder knowing that the offensive lineman couldn't defend it and then he turned the corner. Now that’s some ability and some in-flight adjusting in the game knowing that. He smelled blood in the water and he took advantage of it. That was huge.”