“I personally want to thank Steve and Ken for their contributions during what was an unprecedented 2012 season,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said of the moves through a team statement. “Philosophically we are changing our defense to a 3-4 alignment and right now is the best time to accomplish this transition.
There is no question that the sheriff is back in town. It has been reported that Payton was paying attention while serving his suspension. Paying real attention as in going over the coaches’ film that would come to him in the middle of the week and filling plenty of legal pads with notes.
Clearly Payton saw what we all saw and that was that the Saints glaring weakness was the defense. Spaguolo’s defense was historically bad as it give up 7,042 yards of total offense, more than any other defense in NFL history as they averaging giving up 440.1 yards per game to opposing offenses. New York was the next closest in terms of futility as the Giants gave up 6134 total yards of offense. That is a difference of 908 yards.
The Saints defense finished near the bottom or at the bottom in every major category. They were last in run defense giving up 147.6 yards per game and second to last in pass defense giving up 292.6 yards per game and not to mention they were tied for 29th in the NFL in sacks.
During the season blame for the defenses poor play was mainly directed at the players and then earlier this month an report by Larry Holder from the Times Picayune shed light for the first time that there perhaps was connection problem between players and Spaguolo. If you want a refresher here is Larry’s article: http://www.nola.com/saints/index.ssf/2013/01/jonathan_vilma_reaction.html
The anonymous player, who was ripped by fans and fellow players for not putting his name on his comments, might have been more right than wrong based on the firing on Thursday. Add Payton’s comments on Wednesday when he met with reporters when asked about the defense and you could see this move coming.
“We’re going to have to look closely starting with our personnel and how we used them. Most importantly are we asking the players to do what they do best,” Payton answered and went on to reveal that the question he asked was one we were asking all during the 2012 season. Was the bad play the players or the coaches? “Man that’s the one thing that keeps me up at night right now. Getting back here and visiting with the staff, we’re going to through personnel, scouts, and coaches. I’m anxious to hear how everyone felt. When you have great success its because you’ve got the right players, you’ve got very good players and you’ve got coaches doing a very good job and you’ve got the right scheme. When it goes to the other end of the spectrum as far as it did with us this year then gerarlly you’re not as well with the players and as coaches. ”
The anonymous player said players were not being utilized properly and when suggestions were taken to Spaguolo it was his way or the highway. Payton quickly must have realized that was the case. That’s not to take away blame from the players who failed to make many plays when put in position to make those plays as in tackling.
Payton no doubt in seeing his team from a different perspective and getting advice from Bill Parcells during his suspension must have asked himself several times the simple question of how do I fix the defense. The team will be $16 million over the salary cap so going out and buying or acquiring players that will command money (see Saints fans waning Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis) is probably not going to happen.
While observing from afar Payton likely saw like we did that there were some players on defense that shines. Defensive end Cam Jordan in his second season led the team with eight sacks. Fellow defensive end Junior Galette is a 24 year old that had five sacks this season but is a fan favorite for his high motor during games. Defensive end Martez Wilson in his first season after moving from linebacker to the front line showed promise with his three sacks. Rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in limited playing time seemed to always be making plays.
Payton also saw that defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis were pretty much non factors at defensive tackle and defensive end despite having six sacks this season is entering his ninth season and is due $10 million dollars in 2013.
So a lack of money to spend, the lack of a second round draft pick, and knowledge that every other team in the league is looking for dominant pass rushers led Payton to understand a change to a 3-4 defense could make sense.
Three defensive linemen and four linebackers is the defensive set that both San Francisco and Baltimore run, the teams competing next week for an NFL Championship. It’s the defense that give’s high powered offenses like the Saints the most fits. Saints offensive linemen have said that a 3-4 defense is tough to run against and more challenging to pass protect against. The 3-4 is also the last time the defense in this city was celebrated as much as solid batches of delicious crawfish or a bloody mary on a Sunday prior to a Saints kick off.
Payton made a bold move and statement on Thursday. The Saints want to win and win now and that anything less than building a championship caliber team is unacceptable. It is what Who Dats have been craving the last few months.
Whether the move will pay off or not only time will tell. It means the defense will once again have to learn a new defense for the second straight season. Payton however has earned the benefit of the doubt and it’ll be interesting to see if he again pushes the right buttons to bring the city another championship.