METAIRIE — The trick for New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo this week is to build on the good and learn from the bad, or it could get downright ugly Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at storied Lambeau Field.
Kickoff is set for 3:25 p.m.
“We’re 0-3,’’ Saints weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas told reporters Thursday. “We’re not desperate but, at the same time, we desperately need to win.
“We’ve got to find those 40 minutes again (or) it won’t be a close game. They will blow us out. Hands down.’’
For 39 minutes and 42 seconds last Sunday, the Saints defense played winning football against the Kansas City Chiefs, yielding two measly field goals and 224 yards en route to a 24-6 lead in the third quarter.
But the Chiefs circled the wagons and stormed to 21 points and 286 yards in the final 28 minutes and 51 seconds for an improbable 27-24 victory in overtime at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles delivered the momentum-changer with a 91-yard scoring run around left end, trimming the Saints’ lead to 24-13 with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Charles accounted for more than 50 percent of the Chiefs’ 510 yards, rushing for 233 yards on 33 carries and catching six passes for an additional 55 yards. By comparison, Charles’ 288 total yards matched the Saints’ entire output under the direction of quarterback Drew Brees.
On Sunday, the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be facing a Saints defense that ranks 32nd (last) in the NFL in total defense (477.3 yards per game), last against the run (215.0 yards per game) and 31st against the pass (262.3 yards per game).
Though struggling on offense through three games (25th in the NFL, 304.3 yards per game), Rogers and his play makers appear to present quite a challenge for Spagnuolo’s work-in-progress defense.
“The first thing is that there’s no magical statement, no magical wand, no one person pulls a team out of it, not a player, not a coach,’’ Spagnuolo said. “I think you always end up having to do it together. I know one thing: If you don’t stick together, you really have no chance, so when we stick together, go back to the process and go back to work, that’s the best solution for anything.’’
In addition to owning a distinctive homefield advantage, the Packers are still steaming from a crushing 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on Monday night.
That game ended on a controversial 24-yard scoring catch by Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate, who replacement officials ruled had simultaneous possession with Packers’ safety M.D. Jennings.
The Seahawks recorded eight sacks in the first half. Rodgers has been sacked 16 times in three games, suggesting Spagnuolo might consider other ways of applying pressure than just with a conventional four-man rush.
“We know we’re going to see their best,’’ Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “It’s safe to say they know they didn’t play well this past Monday, and they’re going to want to rebound.
“Their offensive line didn’t play well, so we’re expecting them to come out and give max protection for their quarterback and give him more time to throw the football.’’
Several Saints defenders said Spagnuolo is stressing the importance of playing at a “faster pace’’ in practice this week, paying closer attention to detail and having one collective mindset.
“If we play against Green Bay like we did the first 40-45 minutes against Kansas City, then we have a good chance of staying in the game and winning it,’’ Casillas said. “It wasn’t just good and impressive, I think it was dominating.
“That said, we took a step backward after that and reverted to the way we had played the first two games. We have a great offense, and if our defense stands up to these guys (Green Bay), I think we have a good chance of not only playing a good game but winning the game.’’
Asked what might happen if the Saints don’t play a full game of good defensive football against the Packers, Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton replied: “It will be a long day.’’
Several players said they see tangible improvement in the way the defensive unit has adapted to Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme, though the team’s record and statistical rankings league-wide suggest otherwise.
“It’s tough to say when you’re 0-3,’’ Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said. “People aren’t going to say, ‘Hey, there’s improvement.’
“At some point, you have to eliminate the clutter of thinking and make it more black and white and don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. It still comes down to getting off blocks, finding the football, making plays and tackling.’’
The Saints will probably have only five linebackers available for Sunday’s game after David Hawthorne (hamstring) and Casillas (neck) missed practice again Friday and were ruled out of the game. DE Turk McBride (ankle) will also be out. … LB Ramon Humber, however, is eligible to return after a three-game NFL suspension and could be activated in time for the game to join Curtis Lofton, Scott Shanle, Will Herring and Barrett Ruud. … For the Packers, S Sean Richardson (hamstring) won’t play Sunday, while CB Davon House (shoulder) is questionable. T Bryan Bulaga (knee) and WR Greg Jennings (groin) are among six players who are probable for the game. … House and Jennings were limited in Friday’s practice.
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