METAIRIE — Cam Jordan refuses to let the New Orleans Saints’ dreadful defensive statistical rankings get him down.
He sees no evidence that his defensive teammates are discouraged, either.
“That hasn’t happened yet,” said Jordan, a second-year defensive end. “It definitely has not happened. If anything, everyone’s re-energized and the effort is on bettering themselves as players and bettering the unit. Luckily we’ve got a whole bunch of veterans on the squad who aren’t nervous, who aren’t antsy, if you will. I’m definitely not and I’m not even a veteran.”
Having played only three games under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, it is likely too early to judge how New Orleans’ adjustment to their new scheme will pan out long-term.
They are not off to a good start, though, allowing an NFL-worst 477 yards per game. They are tied for 30th out of 32 teams in points allowed at 34 per game. The rushing statistics are perhaps the most troubling, although some would argue they’re a bit skewed because the first two teams New Orleans faced — Washington and Carolina — have quarterbacks that run.
The Saints are giving up an average of 215 rushing yards, which not only ranks last, but is 60 yards per game worse than the 31st-ranked Bengals in that category.
“The defense is still new to us. It think that’s just what it is,” Jordan said. “There has to be a little but more jelling every practice, every game, and luckily this is a 16-game season and we’ve still got time.”
Not much time though. The Saints are 0-3 and will play this Sunday at Green Bay, where they’ll try to stop one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers.
For Rodgers, the concern is that the Saints’ defense will start clicking against him — particularly after the Packers’ offense struggled at Seattle on Monday night, when Green Bay gave up eight sacks and got in the end zone only once.
“They have a lot of talented players. They have a new scheme, so every week they’re going to be a little more comfortable,” Rodgers said. “I am sure their defense is still trying to figure out exactly what combination coverages they like and personnel and scheme. We are still early in the season. We have to go into this game expecting them to play really well.”
Spagnuolo was hired in January because he has a record of success as a defensive coordinator, winning a Super Bowl with the New York Giants in the 2007-08 season over a New England team that boasted one of the best offenses in NFL history.
“First of all, you don’t junk what you are doing. We believe in what we’re doing,” Spagnuolo said this week. “I believe, truly, (the answer is to) just get better at what we are doing.
“I know one thing. If you don’t stick together, you really have no chance,” Spagnuolo added. “So when we stick together, go back to the process and go back to work, that’s the best solution for anything.”
Spagnuolo agreed that the 273 rushing yards the Saints gave up in an upset loss last weekend to Kansas City were too many. But he said he did not have a problem with the overall approach of his defense against an offense that came into the game ranked in the top five in the NFL, and which has a strong running game.
The plan, he said, was not to get beat on any long passing plays and play well enough to force field goals instead of touchdowns. For the most part, that is what the Saints did, with the exception of Jamaal Charles’ 91-yard touchdown run.
The Chiefs got the rest of their scoring from six field goals and a safety. New Orleans’ defense also produced three turnovers in the game, two of which led to Saints touchdowns, and sacked Matt Cassel three times. Overall, the defensive performance against Kansas City might have been good enough to win if not for New Orleans’ offense stalling badly in the fourth quarter, when it could not get a single first down.
Rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks suggested that statistics can be “very misleading.”
“The notion that we don’t get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, that’s unbelievable, because when you sit down and you watch tape, you see guys pushing guys into the quarterback,” Hicks said. “You see it the whole game. We’re an attacking defense.”
Until the results improve, however, the Saints defense also will remain under attack by many of its own disgruntled fans.
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