The inability to generate a consistent pass rush has been one of the sore spots for a New Orleans Saints defense that us at or near the bottom of the NFL rankings in most categories after four games.
The Saints have just six sacks and, after being shut out last week by a Green Bay Packers offensive line that yielded eight sacks in the first half of their previous game, is searching for answers.
“Yeah, that bothers me. … That bothers the defense, mostly,” interim coach Aaron Kromer said.
Kromer said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Bill Johnson have tried different things and are looking at ways to affect the passer going into Sunday’s game with the San Diego Chargers.
“They’re working at the pass rush and how to get there with a blitz, how to get there with a four-man rush, and how to get there and contain them with a three-man rush,” Kromer said in acknowledging it’s tough to win in the NFL without a viable pass rush.
It’s a deficiency Spagnuolo isn’t used to. In five seasons as a defensive coordinator and head coach before joining the Saints, his teams averaged 40.4 sacks per season.
“It doesn’t matter where you are or what players you have or what scheme you run,” he said. “Offenses are pretty good and affecting the quarterback is the thing you have to do whether you do it with four or three (players).
“I believe in just mixing it up. We have to find a way to mix it better and find a way to win a couple of these one-on-one matches.”
Drew Brees has often talked about his love of baseball, but he turned into a fan of a different sport after throwing to a pair of former college basketball players in Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham.
Gates was one of the first college basketball players to parlay size and foot quickness to become one of the NFL’s elite tight ends when he joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003 from Kent State.
Graham made the switch at Miami one year before becoming a third-round draft pick of the Saints in 2010.
“I see a lot of similarities between (Gates) and Jimmy in just how much basketball can help them in regards to the body control and body position and suddenness,” Brees said, “and going up and attacking the ball, just like you would in the paint in basketball.
“Basketball and their background certainly help, but I think more so than anything is, they’re both extremely smart, they’re both great competitors, they’re both tough guys. That’s why they’ve been so successful.”
Strong safety Roman Harper, who did not practice Wednesday because of a hip injury, was able to work on a limited basis Thursday.
LB Jonathan Casillas (neck) was also limited, while LB David Hawthorne (hamstring), WR Lance Moore (hamstring), DE Turk McBride (ankle) and RB Travaris Cadet (shoulder) did not practice.
For the Chargers, K Nate Kaeding (groin) and CB Shareece Wright (foot) were the only players who didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice.
Brees could only laugh when asked if he thought it was a coincidence that he’d be going for an NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass against his old team in a nationally televised Sunday night game.
Brees said that was brought up Sunday after he tied the mark of 47 games in a row by Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas.
“That was the first time I had even thought about it,” Brees said of a question by Saints radio play-by-play man Jim Henderson.
“Right after he said it, I walked out of the room and said, ‘There’s no doubt … that’s not a coincidence.’”
The Chargers’ offensive and defensive coordinators, who are both in their first year in their positions, have ties to Louisiana.
The offensive coordinator/offensive line coach is Hal Hunter, who LSU fans will remember as a member of Gerry DiNardo’s staff from 1995-99.
Hunter was the interim coach for the final game of the 1999 season and led the Tigers to a win over a ranked Arkansas team after DiNardo was relieved of his duties.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator John Pagano was a defensive assistant with the Saints in 1996-97.
Also, wide receiver Robert Meachem was a first-round draft pick of the Saints in 2007 and played five seasons with the team.
The Chargers, who have a 7-3 lead in the all-time series, are 4-0 against the Saints in the Superdome.
The Saints, however, won their last matchup when they outlasted the Chargers 37-32 in London’s Wembley Stadium in 2008.
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