Saints’ strong defense isn’t enough

SEATTLE The New Orleans Saints lost their final game of the season on the field Saturday, but they might still suffer a major loss off the field.

The Saints’ defense improved markedly in Rob Ryan’s first year as defensive coordinator, and that could make Ryan a prime candidate for a head coaching job in the NFL.

Coach Sean Payton said Ryan “obviously” will be a head coach someday. Linebacker David Hawthorne said Ryan “definitely” deserves a shot at a head coaching job, and safety Malcolm Jenkins agrees.

“Why not?” Jenkins asked in the crowded visitors’ locker room after Seattle held on for a 23-15 playoff win at CenturyLink Field. “What he’s done with our defense is obviously monumental. It’s definitely big on his résumé.”

The Saints limited Seattle to a pair of touchdown runs by Marshawn Lynch and three field goals by Steven Hauschka.

New Orleans limited Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson to 103 yards passing, but Lynch battered the Saints for 140 yards on 28 carries.

The Saints geared up to stop Lynch even more than usual because the rain and wind made passing difficult, but Lynch proved one more time he’s one of the NFL’s premier running backs. Hawthorne broke out laughing when asked if anyone in the league runs harder than Lynch.

“No, definitely not,” Hawthorne said. “He’s the total package. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run by guys. At the end of the day, he’s a load.”

Hawthorne echoed Payton and Jenkins in saying the Saints played well defensively Saturday. However, Hawthorne was quick to add, “We didn’t win, so obviously, we didn’t do enough.”

After giving up a league-record 7,042 yards (440.1 per game) in the regular season last year, the Saints finished fourth this season with 4,891 yards allowed (305.7). Ryan, everyone seems to agree, deserves much of the credit.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Jenkins said. “It’s night and day.”

“He’s a mastermind on defense,” Hawthorne said. “He’s been successful coaching defense for a reason. It’s no fluke. Everywhere he goes he brings success.”

Jenkins added: “He was able to take players that we already had here and put them into position to really thrive. Brought in new guys that obviously brought some versatility and some stability to our defense.

“He brought a scheme that everyone trusted, and he allowed the players to have input in that, so everyone has their hand in what we were doing on defense. I think that’s when guys can really own it and play with pride.”

Payton said, “He brings an enthusiasm with him, a personality that’s contagious. He’s a great staff person as well. He gets along with the coaches.”

Ryan changed the Saints’ base defense from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4.

“He came and changed our philosophy,” Hawthorn said. “He brought a lot of energy to us, and we feed off of it.

“Great game plans week after week.”

Jenkins said, “Instead of winning despite us (last year), we won because of us this year.”

Payton said Ryan “loves coaching here.” Payton declined to speculate how likely it is that Ryan will remain with the Saints and not get a head coaching job this year.

“He does well with managing people,” Jenkins said. “He’ll be a good (head) coach.

“But,” Jenkins added, smiling, “hopefully he stays with the Saints.”