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Deke Bellavia

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Deke: After 2013 turnaround, Saints D looking for more

He’s been a part of winning a Super Bowl team before when he was coach linebacker with the New England Patriots, and now after his complete overhaul of the NFL’s worst defense ever in 2012, Rob Ryan is looking for more. 

“We are trying to do something special here in New Orleans. And I want to be a small part of it,” Ryan said. Year two of the Ryan era brings very different expectations than what was expected a year ago.

The 2012 Saints defense had high expectations too after Steve Spagnuola was hired to lead the Saints defense. Although Spags did not have a lot of success as a head coach in the NFL, he was noted around the league for being one of the better defensive coaches. 

Not after 2012, sadly. The Saints defense gave up 7,042 total yards, breaking the Baltimore Colts 31-year-old record when the horseshoes allowed a league-worst 6,793 yards of offense. To say expectations were kind of low for the Saints defense entering 2013 would be an understatement.

But then what transpired was another history making year for the Saints defense. Rob Ryan was fired in Dallas, hired in New Orleans, and then became largely responsible for the greatest turnaround in NFL history. 

A unit that ranked 31st or last in every major stat in 2012 finished the 2013 season as the 4th best defense. The Saints gave up 440.1 yards per game in 2012 - but last season Ryan’s defense allowed 134 yards less per contest, surrendering 305 yards each week. The Saints shaved more than nine points on their scoring average, giving up only 19 points per game. They went from 31st to 2nd in pass defense, giving up 194 yards per outing.  And the Saints rush defense improved from 32nd to 19th giving up 111.6 yards to opposing offenses each week.  In 2012 the defense allowed 28.4 points per game and gave up on average 292.6 passing yards per game for 31st in the NFL.  And New Orleans gave up 147.6 rushing yards each week in 2012, which was dead last in the NFL.

Ryan’s 3-4 scheme flipped the script and made the Saints defense one that went from being laughed at to one that was feared and respected. Now, the Saints defense is among the league’s elite.   

So how much better can Ryan be in 2014? 

“I think I have to be a lot better. The nice thing is, with our staff, it’s easy to be really good. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to learn our team as fast as we can. I think that’s the biggest thing. Preseason is making sure you keep the right players, and evaluating them, getting their strengths, and finding out exactly our identity on defense. Every year is different. We’ve got a lot to prove this year, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

 And how can the Saints defense get better? 

“There is always an ebb and flow to training camp.  There’s days and or periods in practice where one side of the ball does well, or the other side doesn’t.  I think the more important big picture is we are constantly looking to get better each day.  Statistically the comparisons from last year to this year, those aren’t as important as the results and so it might mean week two we have to play a game a certain way and week six it might be an entirely different way.  The key is to win and I think that is the main objective, each week that can vary and how to do that.  All of us want to improve from a year ago.  We are looking to really do that in our time here and during the preseason,” said head coach Sean Payton. 

The numbers have the Saints ranked among the top five defensive units in the game today.  But New Orleans needs to pump up the volume when it comes to creating turnovers. And Rob Ryan and his defenders know that.

“We’ve got to take away the ball. Like Seattle, that loss still haunts us. We’re still mad about it, beating ourselves up about it because we feel like if we had a turnover or one or two takeaways that game, it would’ve been a whole different game. But that’s the past, and we know that now we have to take the ball away. We can’t just be a dominant defense and get off the field. We have to get the ball back in Drew’s hands, number one offense, for them to keep going.”

Saints DE Junior Gallette’s eyes lit up when asked what the Saints defense needs to improve on in 2014.  Gallette was a big reason why the Saints defense made a big turnaround in 2013. From to the first workout, to the first OTA, to the start of training camp, the Saints, their coaches and their players are putting a strong emphasis on creating turnovers at a higher rate this season.

NFL offenses average 14 possessions each week.  Creating turnovers would not only limit the amount of possession the Saints opposing team’s get, but it would give New Orleans' dangerous offense a chance to get more looks, which can only be a good thing. 

The Saints defense raised their expectations in 12 months from bottom of the barrel to high on the hog.  The players are there, the right coach is leading the way. And now, New Orleans has the task of going out and proving that last year was not a fluke. It was just a sign of things to come. And the Who Dat Nation is counting on those things being very good ones!

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Topics : Sports
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Locations : DallasNew OrleansSeattle
People : Rob RyanSean PaytonSteve Spagnuola

07/28/2014 10:08AM
Deke: After 2013 turnaround, Saints D looking for more
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