Delanie Walker

New Orleans Saints defense: as bad as 2009, without all the takeaways

The New Orleans Saints might have the best offense in the playoffs, even though they were outscored by 13 points by the Green Bay Packers during the regular season. When you combine the record-setting year by Drew Brees with a much stronger rushing attack than what the Packers feature, the Saints’ dynamic yet balanced offense is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. And with the 49ers featuring perhaps the best defense in the NFL this year, the battle between those two units is what most observers will talk about leading up to Saturday.

With the Saints turning average NFL games into Arena-esque shootouts on the regular, their defense has been ignored to a certain extent. And with an offense that scores 45 points without blinking, it’s hard to blame anyone for forgetting that defense even exists in the NFL.

Saints’ championship template: defense is overrated

Plus, the Saints already won a Super Bowl with a crappy defense in 2009. Sure, they were an opportunistic bunch that accumulated 39 takeaways during the regular season and 8 during the playoffs (including an amazing 5 turnovers collected against the Minnesota Favres). But while the offense ranked first in both points and yards in ’09, the Saints’ defense finished 20th and 25th in those categories respectively.

Last year the Saints weren’t nearly as productive on offense as they were in 2009 (or 2011), but their defense ranked 7th in points allowed and 4th in yards surrendered during the regular season. However, that didn’t matter when they gave up 41 points and one legendary run to Marshawn Lynch in that wacky playoff upset loss in Seattle.

The 2011 Saints aren’t doing so badly in terms of points allowed (21.7 ppg, 13th in the NFL), but they’ve given up their fair share of yards (9th-most in the NFL at 368.4 ypg) and finished 31st in takeaways with only 16. No more Darren Sharper, no more multiple-takeaway games, it would appear.

New Orleans’ offense scores so many points that their opponents are forced to pass, pass and pass some more to keep/catch up. The Saints finished the regular season ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and 28th in interceptions. Teams ran against the Saints less than against any other team (2 fewer attempts than vs. the Niners), although New Orleans gave up 4.95 yards per carry, worse than every team in the league besides the Raiders, Lions and Buccaneers.

The worst defense in the NFL?

Ah yes, the Bucs. An embarrassment to the game, as they gave up before the season was even halfway over. But according to Pro Football Focus, Tampa Bay (the only team to allow more than 30 ppg) wasn’t the worst defense in the NFL during the 2011 regular season, although it was close. Tampa was bad, with an overall score of -123.5 (the 49ers were far and away the best defense according to PFF, with an overall score of 200.4 — the Ravens came in second at 159.6). But the Saints finished with the lowest overall score: -124.9.

The Saints’ run defense (with a score of 3.1) wasn’t all that bad, according to PFF. But their pass coverage and pass rush were terrible (the Saints had the worst pass rush in the league, with a score of -70.8). Now you know why they blitz all the time. Unlike the 49ers, the Saints can’t rush three or four guys … because if they did, the opposing quarterback would have about 10 seconds to throw.

I’ll put it another way: it’s never a good sign when a defensive back (Roman Harper) is tied for the team lead in sacks with 7.

The Saints didn’t look much different against the Lions on Saturday, as Matthew Stafford was able to sit back and pass for 380 yards and a few touchdowns. Stafford was sacked zero times, hit 6 times and pressured on 5 occasions … compare that to Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked 5 times, hit on 3 occasions and pressured 12 times.

Playoffs = Crab season?

Most people are pointing to Frank Gore as the key offensive player for the 49ers, and that may end up being the case. It sure would be nice if the 49ers could control the line of scrimmage (and the clock) with a tidy 25-carry, 125 yard performance from Gore.

But that seems too obvious, so I’m going to look to the outside. If I’m Michael Crabtree, I can’t wait for Saturday after seeing Calvin Johnson catch 12 passes for 211 yards and a couple scores. Not that Crabtree is a comparable player to Megatron (the most fearsome WR in the game), but Crabtree has 41 receptions, 539 yards and 3 TD in his last seven games. Not video game numbers, but that translates to a 94 catches, 1,232 yards and 7 TD over 16 games, and after a slow start due to injury it’s not incorrect to assume that Crabtree’s performance over the last two months is sustainable — not a fluke.

The Saints, like everyone else the 49ers have faced, are going to come to San Francisco expecting a steady diet of Gore with a little Kendall Hunter as garnish (and no, that doesn’t mean I think Gore and Hunter should receive the nickname of “steak and parsley”). But Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have experimented in terms of the vertical game for the last couple months and have had two weeks to prepare. With the Saints sure to blitz with regularity, Gore and Hunter will be just as important in terms of pass-blocking and, to a lesser extent, catching screen passes.

While it isn’t clear if Delanie Walker will be available (Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t rule Walker out for Saturday, but that could be gamesmanship as much as anything else), Vernon Davis also has a chance to shine against the Saints’ mediocre linebackers. Davis has been on fire of late as well, finishing with 18 catches and 244 yards in the last three games.

The Saints will do what they always do: throw the ball all over the field (because even though they have a diverse and impressive group of running backs, they won’t spend much time trying to rush against the 49ers’ brick wall). However, the Niners might surprise people by testing the Saints’ secondary and focusing on winning the turnover battle — in other words, the same strategy that led New Orleans to their first and only Super Bowl win.

20 Comments
20 comments
Stan
Stan

The game plan advocated by Larry Krueger on KNBR is too hurt Brees so he cant play..and that nut is serious. He's been going on how the 49ers need to hurt him "but not after the whistle" like that covers Larrys ass. Felipe had Kreuger right.

Jeff
Jeff

The game plan for the Saints should be similar to that one the 49ers used vs. the Lions. The Lions were 4-0 coming into that game and were firing on all cylinders on offense, but had a porous defense. The 9ers played it safe in the first half and took the Lions best punch and didnt play into their hands. They kept the score close, kept to their running the ball game plan, let the defense dictate the game and not the offense. Now i know that the Lions are not the Saints, but you see what I am getting at. The O-line has to show up on Saturday (looking at your Anthony Davis) and open up some holes for Gore and Hunter. They must establish the run game early and often. Keep Brees on the sidelines, dont let him get into a rhythm. Keep it close at halftime, thinking no more than down 10 points. The 49ers have shown this year that they are good at second half adjustments. I do not think they can beat the Saints, but I think it will be a good hard fought game.

Stan
Stan

HUE FIRED. When he couldnt get going for a two point conversion..that was the nail.

Dean Marshall
Dean Marshall

I agree with your strategy in concept, B.A.S.G.....the Niners will need relentless pressure including some bone jarring hits on Brees, as well as, become the "good hands team" when he tries to thread the needle (as in INT's). Win the turnover battle, move the ball on offense by breaking tendencies (i.e. throw slants on first down, screen passes and running Gore/Hunter like a body blow to loosen up the Saints D). I see this as being like Marino vs. the Niners D in the Superbowl when the 49ers showed how you beat a high-powered offense (38-16 S.F. sounds really good to me). By the way, Mike, B.A.S.G. was stating that Green Bay scored 13 more points in the Season than the Saints..... GO NINERS

mike
mike

Your credibility was dismissed in the first paragraph when you couldn't even do enough reserch to find out the Saints lost by 8 to GreenBay not 13. Why should anyone listen to the rest of this garbage. Maybe you should do a little research and re-submit your article

Stan
Stan

You did see-EVERYBODY saw,that Harbaugh all but confirmed Gore has hip problems. It was on THIS BLOG-that I called it,a month into the season. I had ideas earlier his hip couldnt have healed enough to take a beating just months later. I said he must be Superman...and what did Harbaugh say a couple of weeks later? Gore was Superman. That was Franks last great total game. Since then he's been part time. Jim's smart..but not smarter then me. And that goes for Lincecum, Russell, and Huff, and those teams who mislead the public. I am vindicated-as usual.

devnull
devnull

If the Niners get into a scoring contest against the "fast break" offense of the Saints, it could turn into a very long day. Somebody on KNBR this morning was saying the Niners should(/will?) try to control the ball and keep it out of Brees' hands as much as they can. Which sounds like long boring drives, featuring the running game, most likely. Sounds like a reasonable plan, but implementation could be problematic e.g. if the Saints break out of the gate early (and often). Let's hope Carlos & Culliver & Co. have a good afternoon in the secondary, and Smith & Smith et al have an equally good day getting in Brees' face. The Saints aren't unbeatable -- they just look that way sometimes. But it can be done. "Any given Sunday", and all that ....

Stan
Stan

That ANYBODY would agree with Kreuger is sad. Pathetic people who dont know reality from fantasy. And-Kreuger repeated he MEANT it.

Stan
Stan

And I dont think..the "pissed" went over with Mark and Amy.

spyglass
spyglass

Maybe you should be a little less arrogant and read the article. He's talking about total points for the regular season.

Stan
Stan

No comment BASG? it was your blog that got the news first!..from me!

devnull
devnull

I'm happy, no - thrilled, to admit I got this one wrong. If 36-32 (with a bunch of it, including multiple lead changes, happening in the last minutes) isn't the definition of a "scoring contest", I dunno what is. :-) Not at all the way I thought the Niners would win, but I don't think anyone will mind. So much for betting the under .... :-)

devnull
devnull

What does that have to do with the Niners v. Saints game on Saturday?

mike
mike

Maybe he should be a little clearer like legit reporters

devnull
devnull

Stan, you have no idea what my politics are, or anything else about me. Not that any of it is even remotely relevant to this, or any other topic on BASG, so there was no point in you even bringing it up. Yet you resort to ad hominum attacks and name-calling, after I suggested you should try staying on-topic with BASG posts, instead of making up your own. E.g. it's simple common courtesy to post about Niners topics in Niners articles, and Raiders posts in Raiders articles. I don't see why that should be so difficult to understand, or to follow. If you find that objectionable, obviously I can't stop you. But when there are plenty of BASG topics of all kinds, it seems like it shouldn't be that hard to find a good article with a subject that matches what you want to talk about.

Stan
Stan

Amazing how as one of the few liberal sports fanatics,how often I have to put up with you hypocrite republican who cry they love America-but want to tell me what I can and can't say. I cant remember the last time I posted to somebody who hadnt answered my post, what they should say -or how and when.

Stan
Stan

And if YOU gave orders I would. Buzz off punk!

devnull
devnull

If you want to post off-topic "breaking news", maybe you should start your own blog. This particular BASG post was about the Niners v. Saints game, not the Raiders or some other random topic.

Stan
Stan

It was breaking news when I posted-you couldn't figure that out?

Trick
Trick

No need to be a little clearer. Most people without a chip on their shoulder got what was being said. It's not the reporters fault that you cannot comprehend what you are reading.

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