The last two Saints seasons have ended in heartache on the West coast. In both cases the Saints defense was a serious disappointment.
In a first round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, running back Marshawn Lynch flattened what seemed to be the entire Saints' defense on his way to a 67-yard touchdown run, that clinched the 41-36 upset.
Last year it was San Francisco's Vernon Davis ending the Saints 9-game winning streak with a 14-yard reception with just nine seconds left, as the 49ers beat New Orleans 36-32 in the second round of the NFC playoffs. Embarrassingly, the Saints allowed the 49ers to drive 85 yards in less than a minute and a half for that crippling score.
"It has to motivate the entire team," says 5th year defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, "We've gone to the playoffs and lost some tough games. We definitely have to prove ourselves if we're back in that spot again."
And although the Saints turned the ball over five times in that loss to San Francisco, it was hard not to blame Gregg Williams' defense for blowing a shot at hosting the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. It's now up to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to field a group worthy of complimenting star quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints relentless offensive attack.
"We're really looking to get our pass rush going," adds Ellis, who had just ½ a quarterback sack a season ago, "We're probably going to be blitzing less than what we did in the past. That enables the defensive line to showcase their talent, they not have been showcased in the past."
As the head coach of the St Louis Rams last year, Spagnuolo's defense intercepted Brees twice and held the explosive Saints to just 269 total yards in a 31-21 upset. New Orleans hopes he can deliver similar results from Spagnuolo this year. In particular, getting players like Ellis back on track statistically.
"Last year wasn't my best year, admittedly. There were a combination of things that took factor in that. I had some injuries, the scheming, some other things that happened. But I think this scheme is perfectly fitting for the people we have on this defensive line. It's more of a four-man, down defense. I'm excited for myself and the rest of the D-line to prove ourselves in that system, more than an odd man front."
Ellis could also use some help behind him, where the Saints intercepted a measly nine passes all year. Not only that, but safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins failed to pick a single pass during the 626 passes attempted against New Orleans last year. Patrick Robinson led the team with just 4 interceptions, while veteran Jabari Greer had just one.
Spagnuolo's defense is described more like the 49ers group, which relies heavily on the guys up front to make plays. If the Saints don't get the needed push in the trenches, the secondary could be in trouble again.
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