One of the most underrated reasons for the New Orleans Saints’ defensive success this year is the play of veteran cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis. They’re not being talked about much because they’re barely showing up on TV during games – which is a good thing.
Neither cornerback has given up a deep passing play this year, an issue which plagued the Saints’ defense last season. And when a catch does get made in their vicinity, they’re immediately wrapping up. According to Pro Football Focus, Greer and Lewis have not missed a tackle this year, and they’ve combined to allow a total of 30 yards after the catch.
“I think that we work really hard to be better, to be an improved unit each week,” Greer said. “And I think as a result it’s been, we’re running to the football as soon as they catch it. We’re trying to minimize catches. We’re trying to do whatever it takes to make sure that we’re minimizing the big play. And I think as a result of the work that we’ve put in, that statistic has drastically improved.”
Both Greer and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan praised the fundamentals being preached by new secondary coach Wesley “Crime Dog” McGriff for the improvement in that area.
“First of all, we’ve got some really talented guys here,” Ryan said. “They’re athletic, they’re tough, they play hard, they tackle well, they do the fundamentals well. That’s a tribute to Wesley McGriff, ‘Crime Dog’ in the secondary. He does a fantastic job of drilling the heck out of these guys so games are easy. You can see it. Coaching still makes a difference on that level. To me, I think our coaches are better than anybody.”
Overall, the Saints’ passing defense ranks second in the NFL at 184.3 yards per game (more than 100 yards better than last year’s 292.6, which ranked 31st in the NFL). That’s especially impressive, considering the Saints have faced some dynamic receivers so far (Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Roddy White, Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald).
The Saints have only allowed three pass plays longer than 22 yards this year, and they were all underneath throws or throws in the middle of the field that developed into longer gains (including a 50-yard pass to Atlanta’s Harry Douglas in Week 1). Opponents haven’t completed any “shot plays” down the field this year -- except for one almost-TD pass by Tampa Bay’s Jackson against rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro in Week 2, which was nullified by an unrelated penalty.
Greer, however, warned the Saints aren’t getting overconfident about their play so far. They know it’s still very early in the season. And they’ll face another big test tonight on “Monday Night Football” when they go against the Miami Dolphins and two receivers who are big-play threats, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline.
“Each week presents its own problems,” Greer said. “And one week, you can be the poster child of great plays. And then the next week, if you let some over your head, it doesn’t matter. You’re doing a totally different interview.
“So we’ve been fortunate so far that we’ve been able to minimize some plays. But we know that we are not anywhere close to where we want to be, and we want to be able to have this type of success at the end of the season.”