Saints' defense showing different look

May, 22, 2009
5/22/09
1:14
PM ET
 
  AP Photo/Mike McCarn; AP Photo/Don Heupel; Crystal LoGiudice/US PRESSWIRE
  Dan Morgan, Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins are among the new faces in New Orleans trying to turn around what has been a lackluster defense the past few years.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

For the early scouting report on Gregg Williams' defense, let's turn to the guy who has the best view.

That's New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.

"I think his style of football is one that breeds confidence and almost borderline arrogance out there that 'We're going to come after you and get you'," Brees said. "I love that attitude."

Brees, and anyone who plays or roots for the Saints, should love that attitude. It's a sharp departure from the past when the prevailing attitude seemed to be something more like "we're not coming after you."

That's a big part of the reason why the Saints missed the playoffs the last two seasons. They've had one of the league's best offenses, but it hasn't really mattered because the defense hasn't been able to stop anybody.

Blame it on former coordinator Gary Gibbs, injuries and personnel. That's what the Saints did, judging by what they've done in the offseason. They've got a bunch of injured guys back and healthy as they work their way through organized team activities (OTAs). They've got a slew of new faces all over the defense after focusing almost exclusively on that side of the ball in free agency and the draft.

But, most of all, they've got Williams.

 
  Derick Hingle/Icon SMI
  New coordinator Gregg Williams is charged with fixing a defense that was 26th in the league last year in points allowed.

He's the guy who they went out and made one of the league's highest-paid coordinators after coach Sean Payton made the decision to fire Gibbs. That had to be a tough move for Payton, who had a close relationship with Gibbs and didn't really know Williams all that well. Reportedly, owner Tom Benson thought Williams' price tag was too high, but Payton made the deal work by sacrificing $250,000 of his own salary and paying it to Williams.

That's the kind of leap of faith you have to make when your coaching future is on the line. Payton was in a situation where he had to get the best coordinator available and Williams fit that profile.

He had a lousy season as coordinator in Jacksonville last year, but was known as one of the league's best defensive minds before that. Williams runs a 4-3 scheme (like Gibbs) and is known for an aggressive approach. Williams likes to attack and his system is based upon putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He likes to get pressure from his front four, but commonly blitzes linebackers and defensive backs.

The early view of the difference between Gibbs' system and Williams' has been obvious.

"They're trying to build a confidence and a swagger," Brees said.

If the Saints can build any sort of confidence or swagger on defense, Williams will be off to a good start. The Saints had none of that last year when they ranked 23rd in yards allowed (339.5 per game) and 26th in points allowed (393).

The Saints had virtually no pass rush and the secondary, which was depleted by injuries, was horrible. The Saints gave up 3,547 passing yards and ranked 23rd in that category.

But those days may be over. Williams has a reputation as a hard-nosed, old-school coach who doesn't put up with underachievers. The Saints have had plenty of those on defense in recent years.

Some are gone and some are still there, but Williams' job simply will be to get this defense to achieve. He's got plenty of talent to work with after a very busy offseason by general manager Mickey Loomis.

The Saints brought in safety Darren Sharper, cornerback Jabari Greer and defensive end Paul Spicer through free agency, drafted cornerback Malcolm Jenkins in the first round and got linebacker Dan Morgan to return from a one-year retirement.

They already had middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis as the building blocks of the defense. Throw in the enormous potential of defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith, who have been stuck in that underachieving category, and the defense looks good.

On paper.

But the Saints' defense looked good on paper in the past and turned out to be bad in reality. That's why the biggest part of Williams' job, at least for the moment, won't be X's and O's. Instead, it will be instilling an attitude that's different from what the Saints have had in the past.

"He's a good leader," Payton said. "He's a guy that, outside of the scheme aspect of football, his defenses played real hard. That's something you can see on film and it's something that we're having a chance to see now and that's one of the reasons we wanted to hire him."

They've got Williams now and time will tell if he can give the Saints a defense that's as aggressive and as good as their offense. But the early indications are he's already making a difference.

"They've been flying around and you can see that there's a big emphasis in turning the ball over, getting your hands on the ball and trying to take the gray area out of whether it was complete or not and whether it was a fumble or not," Payton said. "Anything that's on the ground, they're doing a good job of getting to the ball and I think that's a big first step in playing good defense and I think Gregg and the staff have done a good job of starting with that emphasis of speed to the ball and getting hands on the ball."

That's a good start. But the finish is way more important.

All too often in the past, the New Orleans defense hasn't been able to finish what the offense started. Now, it's up to Williams to finish the job.

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