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Wednesday, May 2, 2012
How suspensions impact Saints defense

By ESPN Stats & Information

Two of the four players suspended from the Saints bounty program, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, are no longer on the team.

However, the Saints are losing their longest tenured player, Will Smith, for four games and starting inside linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, for the entire 2012 season.

Smith and Vilma were two of five Saints defenders to play at least 80 percent of defensive snaps in the games they played last season (see chart).

Smith is fourth in team history with 61.5 sacks, but is coming off a career-low 35 tackles last season. Smith also has only two sacks over the last two seasons with a standard four-man pass rush, but he thrived when the Saints sent added pressure.

The Saints defense sent five or more pass rushers on more than half of dropbacks in 2010 and 2011, leading the league both seasons -- and Vilma and Smith were big parts of the Saints' blitz packages:

• Smith led the Saints and was tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 sacks the last two seasons when the Saints sent at least five pass rushers.

• Smith also led all Saints linemen since 2010 with seven passes defensed/intercepted.

• Smith's nine tackles for losses are tops among Saints defensive linemen and tied for second-highest on the team with Vilma.

Vilma led Saints in tackles from 2008-10, and in 2011 was tied for second in the NFL with three opponent fumble recoveries.

According to Accuscore, the Saints playoff chances dropped 5.2 percent, which is not significant because a team's chances to go to the playoffs fluctuate about 5 percent from week to week during the regular season.