Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Mar 2008

FO on ESPN: Saints' Secondary Problems Should Be Priority

This week's ESPN column talks about how Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan won't do much to fix the New Orleans defense, even if both manage to actually stay healthy. Unfortunately, the WWL cut my joke about the Saints replacing the fleur-de-lis on Jason David's helmet with the logo for "Smuckers."

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Mar 2008

16 comments, Last at 13 Mar 2008, 5:37pm by Joseph


by Jon (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 6:58pm

True, but there's something to be said for context. Watching the Giants every week, I see how pressure up front can take some of the onus off a weak secondary. Adding talent anywhere will help to some extent.

by Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabbadu (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 6:59pm

Those bastards!

by Matt (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 8:00pm

How much playing time would you expect McCray to get? Could he end up getting the Justin Tuck treatment - back both ends up, play DT in nickel situations, and so be more or less a starter?

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 8:53pm

The Giants are so last year! DVOA says they weren't any good last year, and won't be any good this year. Who cares about SB 42?

by Dice (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 9:49pm

Why the hell did they bother bringing Kaesviharn in if they didn't intend playing him? He's above average at any spot in the secondary, as a backup or a starter. Certainly better than J. David...

Secondly, Shanle is better than he's made out to be. Simoneau is slowing down, its true, but I guarantee Shanle will reclaim his job once Morgan and Vilma go down. The Saints ought to draft a good, tough LB to take over at MLB.

by Marko (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 9:50pm

Isn't the fleur-de-lis on the Saints' helmets an invitation for the opponent to take "Whatever you desire" on offense?

by Eddo (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:53pm

6: Wow, an L.A. Confidential reference.
I don't really have anything football-related to contribute, but I salute you, Marko.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:56pm

My first response is to the headline: No shit. Thanks for rubbing it in, Schatz! :p

Second, I totally agree. However, since MLB is a major problem as well, I think that they did a good job with addressing that in free agency.

Gay might help, and I think that it's pretty clear that the FO is looking at drafting the best CB available. Also, I think that the staff is hoping that Usama Young develops a lot more this year.

I also think that a lot of the problems in pass defense came because of less than average safety play from guys not named Roman Harper, which only made Hole In Zone look worse. Oh, wait. JD was actually WORSE than Hole In Zone, you say? Gee, my dad, my brother (who works for WWL, btw) and I haven't been pissed about that at all...

That and calling a reverse when we should have run an off tackle play against Tampa...

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:58pm

Sorry about the double post, but this might get bad. You might get the bitter Saints fans posting here. And I mean more than just me.

When this kid at my office was upset about the Super Bowl, I was like, "Dude, keep your whining at home. I'm a [redacted] Saints fan. Shut the [redacted] up about losing."

by David (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:58pm

Seconding that salute. Great movie.

The Saints' offseason priority has to be re-signing Hole In Zone.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 4:20am

However, since MLB is a major problem as well,

Seriously? So, are the Saints going to release Mark Simoneau in the offseason, maybe? Please?

Because he would fill a gaping, gaping hole at backup linebacker for the Eagles.

by podpeople (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 9:28am

re 11
I was going to argue your point...and then I thought about the eagles Depth Chart. All that "flexibility" turns into a serious liability if say Bradley and Gaither both miss a game and you've got some practice squad player starting at middle line backer.

by Nick W (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 9:42am

I have to disagree with the conclusion of Aaron's article. While it's unquestionably true that the secondary is the main problem on the Saints defense, the linebackers aren't any good either. We'll get minor boosts in the secondary from Young's maturation, Gay's inclusion, another draft pick, and just simple reversion in the general freakin direction of the mean from David. Add in much improved linebacker play and more depth at DE, and this just might make it to a league-average defense. With that offense, it should be enough.

Question - do the FO advanced stats for runs take into account the pass defense? i.e., Why would opposes offenses even bother to run when they can pass for 14yds/completion? Having watched every Saints game last year (multiple times), I never saw anything approaching a dominating run defense, yet the stats always claimed it was great.

by Joseph (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 11:30am

NOTE: This comment was written yesterday in another comment thread about this article, which another poster had linked to.

Regarding the Saints fixing their D, on the Saints comment board on nola.com, many fans feel the signing of McCray is to employ a “Four Aces” package a la the Giants. Didn’t they just win the SB with a great pass rush and average CB’s? Also the run D was so good because teams passed the ball against our horrible secondary. After Fujita, our LB’s were replacement level at best. If either Vilma or Morgan plays at their previous level, this will better the D overall.
As stated in the article, Asante Samuel was the first CB target, and R. Gay was plan B. Some fans are clamoring for a trade for Lito Sheppard, but the stats show that he won’t be a great improvement. The other prob. in our secondary is that the safeties are not good enough to play cover 2, which would prob. be better for our CB’s. (J. David couldn’t be any worse, right?)
Bottom line is:
1. We resigned 8 of our UFA’s, tops in the NFL.
2. With our O, D doesn’t need to be great–just average, which it wasn’t last year.
3. Deuce is important for the running game. Losing him for the year in the 3rd game ruined the season.
4. Hopefully the coaches will allow Pierre Thomas & Aaron Stecker to carry some of the load, as both showed in short stretches last year that they could take on say, 5 carries a game (vs. only special teams).
5. The Saints have the 10th overall pick. It will be spent on a defender. One school of (fan) thought is to jump over Cincinnati to #8 and select either Dorsey or Ellis. Another is taking the LB Rivers from USC. A third is dropping back a few spots and selecting a CB–although the obvious is that someone must want to jump up to that 10th spot.
6. Easier sched–we don’t play the AFC South, plus have a 3rd place sched., should help us jump to 9-7 or better–prob. enough to get in the playoffs.

by mm (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 3:12pm

How much playing time would you expect McCray to get? Could he end up getting the Justin Tuck treatment - back both ends up, play DT in nickel situations, and so be more or less a starter?

The Saints normally rotate their D linemen, so I expect he'll play a lot. I've heard Charles Grant is more likely to be used as a DT in passing situations (I think he already is used in that role sometimes).

Also the run D was so good because teams passed the ball against our horrible secondary.

DVOA only looks at how successful teams were when running the ball, so their success passing against the Saints doesn't factor in it (indeed, since the Saints defenders had to expect their opponents to pass more often, their running success may be better than DVOA indicates).

That said, the Saints weren't dominant against the rush. They were 9th in DVOA, which is just outside the top quarter. Of course, they were last against the pass.

My take from watching the Saints last year is that they did well by rarely letting opponents consistently getting good yards on run. Opponents could regularly get 3 yards a run, but not often 4 or 5. (I seem to recall one bad game late in the year where this wasn't so). If we had a decent passing defense, this would lead to stalled drives against us.

The whole Saints philosophy on pass defense, especially before the Seahawks game, was reliant on the front 4 providing pressure all by themselves with few blitzes. They never seemed to get enough pressure for that scheme to work, though. QBs had just enough time to find the weaknesses in the secondary.

That's why I'm with those who think if the 2 big DTs in the draft are as good as everyone says they are, the Saint's best choice may be to move up to get one of them. Adding a quality DE and DT to the guys they had last year should allow the Saints to provide pressure throughout the game (similar to the Giants, as others have pointed out) while improving their run defense somewhat. If Brian Young (our starting DT who was out with injuries and illnesses for much of last year) is healthy this year, that would essentially add 3 starting-quality linemen to the group we had last year.

Good pressure will hide weaknesses in the secondary.

by Joseph (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 5:37pm

"Good pressure will hide weaknesses in the secondary."
On a hunch, I checked pro football reference for the 2003 Carolina Panthers. The 3 CB's were--Ricky Manning Jr., Terry Cousins, & Reggie Howard. The safties were Mike Minter & Deon Grant.
On the other hand, the D-line was Peppers, K. Jenkins, M. Rucker, & Brentson Buckner. This group nearly beat the Pats in the SB.
Not saying we couldn't use another quality CB, just that one of the two stud DT's in the first round would give us a GREAT D-line.
Sure wish WE would have made the trade with the Pack for Corey Williams. Then we would have our pick of the CB we like best at #10.