METAIRIE, La. — Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo saw the same thing everyone else saw Monday night – a fast, aggressive New Orleans defense taking the fight to the opponent, helping to carry the team to a 28-13 win over Philadelphia.
But he’s not even close to ready to call the Saints’ defense fixed. Far from it.
He knows that matchups change things from one week to the next in the NFL. In other words, while blitzing an injury-riddled Eagles team playing with a patchwork offensive line worked, it might not against a good Atlanta team this Sunday.
“I think people, just by nature – football fans, coaches, players do the same things - think the answer to everything is to just blitz,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s not necessarily true, especially when you’re playing a pretty good quarterback. This guy this past weekend was a good quarterback but we felt like we could do some things. They had an injury in the o-line early and that made a difference and we were cognizant of that.
“But going into this next game, I don’t know what it will be.”
And yet, the Saints won their third game in the past four partly because the defense came up with big plays, something it hadn’t done for much of the season.
The Eagles had several big plays, the biggest a 77-yard touchdown catch by DeSean Jackson. Philadelphia also had a 40-yard run by Bryce Brown and a 34-yard dash by LeSean McCoy, plays Spagnuolo explained as happening because the Eagles had the right play called against an aggressive defense.
Still, it was New Orleans’ ability to come up with game-changing plays of its own that offset the Eagle’s big gains.
New Orleans sacked Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick seven times and forced two turnovers, including a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown by Patrick Robinson.
“Our guys played fast and confident,” the coach said. “They just kind of geared it up a notch. There are still things there that we need to clean up. The explosive plays and some tackling there that just has to be better. We just got to keep getting better. But I do think we took a step last night.”
For the first time this season, New Orleans’ defense appeared to play freer and looser, something that safety Roman Harper said was the result of Spagnuolo telling the players that making a mistake is OK.
Relaxation might have improved the Saints’ play in the red zone. Of 17plays run inside the New Orleans 20, the Eagles had only one positive play, turned the ball over once and was forced to kick two field goals. Add in the third-and-22 from the 22 on a series that started inside the red zone and the Eagles gained only one net yard and turned the ball over twice.
“I don’t want anybody to worry about making mistakes,” Spagnuolo said. “Just go out and play. On defense, if you do that, you’re going to be stagnant and stiff and you’re never going to be able to be successful in this league. I’m glad they felt that way. Hopefully they’ll continue to do that and we can have some decent results.”