METAIRIE, La. — Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera put on tape of the New Orleans Saints this week and immediately recognized the defense he saw.
Vintage Steve Spagnuolo scheme, even if it wasn’t as successful as the Saints would have liked for the season opener.
And while those who follow the Panthers won’t like Rivera’s assessment, those backing the Saints should take heed – give it some time before fully judging the product.
“The only thing I can say is that you have to be patient,” said Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers host the Saints today. “Everybody wants to jump to conclusions after one game. We’ve played one game this year and the big thing is the proof’s going to be at the end of the year. Four or five years ago when the Giants won their Super Bowl, Steve Spagnuolo’s the defensive coordinator.
“After the third week, everyone wanted him fired and the next thing you know they go to the Super Bowl and (Michael) Strahan says coach Spags is one of the most valuable people on the team.”
That’s good news for the Saints, who rank last in the NFL in defense and passing yards per play after one week of games.
Washington’s quarterback Robert Griffin III became the first rookie quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards and have two touchdowns and no interceptions in his debut.
Time and again, breakdowns between coverage and pass rush resulted in first downs. While the team ranked highly in rush defense according to ProFootballFocus.com, the pass rush was ranked second to last and pass coverage wasn’t much better.
“I would say this - we all, to a man on defense, feel like we let the football team down,” Spagnuolo said. “You score 32 points, you should win the football game. So we all feel that. I personally feel like I let Mr. (Tom) Benson down and Sean (Payton) and Joe (Vitt) and the whole team down. We all feel that here. And that’s a great motivator in my opinion.”
For those worried, however, Spagnuolo’s defense showed improvement through that 2007 campaign. The Giants went 10-4 the rest of the regular season and allowed more than 30 points only three other times.
Regardless, cornerback Jabari Greer said the team can’t turn back now.
“We’ve already started the journey so there’s no turning back now,” Greer said. “We have to remain patient. We have to continue to buy in every day, to do the things we’re asked to do. We have to remain accountable to our teammates, remain accountable to ourselves and we’ll get it done. We realize we’ll get it done.”
To boot, Spagnuolo hasn’t been able to work with a full cupboard since training camp started. Greer missed all of training camp with a sports hernia while linebackers David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton sat out the final two weeks with a knee injury and ankle injury, respectively.
Additionally, cornerback Patrick Robinson missed an early part of camp with a shoulder injury and reserve Chris Chamberlain was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The defense is expecting improvement this week in spite of missing out on cornerback Johnny Patrick, who hasn’t practiced with a thigh injury.
“I think this is the game where we really want to show out,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “I don’t think anybody here lacks confidence in the defense. We played it all training camp and have done well with it. We’ve just got to hone it and play smarter.”