METAIRIE, La. –When the Saints began the season blasting the rest of the NFL, the run defense was as firm and solid as the Great Wall.
Well, now it’s like a sieve that allows pretty much everything through it.
The Saints (13-2) have gone from No. 5 in the NFL in rushing yard allowed to 22nd. That’s not a good thing right now. Not with New Orleans finishing the regular season Sunday at noon in Carolina (7-8), home to the NFL’s third-best rushing team.
“Carolina is a good run team,” nose guard Sedrick Ellis said. “They always have been.”
But just like the team always says, they need to focus on correcting their mistakes and not on what other teams do.
While Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams said the team is still considered one of the best tackling teams in the league, the Saints aren’t doing it up to his standards.
“We have to tackle better and we’re trying to measure yards after contact,” Williams said. “We’ve been one of the top-ranked teams in that stat. The last couple of weeks, we haven’t done as well. When you have leaky yardage … it puts them into a situational advantage on third down.”
And in the past two games, the Saints have had troubles shutting teams down on third down.
The Cowboys were 8 of 15 while Tampa Bay was 7 of 12, or a combined 55 percent success rate. Heading into Carolina, the Saints are still holding opponents to 39.3 percent on the down, though that’s only 20th-best in the NFL.
But it’s not all tackling, according to those in the locker room.
Charles Grant said taking bad steps and getting out of gaps is partially to blame, along with team effort. Anthony Hargrove agreed.
And Darren Sharper, New Orleans’ free safety who sets up on the back of the defense, sees one other problem plaguing the unit.
“We’re not getting off blocks,” Sharper said.
That comes down to effort, he added. “It’s always want to,” he said. “Always. Getting off blocks is just all in what you want to do.”
In the past two games, Dallas has rushed for 145 yards and Tampa Bay recorded 176. Not coincidentally, both the Cowboys and Bucs held onto the ball longer than did New Orleans. Dallas had 13 more minutes of possession while Tampa Bay had six minutes more.
The good news?
Everything wrong with the Saints’ defense in the run game can be fixed, including, if not especially, the tackling.
“We just have to tackle better as a team,” Ellis said. “When you get a chance to hit guys, wrap them up and take them to the floor. Those are things that can be fixed with practice and emphasis. I think we put the emphasis in that category and I think we’ll be a lot better.”