Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
What would happen if you combined the historic 2009 Saints offense with the borderline disaster 2008 Saints defense? We’re finding out in 2011.
The Saints rolled the Giants 49-24 on Monday night and proved on offense only Green Bay can claim to be superior. On defense they gave up 465 yards to the Giants and were unable to generate much of a pass rush despite having a double digit lead most of the night. The Saints managed just one sack against a Giant offensive line that is an injury-filled mess. It’s week 12 people and the Saints can’t get to quarterbacks despite Gregg Williams rushing harder than a mom running through the aisles at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. A Christmas miracle is more likely than the Saints suddenly finding a decent pass rush.
The pass rush problems are the heart of the defense’s struggles. Gregg Williams’s theory of defense is very simple. He believes quarterback pressure lead to sacks, sacks and hits lead to nervous quarterbacks, nervous quarterbacks make mistakes and mistakes lead to turnovers. Consistent pressure is the key and without it his defense isn’t very good.
The Saints did hold the Giants to 73 yards rushing which was a very encouraging sign for the rest of the regular season. Why is holding the NFL’s worst rushing team to nine yards below their season average important? If the Giants had come into the Superdome last night and mashed the Saints on the ground with a banged up offensive line then how could we expect them to hold up with upcoming games against Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson? At least the defense can’t be run over. Besides, with this offense how much defense do you need?
Through 11 games the 2011 Saints have scored 362 points, which is 45 less than the 2009 version. Drew Brees is on pace to shatter Dan Marino’s passing yards record and with this defense he’ll need every yard.
The two big differences between the 2009 Saints offense and the 2011 version is Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles.
In 2009 the Saints had a nice tight end in Jeremy Shockey. Jimmy Graham is rewriting records in 2011. Opposing teams still don’t have a good answer to stopping him because he’s still running wide open all over the field. Maybe the Saints have so many weapons and teams are afraid to double-team him? As Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the game, “We just couldn’t cover them.”
Don’t forget about Darren Sproles. He’s only a third down reception machine and might be a worse match-up nightmare than Graham. If you doubt how awesome he is ask Phillip Rivers, San Diego’s offense could probably use Sproles.
Watching Drew Brees continue his contact year annihilation of the NFL you might have missed the Saints rushed for 200 yards on 30 carries and currently rank 8th in the NFL in rushing yards for the season. Mark Ingram really looked comfortable last night while rushing for 80 yards and catching a couple of passes. It’s really hard to predict when one of the many Saints offensive players will go on a tear but I think he will have a huge December.
So the question is the same as it was in 2009, “How much defense do the Saints need to win a Super Bowl?” I don’t think very much. The 2009 Saints defense was no great shakes. The Saints are one horrible Brett Favre interception from being on year six of us asking, “When can we get a half decent defense to help Drew Brees!” The NFL has basically made it a penalty to hit receivers hard and elite defense is played by maybe three teams. Defense isn’t irrelevant but it’s not the key to football in 2011.
The Saints offense is so special all they need is a defense to make a couple of plays like a huge fourth down stop or a game saving interception. This defense hasn’t shown an ability to do anything well consistently all year but history tells us they make the plays when it matters most. The framed photo on my wall of Drew Brees with his son in Miami is my proof.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, or follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough