As summer seems to get hotter and hotter and we get down to only baseball on TV, there’s only one thing to do to keep our interest – answer questions and give our thoughts about the Saints heading into training camp.
We’ll run out one question a day in a hope that we satiate your thirst until actual toe meets leather. The questions are in no particular order of importance…except for No. 1.
15. How good can Steve Spagnuolo make the safeties?
When Gregg Williams came to New Orleans prior to the 2009 season, one his main goals was to upgrade the secondary. He did that.
Now it’s up to Steve Spagnuolo to take the secondary to the next level.
It won’t just be Spagnuolo, though. New secondary coach Ken Flajole will play a part and those two men have been together for a few years now (Flajole was Spagnuolo’s defensive coordinator in St. Louis).
To answer this, you first have talk about what the Saints currently have. The three main safeties last season were Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Isa Abdul-Quddus.
Harper and Jenkins led the Saints defense in 2011 with 116 and 97 tackles, respectively. Harper led the team with 7½ sacks and Jenkins was third in passes defensed with 11.
And in a somewhat limited role, Abdul-Quddus earned some of the best numbers for a member of the Saints’ secondary, according to Pro Football Focus. His 0.7 overall season rating was best among safeties.
Pro Football Focus wasn’t nearly as kind to Harper and Jenkins. Harper finished the season with a minus-17.8 rating, including a -13.2 in pass coverage. He also, by their count, missed 15 tackles last season. And he was the team’s worst penalty offender, a stat confirmed by his team-leading eight penalties for a team-high 89 yards.
Jenkins finished with a -8.7 rating, including a -6.8 in pass coverage. But Williams also had him playing back 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. While Jenkins’ hands are made of stone and his coverage skills seemed to regress a season ago, it’s likely that Spagnuolo will be able to help him improve.
Why do we say this?
From 2010 to 2011, the Rams’ safeties made improvement. Craig Dahl and James Butler both improved. The St. Louis Rams were by no means world beaters, but the defense, in particular pass coverage, was a better final product than what the Saints put on the field in 2011.
The past three years, St. Louis’ passing defense went from ranked 25th to 19th and finally to 7th last season. And while there’s a lot more to pass defense than the safeties, having quality play in the back end greatly improves the outcome of coverage.
While the Rams’ pass defense took a step back in Spagnuolo’s initial year in St. Louis, the cupboard wasn’t exactly full. The year before he became the Giants defensive coordinator in 2007, New York’s pass defense was 28th in the NFL. It improved to No. 11 his first year in New York, likely a better comparison.
In other words, to answer the original question, fans should expect to see better play from the Saints’ safeties this season.