Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – Gregg Williams wants you to know one thing about the Saints’ preseason game against Houston this year, the one in which the Texans galloped to 208 yards on the ground in their zone-blocking scheme.
“We weren’t very good at (staying on our feet) in the preseason game but to be quite honest, we hadn’t repped it and we didn’t care about it and it was just like a practice when we went over there,” said Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator.
The Saints (1-1) get another shot at Houston (2-0) on Sunday when New Orleans hosts the Texans at noon.
Houston is one of two teams that uses a zone-blocking scheme with any regularity. Texans offensive linemen will legally chop block defensive linemen, opening up a bevy of running lanes for Houston’s running backs to choose.
The Texans finished 2010 with the seventh-best rush offense in the NFL and boasted the league’s rushing champion in Arian Foster (1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns).
This season they’re fifth in the league and once again harbor one of the league’s top running backs. Ben Tate has 219 yards and a touchdown in two games, third-best in the NFL.
“Zone blocking, it’s a little bit difficult because there’s not a certain gap that a play is going to,” Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said. “The back kind of improvises whatever he sees and makes the play himself. Whenever you have a really good back in that kind of scheme, it’s a little hard.”
By cutting the defensive line, Houston’s smaller offensive linemen neutralize the opponent’s size advantage and gives Tate and Foster, who is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury,
But Williams said while Houston uses the scheme a lot, every team has some variation of it in their package, “so we’re prepared for it at all times.”
And as much as it affects the linemen, it also changes the way New Orleans’ secondary will have to play the game.
“You have to be able to close with the hips open, keep your shoulders square against somebody who has multiple avenues to cut in,” New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer said. “It changes your approach, as far as tackling and as far as technique as a DB.”
Ultimately, though, for the Saints to have a chance at slowing down Houston’s run game, the defensive linemen are the key.
“We’re going to have to do a good job,” Williams said. “In order for us to play well, we’re going to have to play well and stay on our feet and do a good job with that.”