METAIRIE, La. — Russell Wilson isn’t sure how to pronounce the last name of Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.
But he is sure of one thing – no matter how you pronounce Vaccaro’s last name, he’s having an impact on the Saints’ much-improved defense.
Vaccaro was the only player mentioned by name Wednesday when Wilson was discussing New Orleans’ defense, a unit he is tasked with solving ahead of Monday night’s critical NFC showdown between the 9-2 Saints and his 10-1 Seahawks.
Wilson, the NFL’s sixth-rated passer, grouped Vaccaro in with both Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins and the other safeties for their abilities to make plays.
“They fly around,” Wilson said of New Orleans group of safeties. “They’re physical. They come downhill. They find a way to make a big play when they need it.”
The Saints’ defense is one of the best in the NFL against the pass, combining an aggressive pass rush with tight coverage.
The result is a unit that’s ranked third overall against the pass and seventh when factoring yards per pass play. They’re first in sacks per pass play, tied with four other teams with 37 this season.
“Those guys, the whole group attacks and (defensive coordinator) Rob (Ryan) has those guys on the move all the time so they’re difficult to nail down where they are,” Seattle Coach Pete Carroll said. “They have generated a bunch of problems and it has added to why they’re such a good pass defense and why it’s such a big challenge when you’re trying to move the ball when you’re throwing it against him.”
By Monday night, Wilson likely will easily recognize the Saints’ pass rush, led by defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks.
Both have asserted themselves as players offenses must know where they are on the field.
“When we watched Cameron Jordan coming out, he was a very adept pass rusher in college,” Carroll said. “He had great style and moves and things. I think it just took him a little while to really blossom. I think he’s a key component.
“Akiem Hicks is making problems for everybody. He has had a great start to the early part of his career.”
Seattle has passed for at least 217 yards since tying a season low at 91 yards against St. Louis on Oct. 28. And in the game since, the Seahawks have only given up two sacks and thrown two interceptions.
The Saints, meanwhile, have at least three sacks in each of the past three games, kept the their opponent to less than 91 yards rushing in each of the past three games and held three of the past four teams to less than 140 net yards passing.
“This is a very, very good team,” Carroll said of New Orleans. “We can go anywhere you want to go and they’ve got guys that can make plays and do things. They’re exciting to watch and all that. We have great respect for them.”