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With the Saints' offense still stuck in first gear when we're all accustomed to it being in fourth by now, you'd think the questions would be about the unit that likes to score points.

And while some of them were, the defense got its fair share of love or worry this week.

But let's be honest, the defense hasn't been a problem this season. When the stops were needed, they have come. Points allowed per game are down to 18, which is 13th in the NFL. And the pass defense has been downright fantastic (Jonathan Stewart's 55-yard TD reception notwithstanding), limiting team's to 196.3 yards per game.

OK, now that we've got that off our mind, here are the questions.

People tend to blame our linebackers for all that is wrong with the Saints defense against the run. In my opinion, our problem is the defensive tackles getting blown off the ball by one person, which is freeing up lineman/backs/tight ends to slow down our linebackers' pursuit. So, 1. Am I totally wrong, and 2. Is there anything G.W. can do scheme wise to help? Bill Burns, Laplace, La.

Bill, that's an excellent question. And there is some truth to it. Watch the film over and over and you'll see the Saints' linebackers get 'caught up in the wash.' That is, they're getting stuck behind the line as the other team's offensive line gets off the ball. But the defensive tackles also aren't doing as bad as job as everybody thinks. While they're not necessarily getting pressure on the quarterback, they're stuffing the middle. A lot of the running yards against the Saints this season haven't come up the middle.

Scheme-wise, there's only so much Gregg Williams can do. He changes between a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense regularly. He has even been known to put in two defensive linemen and filled the nose tackle spot with linebacker Stanley Arnoux.

Bottom line you're right in saying that one affects the other. I just don't think everything is as bad as folks think.

Do you think the Saints offense not being that high-powered offense we saw last year has a lot to do with Reggie not being in the game? Why is the offensive line not opening up holes like they did last year? Charles Taylor, Nashville, Tenn.

Not having Reggie Bush certainly is playing a part in the offense running differently. Sean Payton likes to say that they have won without Bush before and this is no different. While I agree to a point just look at Lance Moore and how much he has aided in the past two weeks I think the offense is a little bit more limited without Bush. The end around isn't pulling the defensive ends like they do when Bush is in the game.

Nevertheless, I think Bush's absence is having a minimal affect on the offense. Moore is adding that much. His two red zone touchdown catches the past two weeks would be vintage Bush.

What exactly is Will Smith's injury and what are the chances that he might not be able to go this Sunday? If he can't go, can we presume that Jeff Charleston will get the start in his spot and that Junior Galette might actually get some playing time in the regular rotation this weekend in Phoenix as well as being a special teams player? Derrick Smith, Clinton, Tenn.

Smith, according to Payton, has a groin injury. It's as mysterious to us as it is to you. Smith hasn't been in the locker room this week and what we've seen from the 30 minutes of practice we get to watch doesn't shed much light. He's dressed and running through walk-through, but that's all we get.

If he can't go, Charleston is the guy. Gregg Williams said the other night on his coach's radio show that Charleston is one of the more improved players on the defense. He was in on several of the plays at the end of the game against Carolina and is trusted by the coaches.

As for Galette, this could be the week he gets put on the active list. Why not give him a chance against one of the statistically worst teams in the NFL with an undrafted rookie free agent quarterback. But I wouldn't get my hopes up that he plays a lot if he's active.


And now, a novella from Thomas Stuart -

After a quarter of the season, I was encouraged to see the Saints' offensive line do a better job of opening running lanes against Carolina.

I have watched and re-watched all of the games this season and several from last season (thanks to NFL Game-rewind) paying particular attention to the blocking of the offensive line. ... In 2009 against Buffalo, (Mike) Bell and (Pierre) Thomas both had huge rushing performances. Regardless of how bad Buffalo may have been last year, the offensive linemen knew exactly whom to block and they attacked their defensive targets with zeal.

However, two major differences are apparent in 2010 the offensive line performance: (i) to a man, the offensive line has looked confused about whom to block or they have completely missed blocking the appropriate defensive target; (ii) the offensive line is not 'firing-off' the football the way they did last year. Pressing pause immediately after the snap for about 20 or so plays of the Carolina game shows that the line is in a stalemate with the defensive line or being pushed backwards. And this is in their best game this year!

Regarding the offensive lines' confusion/missed assignments, has there been a change in blocking scheme (i.e. zone vs. man blocking)? Are defenses 'learning' the Saints playbook to, in effect, neutralize the effectiveness of the offense lines' blocking scheme?

Regarding the offensive lines apparent lack of 'fire,' has the satisfying and lucrative 2009 season sated our offensive lines' hunger to dominate? At some point, scheme and trick plays go out the window and our offensive linemen must trot to the line of scrimmage, and with a knowing look convey to their defensive counterparts that, despite their best efforts, they are about to be physically relocated.

That's a tough job, but that's why every one of our linemen EARNS over a million dollars a year. It's also what Saints' fans have come to expect and should demand if the Saints are to become a dynasty within the NFL. Thomas Stuart, New Orleans


Whew! Thomas, thanks for the email. Also, thanks for taking the time to write. To answer your first question, to my knowledge there hasn't been any change in blocking schemes. I also don't think defenses have 'learned' the Saints offense. Instead, what you're noticing is that defenses have taken away New Orleans' long ball and that has changed the offense.

As far as the line being satisfied, I don't think that's the case.

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