These Saints aren’t same old’s

Published 5:59 am Wednesday, October 7, 2009

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Sean Payton’s reputation as a creative and effective offensive strategist has been well establish during his first three seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints’ weakness, particularly during the past two seasons, has been their defense. Payton has been working steadily to improve that part of his squad, and it finally appears to be paying off.

“As a head coach, if your defense is better, generally speaking life is easier,” Payton said.

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The defense has stood out in the Saints past two victories. The Saints allowed only one touchdown in a 27-7 win at Buffalo, and followed that up by allowing only 10 points — while scoring two touchdowns on turnovers — during Sunday’s 24-10 victory over the New York Jets.

Those performances could not have been more timely, coming as Brees — who’d thrown for 669 yards and nine TDs through the first two weeks — was held under 200 yards passing and without a scoring pass in each of the last two games.

Brees said he was looking more to manage the game against the Jets than anything else.

“I’m ecstatic for the way we’ve come together as a team, what we’ve been able to do defensively and on special teams and the balance that we have offensively,” Brees said. “My job as a quarterback is to lead that group of men and manage the game and put us in the best position to score points, take care of the football and win games.

“The fact that the last two games, we haven’t thrown a touchdown pass, and yardage-wise we’ve thrown for (less than 200 yards), I think the balance — playing that complementary type of offense with the run and the pass — it’s good for the offense, it’s good for the players, it’s winning football games. In the end, it doesn’t matter how we get it done, it’s that we get it done.”

While the Saints passing game has been up and down, the defense and running game have been consistently good, and at times exceptional.

The addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and key cogs in the secondary like safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Jabari Greer have made a difference. There has been more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and more turnovers.

Sharper has five interceptions with two returned for touchdowns. The Saints as a whole have created 13 turnovers, including 10 interceptions, and three defensive touchdowns.

The Saints are tied for eighth in the league with 10 sacks. Charles Grant and Will Smith finally are playing up to their hefty contracts, combining for seven sacks.

Grant said it’s the first time since his rookie season in 2001 that there’s been a Saints team as complete as the one he’s playing for right now.

“Everything that we do now is a team sport,” Grant said.

With the Saints playing so well defensively, Payton wanted his offense to do counter the Jets’ physical defense with hard-nose running. Payton said the plan worked to perfection and it’s the team’s running game that has the Saints back near the top of the NFL in total offense.

The Saints rank second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 166.3 yards per game despite not being completely healthy.

Pierre Thomas touched the ball only once in the first two games because of a sprained right knee and Mike Bell missed the last two games with the same injury. When healthy, the two backs have been stellar. Each has more than 200 yards on the ground so far. “I know it’s happening in the fourth quarter, but when we’re playing with a little bit of a lead now and we’re trying to bleed the clock, the one obvious thing to do is to rush the football,” Payton said. “I think we’re better at that than we have been.”