So, I've been thinking about the draft and how it shows the thoughts of the Saints coaches on the defense. The Saints did not spend a single pick on a LB. They spent their first pick on a DB. Interesting, especially since the corners were great and the linebackers were average last year. They picked a run-stuffing DT project. Then the rest was offensive depth.
See after the jump for my thoughts on what's going on.
You can't be great everywhere; if you want to stop the run every time, chances are you'll end up being sucker punched through the air. I think the Saints D is going the other direction: stop the aerial attack at all costs, and be mediocre against the run. The thing is, few defenders can play coverage great, but all of 'em know how to tackle. Chances are that no team is going to drive 80 yards multiple times a game just on the run. As long as the offense is a well greased machine (which it looks to be), the defense doesn't have to worry about the run as much. I think thats why SP didn't spend a draft pick on the pass-rush/run-stop DE/OLB tweeners because the Saints defense doesn't face the run that much. It just doesn't. It does face the passing game, almost constantly; hence guys like Harry Coleman, a fast OLB who can cover but doesn't play the run as well. Look at his stats--he had 3 tackles against Bama, a team that pretty much runs the ball all the time. But against Arkansas, a passing team, he had 9 tackles and a sack. In SEC games playing with a substantial lead, he had 10 tackles (Vanderbilt); and 9 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 2 sacks (Auburn). That's production in a situation that the Saints face more often--hence why they're interested in him.
Yes, I know, the Saints also picked up other UFA linebackers that aren't coverage guys. But I think that they're camp bodies. The Saints are investing in the defensive line and trying to stop the run there, and get a great pass rush from Smith and Alex Brown and perhaps Hargrove when he's in at DT (or shifted to DE?). They're also shifting the defense to stop the pass. The Saints have probably the second best coverage unit in the NFL right now behind the Jets. But the Jets run all the time--they don't put much pressure on the opposing offense to score quickly (read: pass). The Saints, on the other hand, force their opponents into throwing stupid or predictable passes, even if they're good quarterbacks (see: Favre, Brett and Manning, Peyton). Playing in situations like that, what would you do with Sergio Kindle? Bench him, probably. In that situation, everyone knows he's going to blitz; if he doesn't, a slot WR will sit in his zone all day long. You're better off keeping guys like Will Smith and Alex Brown in the game, guys who can take on elite OGs and OTs. If you blitz, make it unpredictable--send Robinson, or someone like Coleman, someone who won't get accounted for by the opposing OL (and therefore have a clean path to the QB). The Saints don't want DE/OLB tweeners to stop the run and pass rush; they want DB/OLB tweeners, to stop the pass and pass rush. What would you do if you were facing a defense with two great DEs, a pass rushing DT, a run stopping DT, four cover corners, Vilma, and two good safeties? Probably run. What would you do facing that, a 14-pt deficit, and 5 minutes left in the game? Probably cry, say the Saints weren't playing fair, and ask for new overtime rules.
Lastly, the Saints know that they have one more card up their sleeve--the red zone. When the opponent gets in your red zone, there is no vertical route to protect. It's short passes or run. If you have two good safeties and a few guys who can play zone, you can add more players to stop the run. The Saints were pretty good at this last season--teams would march all over them, stop in the red zone, and make (or miss--Redskins game) field goals. With Brees on the other side, FGs probably won't win the game for you.
The Saints defense is going a new direction in the NFL--it's using it's offense to create predictable situations and stacking the chips in their favor for those situations. While it's new and different, I like it. What would you do against it? I can't think of much, other than hoping my defense can stop Brees. With a great and deep offensive line, athletic TEs, and the best WR corp in the world, that's a challenge. Not to mention a bunch of good backs behind a great leading FB who can catch. I think that's what the drafting game plan was, and it finally makes a lot of sense.