Saints 2012 Defense: Don't Fear the Zone?

Come on, baby...don't fear the zone. Baby, take my hand...don't fear the zone. We'll be able to fly...don't fear the zone. Baby, I'm your man... Spags and the BOC tell us it'll be ok (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

I know it's just OTAs, and we're not supposed to take much stock in what is said or "revealed" by coaches or players during them, but I did actually throw up just a little bit in my mouth at some content that emerged.

In Nakia Hogan's post-OTA Saints story that appeared on the nola.com Friday morning (as well as other reports and interviews following the first team practice of 2012 open to the media: here and here), there was much talk of "a new scheme" on defense involving the use of more zone coverages and less all-out blitzing.

I was excited at first, and then the vurp (vomit and burp) happened as I read more, and the idea sunk in a bit more with me.

If you're not already too grossed out, please join me on the other side of the jump...

Joe Vitt had this to say in regard to second-year LB-cum-DE Martez Wilson (emphasis added):

"As you follow Spags' defense, we have a lot of zone pressures now. And it's going to call for a defensive end to drop into coverage. Martez has a pretty good foundation from being here a year ago, with coverage and coverage aspects, so we've been very encouraged the first week with what he has done.

AP stringer Brett Martel reported this...(emphasis also added)

Spagnuolo also wants New Orleans to play more zone, which he believes will result in fewer big plays given up than last season, when heavy blitzing often left cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson in man-to-man coverage with little or no help from safeties.

Malcolm Jenkins also addressed this in his media availability (from neworleanssaints.com): [and guess who added the emphasis]

"There's a lot more zone. It's a lot different than what we're used to with Gregg Williams' defense. I don't think there are many defenses like his, but it definitely takes a lot of pressure off of our corners and a lot of stress off of our back end guys. There's a lot on me and Roman to kind of have eyes on the quarterback and play left-right so we can both be in the box and in the backfield. I think it brings some challenging things to quarterbacks as far as figuring out who's coming. The zone packages are pretty fun.

Last year we played a lot of man-to-man and a lot of matchup. This year we'll still be playing some matchups, but there will be a lot of zone schemes with zone pressures and things like that. Being able to transition to those kinds of things and knowing where your teammates are going to be at (is new.) It's going to be an adjustment. It seems to be going pretty well. I think guys really like the adjustment. Like I said, there's a lot less stress on the back end and it allows us to keep our eyes on the quarterback. Hopefully, that will result on making some more plays on the ball."

* * *

I'll be the first to agree that the Saints defense needed to move away from the all-out blitzing since they kept getting burned for big plays, were not getting much pressure on the QB, and were not creating takeaways. I also can picture clearly in mind how a prudent use of zone defense at the end of the game would have been a way to win against San Francisco last January.

However...when reading the word "zone defense" I also can't help but to picture the sad sack "Gibbs Gumbeaux" defenses of 2007 and 2008 under Gary Gibbs, whose "bend but don't break" style and execution led to slow-bleed losses and a mediocre team record.

And then I wonder about how this will impact starting corners Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. Will it be another scheme mismatch situation where they are adjusting to a different scheme (from GW's man-to-man to Spag's zones) and just won't be up to the task (a la Jason David, who simply could not get it right moving over to the Saints defense from the Colts' Cover Two in 2007 and 2008)? For Dan's sake, I will take the high road and not post an image here.

* * *

So where do you stand? Can you help settle my over-reacting stomach, or are you worried, too?

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