Saints finally catching on to Steve Spagnuolo's defense

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, center,

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, center, talk to players during the first half of a game against the Washington Redskins. (Sept. 9, 2012) (Credit: AP)

If anyone knows the Steve Spagnuolo defense, it would be the Giants. This is the team that used that system to win a Super Bowl five seasons ago and spent most of the following year as the top team in the NFL.

What they also know is that it takes a while for the system to find its footing each time it is installed. In Spagnuolo's first year with the Giants, the team went through those growing pains for nearly three weeks. Although the memorable goal-line stand against the Redskins allowed the team to have faith in the scheme, it wasn't until late in the season that the players truly felt comfortable with it.

So the fact that Spagnuolo, in his first season as the defensive coordinator of the Saints, is in charge of the league's worst defense is no surprise. Nor is the fact that in recent weeks the Saints have shown marked improvement. That's what happened here, and it appears to be what's happening in New Orleans.

"It's a tough system," linebacker Chase Blackburn, one of the Giants' holdovers from the Spags era, said Thursday. "It's a really good system, but it takes time to get it right."

"I would imagine it's the same thing that took place there [in recent weeks]," Tom Coughlin said, connecting the dots between the 2007 Giants and the 2012 Saints.

Coughlin opened the week warning his players not to look too closely at the numbers the Saints have given up: 440.5 yards per game, the most in the NFL; 153.8 rushing yards per game, also the most; 286.7 receiving yards per game, ranked 30th of the 32 teams.

"The only thing I'll say about their defensive team is in their loss the other day to Atlanta, they held Atlanta to 283 yards," Coughlin said. "I understand all the discussions about their defense, their stats and all that stuff, but I'll tell you, they play hard. They have good, talented people. They have definitely improved and they are a physical outfit."

Spagnuolo is running virtually the same system with the Saints that he ran with the Giants, one he brought to New York from the Eagles' Jim Johnson and modified. There are some changes because of different personnel, but it's still close enough that Giants guard Kevin Boothe recognizes the look.

"It does look familiar," Boothe said. "It's an aggressive defense. I think that's what everything is built off of . . . Those are things that I remember from him being here."

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride certainly remembers it. He figures he's faced it more than 30 times in his coaching career, between the Eagles and other teams. This, however, will be the first time he'll go up against Spagnuolo coordinator vs. coordinator (the Giants faced Spags last year when he was head coach of the Rams).

"It's exactly like what we saw when we went against Philadelphia [in the past]," Gilbride said. "It's Jim Johnson's defense and it's a good defense. Steve was there with him and learned right there that it's an outstanding concept and he's got a great command of it."

And now, it seems, the Saints are starting to get command of it as well.

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