DC Steve Spagnuolo and Secondary Coach Ken Flajole Fired
01-25-2013, 11:57 AM
RE: DC Steve Spagnuolo and Secondary Coach Ken Flajole Fired
This article reflects almost exactly the personnel alignment that I envisioned.
Sean Payton's bold switch to 3-4 defense is the right move for New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton made a bold move on his third day back on the job. And he made the right move.
Firing Steve Spagnuolo wasn't an easy or obvious choice, despite the New Orleans Saints' historic struggles on defense in 2012. No one person deserved the blame for a failure so epic, and a respected coach with Spagnuolo's track record may have deserved more than just one season to prove himself.
But Spagnuolo prefers a 4-3 defense, and the Saints want to run a 3-4. And it should come as no surprise to anyone who's been reading my opinions for the past month that I say, "Amen" to that.
Why the 3-4? Let me count the ways.
1. I think it's a more disruptive defense in today's NFL, in general. Look no farther than the two teams that will be headed to New Orleans for Super Bowl 2013 - the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. Or look to the Saints' own past. The best defense in their history was the 3-4 scheme that featured the "Dome Patrol."
The Saints' offense, meanwhile, has routinely had more trouble against 3-4 defenses in recent years. And that has been the case in both pass protection and in the run game. Players and coaches have regularly talked about how it's tougher to run against 3-4 fronts.
steve_spagnuolo.jpg The Saints fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after just one year on the job. The Times-Picayune
2. I think the 3-4 alignment is a better fit for many of the young players in the Saints' current front seven - namely young pass rushers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson. The three longtime veterans who might not fit as well in a 3-4 are end Will Smith, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and tackle Sedrick Ellis - but they all might not be part of the Saints' future plans regardless.
I also think one of the Saints' core young players, end/tackle Cam Jordan, can make a smooth transition to the 3-4 end position. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton should also be able to fit in a 3-4. Young tackle Akiem Hicks might be a good 3-4 end. Tackle Brodrick Bunkley is a bit undersized to play nose tackle in a 3-4, but he might work. And it is easier to find big nose tackles in free agency or the draft than it is to find pass rushers.
3. Most important, for several years now the best selection of pass rushers coming out of the college ranks have been smaller, 'tweener pass rushers who fit better as outside linebackers in a 3-4 than ends in a 4-3. Just glance at some of the mock drafts this year, and you'll see that most of the top pass rushers weigh in at 250 pounds or less.
Creating a pass rush that works is by far the No. 1 priority for the Saints today. That's been the case ever since they built this team in 2006, actually.
Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did a great job of manufacturing a disruptive pass rush during the Saints' Super Bowl season in 2009. But his blitz-heavy attack became predictable over the ensuing years, and teams made adjustments to stay out of trouble.
One thing Williams clearly did better than Spagnuolo, however, was figuring out the best way to use the personnel at his disposal.
Whether Spagnuolo was truly unpopular or too rigid with his players, as one unnamed player told NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune earlier this month, it is clear that he didn't do a good enough job of fitting his scheme to the personnel at his disposal. As Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt described this week, the No. 1 priority for any defense is figuring out how to put your players in the best position to succeed.
I'm not going to pretend that the switch to a 3-4 defense will be any kind of a magic formula. The Saints' talent level is obviously a huge issue, as well. And it will be hard for them to add talent immediately, both because of salary-cap constraints and the lack of a second-round draft pick this year.
Plus, it's not easy to make such a major transition. We saw how badly the Saints struggled with their transition from Williams' system to Spagnuolo's system this past season. The first month or two was especially painful to watch.
And it won't be easy to find a great defensive coach. Most of the best ones have jobs already. A "name" that comes to mind is veteran coach Romeo Crennel. But as both Spagnuolo and Williams demonstrated, "big names" don't automatically guarantee success.
A young assistant from a successful defense might be a great choice. Rising star Winston Moss from the Green Bay Packers comes to mind. Every assistant on the 49ers' and Ravens' staff should be on a similar wish list. But teams aren't required to let their assistants interview for coordinator jobs.
So this a drastic change, and there's no guarantee of success.
But drastic times call for drastic measures. And that's exactly what Payton decided was necessary after watching from afar as his team allowed more yards than any team in NFL history last season.
Payton's been back to work for about 60 hours. And he's quickly making up for lost time.
Saints Fan Since 1967