Steve Spagnuolo, Jeff Fisher, and Gregg Williams played musical chairs this offseason, with Fisher replacing the fired Spagnuolo as head coach in St. Louis, Gregg Williams departing New Orleans and joining Fisher as defensive coordinator, and Spagnuolo going to coach the defense in New Orleans.
Spagnuolo likely made a good impression on Sean Payton with the Rams defensive performance against the Saints this year, one of New Orleans’ three regular season losses. In that game, the Rams sacked Drew Brees a season-high 6 times and held New Orleans under 300 total yards, the only team to do so.
Gregg Williams was also a big hire three years ago, and the defensive turnaround helped take the Saints to the Super Bowl. That revival was largely driven by turnovers, as the Saints never ranked higher than 12th in net yards per pass under Williams. Spagnuolo was in the top 10 in that category in both years as defensive coordinator of the Giants, in 2007 and 2008. His team led the league in sacks during the Super Bowl year, and his schemes contained the Patriots explosive offense. His ability to design defenses to counter some of the best offenses should bode well for the Saints’ pursuit of a New Orleans Super Bowl in 2012.
Spagnuolo may be a great hire, but if they want to turn it around defensively, then they also need to address personnel. Spagnuolo will likely blitz far less than Williams did, but can he get the pressure that he wants with the front four in New Orleans. Cameron Jordan, last year’s first round pick, will need to improve under Spagnuolo. Aubrayo Franklin and Sean Rogers are both free agents who were signed on short term deals, and the team could look elsewhere there in 2012 as well, in an attempt to upgrade the defensive front.
Yes, the Texans improved drastically in 2011 on defense with Wade Phillips. They also made several changes in personnel, from adding Johnathan Joseph, to drafting J.J. Watt, to getting full seasons out of DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. A decade ago, Lovie Smith went to St. Louis and the defense improved dramatically on the way to the Super Bowl. They also turned over 7 defensive starters from 2000 to 2001.
The only other key free agent is Tracy Porter, but the Saints should be active trying to get players for Spagnuolo, and cannot stand pat in 2012. Spagnuolo has a great pedigree, and he may be in a better position now than in St. Louis, where it wasn’t his defenses that did him in, but rather a lack of offense in 2011. He shouldn’t lack for that as he game plans for 2012.
[photo via Getty]