Saints have put it all together
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/13/2009

The Rams haven't topped 20 points in any game this season. And not even 20 will come close to cutting it against the high-flying New Orleans Saints, who average nearly twice that much (37.9) through eight games.

"Drew (Brees) and his whole crew, they score so many points, and their offense is rolling so well, that we're going to have to keep up with them," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "I think it's one of those games where we know we're going to have to score more points."

Easier said than done these days. Scoring against the Saints never used to be a problem. Teams used to throw on them all day. But the New Orleans defense that visits the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday has grown fangs in 2009.


"The defense has been very impressive," said Rams fullback Mike Karney, a former Saint. "Obviously, there's changes they've made with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and some acquisitions they made in the secondary. They're playing very, very well. With a lot of confidence."

The Saints' defensive revival starts with the hiring of Williams, not that he's a miracle worker. (See his work in Jacksonville, for example.) But after seeing his Saints get gouged by the read-and-react schemes of Williams' predecessor, Gary Gibbs, New Orleans coach Sean Payton offered $250,000 of his own salary to lure Williams to the Crescent City.

The result has been a more aggressive approach, with more blitzing, multiple looks and tons of takeaways.

"They have a lot of exotic blitz schemes, and they're able to get you in a lot of bad situations, which can create turnovers," running back Steven Jackson said. "(Darren) Sharper and those guys are ballhawkers. They're getting after the ball, so we have to protect the ball."

The Saints already have 24 takeaways, which is a league high and two more than they produced all of last season.

"They've found a way to teach a scheme where they're finishing plays," Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "When balls are in the air, they're getting interceptions. Same with fumbles. Their attacking style I think lends itself to that."

Williams' gambling scheme occasionally leads to some big plays against the Saints. But the turnovers, and the points scored directly off turnovers, represent a big eraser. New Orleans already has scored seven defensive touchdowns. In comparison, the entire Rams team has scored only eight touchdowns this season.

Sharper, the veteran free safety, has accounted for three of the Saints' defensive TDs on interception returns. Sharper, 34, got very little action in free agency last offseason after playing for Minnesota in 2008. The Saints signed him to a one-year deal for a modest $1.7 million. Given the freedom to freelance in Williams' system, Sharper has proved to be quite a free-agent bargain.

Cornerback had been even more of a weakness for the Saints. But Tracy Porter, a second-round draft pick in '08 who missed the last 11 games of his rookie season with a dislocated wrist, has stayed healthy and improved by leaps and bounds.

Looking to add a big corner, the Saints went after Ron Bartell hard in free agency. But Bartell re-upped with the Rams. Plan B for the Saints became Buffalo free agent Jabari Greer. At 5 feet 11, 180 pounds, Greer didn't fit what the Saints were looking for size-wise, but he has played very well. (He may miss Sunday's game with a groin injury.)

"They like to play man coverage," Shurmur said.

RAM-BLINGS

RG Richie Incognito (foot) did not practice Thursday; Adam Goldberg will start in his place Sunday. ... The Saints' roster features former Rams C Nick Leckey, LB Scott Shanle and DT Anthony Hargrove. ... Former Missouri standout Chase Daniel is their No. 3 QB.