Seahawks puzzle over dominating Saints defense

Since their Super Bowl-winning run last season, one-word association with the New Orleans Saints has been fairly easy.


Led by Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and creative-minded coach Sean Payton, the Saints lit up NFL opposition with a league-high 403.8 yards of total offense per game in 2009-10. Due to a porous defense that ranked in the bottom half of most categories, they needed to.

This year, New Orleans’ fortunes on both sides of the ball have changed. An offense that averaged an NFL-best 31.9 points last season is down to 22.3, ranked 15th. A steady defense, on the other hand, deserves much of the credit for the Saints’ 6-3 record heading into Sunday’s game in New Orleans against the Seahawks.

“They’re really consistent,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of the Saints’ defense. “They have an unusual scheme that’s suiting them really well, where they can align in positions where they can be really aggressive and play base stuff. … People haven’t quite figured them out yet.”

That success starts with New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has coached in the league since 1990 and is known for creating exotic schemes and drawing up inventive blitz packages. Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said you never know what you’re going to get.

“I really respect what he does defensively, and every year it’s something different,” Bates said. “He’s ahead of the curve.”

At 16.8 points allowed per game, New Orleans ranks fourth in scoring defense, behind only Chicago, Green Bay and the New York Jets. The Saints are best in the NFL at defending the pass, allowing just 166.3 yards per game.

New Orleans ranked 20th in both categories last season.

What makes the defensive turnaround even more impressive is the lack of turnovers. Last year, the Saints’ 39 take-aways were second best in the league, while this year they only have 13 so far and a negative turnover differential.

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who can play without limitations despite a left wrist injury, is confident his team has the game plan to unlock the Saints’ schemes. New Orleans’ attack-minded defense will present opportunities, he said, especially on third down.

“It’ll be a challenge, and we’ve go to do it on the road at their pace with the crowd noise,” Hasselbeck said. “I can’t imagine a tougher scenario. But it’s OK. I think we’re excited to try.”