Ever since the Falcons and Saints have been looking for new defensive coordinators, I have thought that Spagnuolo would have been a more logical fit with the Falcons based on their past tendencies of rushing four and dropping seven, and that Mike Nolan would be a better fit at continuing the Saints tradition of blitzing lots of players on every and all downs. Maybe that is why the teams respectively hired who they did: to get away from what they were doing, bringing in someone new, and hopefully allowing a fresh look to improve their defense.
I think, however, that Mike Nolan will be better at diversifying the Falcons defense than Spagnuolo will be with his plan in New Orleans. Atlanta has solid defensive tackles, guys like Sean Weatherspoon who can blitz well from a linebacker spot, and defensive ends like John Abraham and Kroy Biermann who can drop back in coverage and also line up at Outside Linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That has been Nolan’s calling card throughout his career as a HC/DC, blitzing guys from different directions, and making things confusing for opposing quarterbacks without giving up too much in coverage on the back end of the defense.
Spagnuolo’s career has been nearly the opposite thing. He doesn’t blitz much. This piece does a very good job of depicting how Saints media looks at having Spagnuolo at defensive coordinator. In his time as a DC with the NY Giants, he relied on rushing the four down linemen, and the back seven holding up in coverage. The Giants got away with average or less than average defensive backs because their defensive line (a 2007 Super Bowl winning line that had players like Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Barry Cofield) was absolutely dominant. Just ask the Super Bowl XLII losers, the 18-1 New England Patriots. That tremendous success in New York got Spagnuolo the HC job in St. Louis, where he not only had average defensive backs, but had an average defensive line. The combination was deadly, as the Rams defense was not good.
For whatever reason, the Saints picked up Spagnuolo to be their new DC. Under him they will likely be one of the least blitzing teams in the NFL, but given their current personnel at DE and DT, they don’t have a good shot at generating a lot of pressure just with the four down linemen up front. The projected starting four linemen would be DEs Will Smith, Cameron Jordan, and DTs Sedrick Ellis and Brodrick Bunkley. That doesn’t represent a huge potential for success, considering 2011 1st round pick Cameron Jordan and Will Smith had 1 and 6.5 sacks in 2011 respectively. The player who lead the 2011 squad with sacks was SS Roman Harper with 7.5. He isn’t likely to be blitzed as much under Spagnuolo, and he also represents a liability in coverage. Add in the fact that Smith will be suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season due to Bountygate, and you have a recipe for disaster (or something wonderful if you are a Falcons fan) for the Saints defense.
Obviously you can see that I don’t think the Saints will generate a lot of pass-rush in 2012. When they rush four and leave seven in coverage, you have to have greatness up front, or in the secondary. I don’t think the Saints have that in either aspect of their defense. They lost Tracy Porter in free agency, and don’t have a very solid, proven CB beyond Jabari Greer. I understand what the Saints want to do by generating a tremendous push up front and allowing the multitude of defenders at the linebacker level and in the secondary to make plays on the ball, but I don’t think that’s realistic. I don’t think that will be realistic in 2012, 2013, or even in 2014 when you take into account the loss of draft picks due to the trade-up for Mark Ingram and the loss of picks in the Bountygate scandal. Given the lack of picks in this years draft as well as one fewer in 2013, there will be a lesser influx of young talent for the Saints, something that will ultimately hurt them. The Saint defense that isn’t dominant will be even easier to pick on in the next couple seasons, and the Falcons will be able to take full advantage of a less than stellar pass-rush. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spagnuolo is out in three seasons as well.