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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints defense making the most of its opportunities

Posted Oct 3, 2013

Unit has 10 takeaways so far this season

Opportunism isn’t exclusive to Chicago’s defense.

True, that heralded unit leads the NFL with 14 takeaways entering Sunday’s game against New Orleans at Soldier Field. And forcing turnovers has been a consistent characteristic of the Bears’ defense over the years.

Since 2008, the Bears only once have forced fewer than 31 turnovers (28, in 2009), and that’s the only season of the five that Chicago had a losing record (7-9).

But the Saints this season haven’t been far off Chicago’s pace.

New Orleans has forced 10 turnovers and, like the Bears, owns a plus-5 turnover ratio. The Saints (4-0) also have this going for them – they’ve allowed just 55 points this season, less than half of the 114 that the Bears have surrendered. And New Orleans has allowed almost 80 yards per game less (304.5, to Chicago’s 384).

So the Saints aren’t the only team that will be emphasizing ball security Sunday.

“It’s something that’s emphasized at practice and guys are taking it to the game, attacking the ball, over-population to the ball,” said linebacker Curtis Lofton, who forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Rafael Bush against Miami. “Our secondary has great ball skills so they’ve been able to track it and go up and get it and outfight receivers for it.

“It’s something we emphasize and something we’re doing. We’ve just got to continue to do it.
“They say turnovers happen in bunches. We just continue to play how we’ve been (playing), everybody flying to the ball and it’s been leading to a lot of success for us.”

Especially, the Saints have been strong in pass defense. Seven of the 10 turnovers have been interceptions; the team had two interceptions through the first four games last season, and intercepted 15 passes for the season.

Saints-Dolphins

“It’s twofold,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had an interception against Tampa Bay and a forced fumble, which was recovered by teammate Roman Harper, in the season opener against Atlanta. “The first part is, the coaches are putting us in positions where we’re able to get those plays and make those plays happen from a scheme standpoint.

“Secondly, the players are making them. I don’t think we have many dropped interceptions this year, so all the opportunities that are coming, we’re taking advantage of. If we can continue to do that, that puts us on pace to be pretty good in the turnover category and that helps our team tremendously.

“You get (quarterback) Drew Brees more attempts and more drives, that elevates our opportunity to win the game.”

And, yes, it’s a little reminiscent of “that” year.

When the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, they forced 39 turnovers. They had 26 interceptions and five were returned for touchdowns. But this defense, said Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod, doesn’t gamble as much as did that defense. Bushrod was a starter for the Saints that year.

“(This year’s team gives) you a lot of different things, a lot of different looks and that is what is catching a lot of people off guard,” Bushrod said. “You have to do whatever works and they are hammering it home right now.

“As offenses are going to face them they have to just try to identify their looks and keep the ball rolling and identifying and communicating, and just fighting to be on the same page. Because I can see how they can confuse a lot of teams with some of their things.”

The confusion has led to opportunity and production, the kind the Bears defense has become known for, and that the Saints have been pretty good at themselves.

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