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Big plays, routine plays: Alex Anzalone becoming do-it-all defender for New Orleans Saints

'I think coaches do a good job putting us in good positions to make plays'


Alex Anzalone isn't making it easy for his coaches to rest him, or use him as a rotational player.

The New Orleans Saints' second-year linebacker has shown he can cause a game-changing fumble, as he did shortly before halftime against Minnesota, which teammate Marshon Lattimore recovered and returned 54 yards, setting the Saints up to score a touchdown and take a 17-13 halftime lead. New Orleans went on to win 30-20.

He has shown he can snag a momentum-keeping interception, a full-stretch special against the Rams that set up a touchdown to give the Saints a 35-14 lead in their eventual 45-35 victory.

He has shown the ability to get to the passer; his bulldozer sack of Cincinnati's Andy Dalton – Anzalone's first of the season and the second of his career – helped the Saints slam shut the door on the Bengals in a 51-14 victory.

And those are just the plays that jump off the page; they don't address the every-down reliability that he has shown, and continues to display, this season.

"He's got real good instincts, and I think that's almost a must at that position," Coach Sean Payton said. "It's something that helps him tremendously. He's got good ball skills, I think he plays in space very well.

"I've saw this step in the last two to three weeks to where it's hard for us to say we're not keeping him on the field the whole time. And yet, we're being smart with that."

Smart, as they continue to explore the depths of what Anzalone can do.

They were getting a feel for that last season, when he was an opening-game starter and in four games, registered a sack, a pass defensed and 16 tackles. But in the fourth game, against Miami at Wembley Stadium in London, he left with a season-ending shoulder injury.

While the Saints were in the second-game of an eight-game winning streak, and went on to win the NFC South Division and their Wild Card playoff game, Anzalone was relegated to a spot in the background.

"I'd go do rehab in the morning, go to all the meetings, and then get a lift in or whatever during practice last year," he said. "But I'd go to all the home games. Away games I wouldn't travel, but that's pretty much the extent of how much I was involved."

This year, he's been in the middle of the action for the Saints (8-1), who have won eight straight entering Sunday's game against Philadelphia (4-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Obviously, the view this year is preferable to the view last year.

"Yes," he said. "I guess the answer would be yes. I do feel a lot more part of it playing rather than sitting on the sidelines."

Just as clear as been his impact. This season, Anzalone has two quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, a pass defensed, 29 tackles and a tackle for loss.

"I just want to do my part," he said. "I think coaches do a good job putting us in good positions to make plays. I think that you just have to execute and the plays will come if you're there. So just being (in) the right spot at the right time, making the right move at the right times."

Being available, and being knowledgeable.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is able to use Anzalone's talents because of those traits, and the game is slowing down for Anzalone.

"I think I'm playing multiple positions on the defense," he said. "Last year, I don't think I would be able to do that just because being a rookie, coming into a new system, coming into the NFL, it's definitely hard to do. But this year I'm able to do that and be used differently in different ways."

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