Photos of defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. New Orleans Saints photos.
As you might imagine, several of today's mailbag questions deal with the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator change, from Rob Ryan to Dennis Allen. Rather than address each of those questions individually, I pulled out a couple because many were similar. If your question wasn't used, please don't view that as rejection. Likely, the answer to your question will be found somewhere in the answers provided.
As always, thanks for the submissions. Now, on to the questions:
Q: How do you think the Saints will do with Dennis Allen as the defensive coordinator?
Q: Will the Saints defense get any better now?
A: I'm not much into issuing guarantees, but I'm inclined to say that the defense will be better due to simple logic: It has nowhere to go but up. It already is last in the league in the two most critical statistics, points and yards allowed. So, if the Saints allow less than an average of 31.5 points and 424.7 yards per game in the final six, that would be an improvement. This defense won't morph into the Steel Curtain of the 1970s, or even the Seahawks of the last two years, in the last six games. But if it can get to the area where it allows a reasonable amount of points – maybe 20 to 24 – that will certainly give the Saints a better chance to win with this offense. Sure, the offense hasn't been perfect and has sputtered from time to time this season, but it can't be expected to score 28 or 31 points every week in order to be in position to win. When it needed to score 52 in order to hold off the Giants and their 49 points, it was an entertaining game, but unsettling the defense.
Q: Do you think the Saints will retain Dennis Allen next year as defensive coordinator, or only through the remainder of the season?
A: That could be dependent on a couple of things. First, if the unit shows improvement and the Saints finish on a high note, there would be no reason to not believe he wouldn't deserve a chance to begin the 2016 season as the defensive coordinator. Second, if it shows marginal improvement but the belief is that Allen needs to have his kind of players to fit his system, then he could be retained while the Saints seek to find and implement those players.
Q: Why did they put the guy in charge of our "great" secondary in charge of the whole defense?
A: Actually, Allen wasn't the secondary coach. The secondary coach is Wesley McGriff. Allen was senior defensive assistant and while he had input in the defense, he didn't specifically coach the secondary. Why was he put in charge? The best theory is that Coach Sean Payton believes that Allen better will be able to put players in position to play to their strengths. He was effective as defensive coordinator with the Broncos (they improved 12 spots in overall defense and eight spots in points allowed in his one season, 2011). Having had a chance to evaluate many of these players from outside and inside the organization, perhaps he has a different philosophy on how they better can be deployed.
Q: Do you think the Saints defense will play aggressively with Dennis Allen as the DC?
A: I just can't answer that one with any certainty, because I don't know how Allen views the pieces with which he has to play. We can only surmise that he won't ask them to do what they already have been doing, because that hasn't worked. If Allen doesn't believe his corners can hold up in man-to-man, he might choose to scrap much of that and go zone, and force opponents to nickel-and-dime their way down the field, trusting that they'll make a mistake during a 10-play drive. If he feels pressure is the best way, maybe he'll blitz more in the effort to force turnovers and errant throws. I think it just depends on what kind of players he feels he has, and what are their strengths.
Q: What is the most surprising/disappointing aspect about this team?
A: The pleasant surprise has been receiver Willie Snead. Entering training camp, odds were low that he'd even make the team. He was on the depth chart behind more established receivers, veteran receivers and younger receivers who were deemed to have more potential. But all he did was catch everything thrown in his direction, learn the offense like the back of his hand and do almost everything right. Now, he's third in receptions (41), second in receiving yards (626) and touchdown catches (three) and a player whom Drew Brees trusts. The most disappointing thing, obviously, is the defense. Again, there was no expectation that it would be a shut-down unit. But it seemed, coming into the season, that it would at least be middle-of-the-pack. The fact that it has been worse than bad – statistically, it's the worst in the league in those major statistics – has been a stunner.
Q: Is Marques Colston done as a wide out or does he have another year in him?
A: Colston will be the first to tell you that he's disappointed in his season. Thirty-three catches for 393 yards and a touchdown used to be a three- or four-game run for him, not 10 games' worth of production. And yet, he remains in the gameday rotation and still has shown himself capable of big plays – a 53-yard touchdown against the Giants, a 20-yard, back-shoulder grab against the Colts that sealed the victory. Full disclosure: Colston is one of my favorite Saints players. So, obviously, I hope that he is productive the rest of this regular season. But I think he'll be the first one to know, and admit, when he feels he has given his best and can't contribute to the level he demands of himself any more.
Q: Have you heard anything about Pierre Thomas? Could we use him?
A: He was signed by San Francisco on Nov. 3, played one game (against the Falcons), and cut on Nov. 10. Currently, he's a free agent. He has been a free agent all season, so he has been available for New Orleans if the team wanted to go in that direction. I think the Saints are pretty satisfied with what they have at running back, even with Khiry Robinson lost to a season-ending injury. Mark Ingram (145 carries for 661 yards and five touchdowns), C.J. Spiller and Tim Hightower are fine as a rotation. Short-yardage efficiency has to get better, but that's as much attributable to offensive line play as it is to the running back.
Q: Could we see any other major personnel changes heading to the end of the season?
A: I don't think there'll be another firing, if that's what you're asking. Now, it's not inconceivable that a lineup change will occur; a player or two might be demoted from the starting lineup when the Saints return from the bye week. Every job isn't secure for players on a 4-6 team. But midseason staff changes are rare, much more so than week-to-week lineup changes.
Q: Why haven't the Saints used the 6-foot-6 Brandon Coleman in the red zone for jump ball passes/fades?
Q: What is the deal with Brandon Coleman? He's been productive when Sean Payton actually lets him play. He needs more snaps.
A: Snaps, and opportunities, are earned rather than just handed over. There were high hopes for Coleman entering this season, but apparently Willie Snead leapfrogged him in the pecking order at receiver, behind Brandin Cooks. Coleman has been productive in spots, but productivity also can be attributable to a defensive emphasis shading toward other targets in the passing game. Usually, the way a player plays and practices is a big determining factor in how much, or little, he plays and in how he is used. So, is Coleman carrying out all his assignments when he plays? Is he practicing hard? And if the Saints have attempted using him in jump-ball situations in practice, and the ploy hasn't been successful, is it one that they should feel comfortable implementing in games? Only the coaches know the answers to those questions.
Q: How much has the loss of Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer hurt the Saints defense?
A: Any time a team loses players of that caliber and character, it's a blow. But at some point, age, injury, salary and a decline in productivity might dictate that a team has to move in another direction. Vilma, Smith and Greer no longer are in the league; Harper (Carolina) and Jenkins (Philadelphia) remain productive players but when they were in New Orleans, Saints fans peppered each with criticism for his perceived shortcomings. Now, those same fans bemoan the fact that Harper and Jenkins were allowed to get away. It always is damaging when good players leave an organization via free agency, release or retirement. But NFL teams constantly are in a state of transition, hoping to find suitable replacements for the guys who depart.
Why did the Saints go and get C.J. Spiller? Why has our defense been a main problem for the last 10 years? Why are we so bad in the second half?
They got Spiller because he's a play-maker, and we've seen some examples of what he can do – the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Dallas, the game-tying touchdown inside the final minute against the Giants. Payton has said several times that he has to find more touches for Spiller; it's a delicate balance, but that process continues. The defense has been a problem because it simply hasn't been consistent enough. In the years it has been good, it has sacked quarterbacks and forced turnovers. In the years it hasn't, it hasn't done either of those things especially well. And as for why the Saints haven't been as good in the second half, I'm not sure if you're talking about the team overall or the defense in particular, so that one is kind of difficult to answer. Opposing offenses adjust at halftime and exploit weaknesses that may have been better disguised in the first half; that could be a possible explanation. But, again, it's tough to answer without more specificity.
Will @JohnDeShazier eventually learn that he shouldn't start his tweets with an @?
Anything is possible, but some things, less likely than others.