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John DeShazier: Saints defense still trying to get better

After slow start it has played better last four games

In the season opener, on the road against Atlanta, the New Orleans Saints allowed 37 points, 568 yards and 8.2 yards per play in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Falcons.

In its most recent game, the Saints defense yielded 10 points, 231 yards and 4.2 yards per play in a 28-10 road victory over Carolina.

In the opener, the Saints forced a turnover and produced one sack. Against Carolina, it caused two turnovers and registered four sacks.

The stark contrast is an encapsulation of what the Saints defense was in the first four games, and what it became in the next four.

Opponents tuned up the Saints to the melody of 396 yards per game in the first four, and the Saints mustered five sacks and one turnover. In the next four, 345 yards per game were allowed and the unit conjured eight turnovers and 12 sacks.

So, entering Sunday's noon game against San Francisco in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the defense of the Saints (4-4) may not be quite what it wants to be this season, but it also doesn't appear to be what it used to be.

And it's looking for more against San Francisco (4-4).

"We've got to get better and that's our whole thing, we want to get better," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Friday. "We started slow – in the preseason we were slow, coming out of the gate we were slow, but we're getting better. We want to get better every week.

"Our guys are buying in. They've got great leadership with (linebacker) Curtis (Lofton) and (safety) Kenny (Vaccaro), these guys are really taking control. I think our defense looks different because we know how it looks when it's not right. We're better than that and we need to be better than that. We're working as hard as we can to get everything right."

The fact that they haven't approached the defensive success level of last year's 11-5 regular season (305.7 yards allowed per game) hasn't deterred the Saints, who have won three of their last four games.

"We don't want to resemble," outside linebacker Junior Galette said. "You want to surpass the defense you were last year even though the numbers might not indicate that.

"But I feel like the momentum that we have going toward the end of the season is more important than anything else. You've just got to get the momentum in November and make this great run, hit our stride at the right time."

That can't be achieved, and the present turnaround couldn't have, without the right kind of players, Ryan said. It's a unit that truly believed it would improve amid the struggles.

"I think you stay confident because you've got the right players," Ryan said. "We've got the right players. We weren't functioning the right way, together, but we definitely had the right players.

"We just need to play better together, keep improving. We're not satisfied by any stretch. We're a long way from where we want to be and where we're going to be."

Galette said it was difficult to stay positive when the success isn't happening.

"But that's why you've got a lot of guys that came here to play, a lot of chip-on-their-shoulder guys," he said. "A lot of guys have a chip on their shoulders who want to lead the team and want to make sure that you have a positive attitude. But it is hard.

"But you've got to understand, I say it all the time and as common as it sounds, tough times never last. Tough people do. We've lasted through those hard times and now it has made us stronger."

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