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John DeShazier: Saints preaching less will be more on defense

The defensive mantra entering the offseason remained firmly in place through organized team activities and the New Orleans Saints' three-day minicamp that concluded Thursday.

Simply, the chorus is that less will be more.

Last year, the scheme involved volume and multiplicity and last year, players agreed that paralysis by analysis perhaps helped produce a defensive nosedive, from No. 4 overall in 2013 in yards allowed per game (305.7) to No. 31 last year (384), and from No. 4 (19) in points allowed per game to No. 28 (26.5).

This offseason, the focus has been on reduction and simplification. The end game is that a pared down scheme will help eliminate clutter, allow players to attack without the hindrance of wondering as much about what is the assignment on a given play.

"Yes, to improve execution, reduce the variables, reduce the quantity, the amount that we are doing, I think that is something we talked a lot about in the offseason," Coach Sean Payton said. "It is something that we have to do.

"You are playing snaps in man or snaps in zone but in order to play with speed, improving the fundamentals and all the little things, I think you have to look closely at the amount and if you can reduce the amount I think you have a good chance at improving the efficiency."

And it's not so much that the Saints have to produce a stream of turnovers, though that also is one of the areas of improvement that the team hopes to make defensively.

Two years ago, when New Orleans finished 11-5, it forced 19 turnovers and committed 19. Last year, the 7-9 Saints forced 17 turnovers. But offensively, the Saints committed 30 turnovers – the minus-13 ratio was second-worst in the league – and those extra opportunities played a large part in the defensive slippage.

So, too, did the fact that defensively, the Saints weren't sparkling in a few other self-help areas. Because while turnovers forced essentially remained even from the previous season, sacks plummeted from 49 in 2013 to 34 last year, and opponents' third-down conversion rate jumped from 34.2 percent in '13, fifth-best in the league, to 46 percent in '14, second-worst.

From those numbers sprang the belief that a simpler approach might be helpful.

"We're trying to do some things differently schematically to up those chances of getting turnovers," safety Rafael Bush said. "We're just learning this new defense that we're running and it's working well and we're trying to work on emphasizing getting more turnovers.

"It's always going to be beneficial when you can go out there and just play fast. Last year, we had a lot of calls and there were a lot of busted plays. That's no blame on anybody but ourselves, but with this new scheme we're putting in, things have been a lot easier. When you can play fast, that's when you can make your plays."

It's not totally a foreign look for some Saints. In fact, cornerback Brandon Browner said – at least in the secondary – it's a similar look to one he has played.

"We're running pretty much what Seattle has run over the last three years," he said. "Make it simple – man to man and Cover 3. Use your guys and their ability. We're tall guys who can play man-to-man coverage with some speed and length to stay over the top of these guys when we're asked to play Cover 3."

It's a scheme that's drawing rave reviews throughout the locker room.

"As far as for me, playing faster and just honing in on making plays, it's a lot easier in this defense," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "You can be more aggressive. You don't have to think as much. When you get tired, that's when the mental errors come but if it's simple and there's not as much thinking, you can just play fast."

Playing fast, and doing fewer things but doing them better, is the goal.

"I've seen a little bit of a change," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "It's more of a focus on the smaller things whereas last year, it was like, 'Let's install a lot of things, give them a lot of different looks.' Multiplicity was the content for last year.

"This year, it's more like let's get back to the finer things in life, let's get back to pressing. If we're going to do this today, let's work on this today instead of let's work on everything."

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