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John DeShazier: Simplifying game plan worked for Saints defense against Vikings

Team played faster and executed better

The beauty came in the simplicity for the New Orleans Saints defense against Minnesota.

That's not to say the unit was overloaded with information in games against Atlanta and Cleveland. The Saints forced a punt and a turnover on Atlanta's first two possessions and produced two three-and-outs in the second half of the high-scoring game, and held Cleveland to 324 yards and kept the Browns under 50 percent (7 for 16) on third-down conversions.

But those losses – 37-34 in overtime to Atlanta, and 26-24 on a field goal with three seconds remaining to Cleveland – were marked by defensive miscommunications and the inability to capitalize on "situational" football (eight times, the Falcons and Browns converted on third down plays of 6 yards or more).

Defensively against the Vikings, the Saints weren't perfect in a 20-9 victory. But they were substantially better, allowing three field goals, forcing Minnesota to settle for two field goals after it reached the red zone and limiting the Vikings to 247 yards.

Saints defensive players, and Coach Sean Payton, said some of the success was attributable to the fact that defensively, the Saints reduced the plan.

"It's a fine line, but it can be blurry if the ends don't justify the means," Payton said. "It needs to be clear, it needs to be simplified. With that, you reduce variation and you reduce the variables that go into execution. I thought we did a good job that way. I thought (defensive coordinator) Rob (Ryan) and the staff did a good job.

"One thing we tried to do was, try to look at reduction. I think the whole emphasis during the work week was the situational play, the communication and us being a smarter team, and trying to create those situations. And the same thing applied offensively."

It worked, to the tune of the Saints (1-2) winning their regular-season home opener and entering this week's preparation for the Sunday night game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas with a victory to build on.

"We just wanted to play our stuff, stuff that we were comfortable with, stuff that we could play fast," safety Kenny Vaccaro said.

"The best defenses around the league, that's what they do. They stick to their stuff, they stick to what they know. You stick with stuff like that, you play faster and you execute."

Said cornerback Keenan Lewis: "When you know what you're doing, exactly, knowing what you have to do instead of guessing out there (and) waiting for it to come to you, you can attack and make the game easier, because you can play faster."

The Saints figure to need more of that against Dallas. Last week, in a 34-31, comeback victory against St. Louis, the Cowboys (2-1) fell behind the Rams 21-0 before quarterback Tony Romo (18 for 23 for 217 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception) led Dallas to the biggest comeback in regulation in franchise history.

"Tony Romo is one of the best quarterbacks as far as scrambling, keeping a play alive," Lewis said. "So we have to be on our communication. Our communication has got to be great this week because if not, it could be a disaster."

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