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New Orleans Saints secondary depth has been a primary reason for unit's steady play as season has progressed

'We have guys that could be starting anywhere'

See the best moments from the Saints Defense in the Week 13 match up against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

There's an obvious level of concern when entering a game in today's NFL without a starting defensive back, which means the angst only multiplies when it's done without two.

Unless, maybe, you're the New Orleans Saints, and you operate under the premise that you have seven starters. At least.

The five regulars are cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Jackrabbit Jenkins, safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Williams and defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, a corner/nickel/safety who does a little bit of everything.

But dig deeper, and note that New Orleans has been almost just as dependent on nickel/corner Patrick Robinson and safety/corner P.J. Williams to fill in when any of the top five is missing.

Robinson and P.J. Williams started at corner against Detroit when Lattimore and Jenkins were out with injuries. Robinson, in fact, has started four times – including both games against Atlanta, when he filled in for an injured Lattimore in the first game and stepped in for a banged by Jackrabbit Jenkins in the second – and has two interceptions this season, both in the end zone.

When Jackrabbit Jenkins missed the second Falcons game and Robinson exited early with a hamstring injury, Williams, who mainly has played safety this season, went in at cornerback and recovered a fumble, defended a pass at the goal line in the second quarter – the Saints held Atlanta to a field goal on the possession – and had two tackles.

See the best moments from the Saints Defense in the Week 13 match up against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"Last week, it was one injury and then a second one later in the week, and all of a sudden now, you're getting ready to play a team like Atlanta with their skill at receiver," Coach Sean Payton said. "It's a throwing league and if you just watch the formations everybody is in, there's a lot of one-back, three-receiver sets. That's going to require, at times, more defensive backs."

And it's going to require that they be up to the task. The Saints appear to have a sufficient number of them.

Defensive backs have accounted for 12 of the team's 13 interceptions and 42 of the 57 passes defensed. P.J. Williams has come up with two of the Saints' three fumble recoveries and the group is a physical one – behind linebacker Demario Davis' team-leading 85 tackles, the next four players on the list are Malcolm Jenkins (63 tackles), Gardner-Johnson (53), Marcus Williams (50) and Lattimore (48).

Marcus Williams, who's tied with Jenkins for the team lead with three interceptions, said having Robinson, P.J. Williams and others to lean on is comforting for the secondary.

"We have guys that could be starting anywhere," Marcus Williams said. "They come in each and every game, and each and every practice they prepare as if they're starters. And that's how we look at it.

"Everybody in our secondary room is a starter, so everybody prepares like a starter and everybody is ready to go. If somebody goes down, it's a next man up mentality and that's just the type of environment, that's the type of culture we build back here."

Likely, it's easier to prepare as a starter when, literally, you have been a starter. P.J. Williams has started 24 of the 58 NFL games he has played, including eight last season. Robinson has started 62 of his 123 games, and won a Super Bowl with Philadelphia in 2017, when he intercepted four passes, totaled 18 passes defensed and was one of the best slot corners in the league.

"Yeah, I think we've got really some of the best backups in the league," said Malcom Jenkins, who was Robinson's teammate with the Eagles in '17. "I think Patrick Robinson is a great example of that, somebody who is a first round pick, played a lot of football in this league and really could start on the majority of teams in this league.

"But he is a backup for us and comes in and I think he has got just as much ball production as any of the corners we have. So that helps us obviously, when we're trying to, and especially with the defense we have, we play a lot of man and man (looks).

"We need guys that can go up and cover and so when we lose somebody, having backups like that, that can come in and not lose a step, is key to what we do."

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