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Steve Spagnuolo Breaks Down Defensive Performance, Previews 49ers

Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo met with the media on Monday to review the defensive performance against the Raiders and to discuss facing the 49ers offense


New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Steve SpagnuoloMedia AvailabilityMonday, November 19, 2012

Opening Statement: "(The Raiders game) was a really gratifying win. I thought the players and their approach was really good. I would like to remove the first two plays of the game and then say after that I thought our first three series which finished in stops, the third one being Malcolm Jenkins' interception for a touchdown, was a good way to start the game.

"At the end of the first half, it wasn't lost on me that the sack by Will Smith was really big. I have always said to our defense that the first and last series that we play in either half is vitally important. The way you begin the game and end the half and the way you begin the second half and end the game. I thought that sack at the end of the first half was big.

"I thought we got a little sloppy in the second half with some of our tackling. We will clean that up. I thought we tackled really well last week and part of (the Raiders game), but I thought it got a little sloppy later on in the second half. I just think we need to play a little bit better on that last drive. That's just me. I am kind of greedy. I know the situation calls for you to play a certain way. I just thought we could have been a little more aggressive. Maybe I should have called it a little more aggressive. I just don't like seeing them get in the end zone like that at the end. Other than that, I credit the players and assistant coaches for doing a nice of preparing for that game.

"I think (Raiders) are going to be a good football team. They have some players there and Dennis (Allen) is doing a good job. I have a lot of respect for (Carson Palmer). I know they had their running backs out, but I think they are going to be pretty good.

"We are right on to probably the biggest challenge we have had to this point. We have had a lot of them but San Francisco's offense is pretty good."

I know the players have a sense of pride when they get stops in the redzone but how do you feel when it happens?

"Same thing. I will say what I said last week – I would prefer to do that out at the 50-yard line or their 40 and get the ball back. We are facing good offenses and these are good football teams we are playing. They are going to move the ball a little bit. It happens to every defense. When you keep them out of the end zone and either make them kick field goals or either more of a bonus in getting a turnover – that's huge. Our guys have really embraced and accepted what we are doing down there. I credit them for being successful down there.""

How much does it help that you have limited space to cover in the red zone?

"I think so and everybody talks about that. The field shrinks for the offense and then you play a certain way defensively. I think our guys are pretty good at it right now."

Where you are now with the Saints defense, did you think it would take this long? Are we now seeing the results of the players understanding everything?

"Every situation is different. I do think this season has gone a certain way for a lot of different reasons in my opinion and yet we have been able to overcome certain hurdles to get to the point where we are now. It's not a finished product I think if you asked every player and every coach on defense I think they would tell you that there is still a lot in there that we would be doing better at. At least that's the way I feel. We coach for our guys to be perfect. They practice and play to be perfect. Some day when it gets perfect maybe we will be able to rest. That will probably never happen. It's an unfinished product. We have a long way to go. All we will do is worry about what San Francisco does and try and come up with a pretty good plan against them."

Can you talk about Akiem Hicks and the progress he has made? Seems like every week he makes a big play…

"He does. He shows up doesn't he? He made the good play on the goal line. He is a big guy that loves to play. I love his passion. He goes 100 miles an hour. He doesn't always do everything right but he finds a way to do enough good things. We are trying to play him more and more. I think (Defensive Line coaches) Bill (Johnson) and Travis (Jones) have done a good job with him."

How much does a guy who played in Canada need to show progress early compared to a guy who played at a school like Oklahoma?

"Akiem has kind of had a different journey. He started out at LSU. He got a little exposure there. He ended up in Canada so the football was a little bit different. I think there was a huge learning curve just from that standpoint. I think our coaches have done a good job and I think the players around him – guys like Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis who have been in the league for a while - have helped him along. He is progressing. A guy like that who has come up that way, every single rep is important to him whether it's in practice or a game. He keeps building on that, which is good."

Is there any correlation in the improved defense and getting your linebackers healthy, particularly Jonathan Vilma?

"I think so. I think you hit the nail on the head. Let's face it – any defense is better with Jonathan Vilma in there. I go back to the topic of him and Curtis (Lofton) working together. They have really functioned well together. I could see it on the film this morning. They are interacting as they are coming out and they are helping each other with the calls. There are some checks that need to be made by the Mike linebacker. Curtis does a great job on his own but to have another guy to lean on and somebody that might see one side of the football while he is looking at the other has been good. Jonathan played a good number of players yesterday, which was good to see. He had the big sack. Nobody does that better than Jonathan, where he came on that particular play."

Will you go back and look at the playoff game the Saints played against the 49ers last year?

"We will take a peek at it. I have actually put in cutups of the two games we played against them last year in St. Louis. I think they will see it as that scheme. We will look at them, the playoff game and certainly the games they are playing right now. I have a lot of respect for Jim (Harbaugh) and what he has done. They tend to have different wrinkles every game. Some that you aren't really going to know about. Hopefully just basic, fundamental football will take care of that. They are a challenge – that's a good football team."

Having faced the 49ers twice last year when you were with the Rams, what do you point to as the keys to how they quickly turned the performance of that team around?

"I will tell you this – I thought they have always had really good talent. I don't know what the answer is. I know Jim is a good football coach and they went in there and did some good things so you have to credit him. They have always and still continue to play really good defense. That defense keeps them in every game. They are really smart with what they do on offense. They run the ball really effectively with different kind of schemes. Every time we put on the tape, he always puts in a different wrinkle. There are a couple of wrinkles that we have to be prepared for that we will have not seen on film. They are that good."

What makes Vernon Davis such a dynamic tight end?

"He is a big physical guy that can run. He is athletic. There are a lot of those guys in this league now. I think their other tight end (Delanie Walker) is pretty good too. Walker can run. Both of those guys can run. They bring another dimension to that offense where you don't know if they are putting those guys out there to throw the ball or if they are putting them in there to run the ball. You have to pick your spots in what you do. He can affect the football game just like (Rob Gronkowski) does."

Can you talk about the play of your starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper?

"I love working with both of those guys. They have embraced it. They function really well with the corners. Sometimes it takes a little time. Roman has a really good feel for the game. It just seems wherever you put him he has a good feel. Malcolm has a good understanding of it. He has a lot of pride in being back there and running the show. You have to have safeties that are willing to do that and that are verbal and assertive to get everybody else lined up."

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