The Saints' defense allowed 18.3 more yards per game in the regular season than it did during the 2008 campaign, but it made seven more sacks and forced 17 more turnovers in '09 after head coach Sean Payton decided to hire Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator in the offseason.
Williams has received a great deal of credit for the defense's more opportunistic display since he took over following the firing of Gary Gibbs. His pressure-oriented scheme was on full display in the Saints' 45-14 playoff win over the Cardinals on Jan. 17, as New Orleans flustered an Arizona offense that scored 51 points in a game six days earlier vs. Green Bay. Heading into the Saints' divisional playoff win, however, Williams said too much has been made of his scheme.
"I get way too much credit for X's and O's," he said. "My specialty is dealing with difficult people and helping change culture. I think Mickey (Loomis) and Sean (Payton) have done a great job here. I've helped in a couple ways on my side of the ball, a couple of guys that had to understand how things were going to be done, but for the most part, this is a really, really good locker-room team, a really good leadership team.
"… I manage people and I manage decisions. That's kind of my specialty. I've got to try to help them make better decisions. I can't affect what mom and dad gave them in the gene pool that much. I can't affect how hard they play and the total team buy-in."
There clearly is still room for improvement on Williams' unit, particularly vs. the run — the Saints allowed almost 140 yards per game on the ground in their final 11 games of the regular season, and Cardinals RB Tim Hightower broke free for a 70-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the divisional-round win. Important personnel decisions await Payton and Loomis, but Williams said he's happy with the depth he's working with now.
"I have people standing on the sidelines with a frown on their face, pissed off because they're not playing as much as when they got a chance to play when some of the guys were injured or hurt," he said. "That's a good situation because competition makes us all better."