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Saints DE Smith says scheme limiting sack production

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Dan Parr
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Posted Oct. 28, 2011 @ 4:30 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The most productive season of Saints DE Will Smith's career coincided with the team's run to the Super Bowl in 2009. He made a career-high 13 sacks that season, which was also Gregg Williams' first as the team's defensive coordinator, but Smith has only eight sacks in the 20 games in which he has played since then.

Sacks aren't always a fair indication of how a pass rusher is performing, and Smith told PFW he thinks his production in that area has been significantly affected by New Orleans' defensive system.

"I know based upon the way our scheme is, it can be difficult at times for an end to get a sack because we don't have the normal amount of snaps that a normal end has at just pure pass-rushing the tackle to get to the quarterback," Smith explained. "We have so many different packages and we do so many different things defensively, it doesn't give us that opportunity. One minute we'll be in the three-technique. The next minute it will be a four-man rush and then the next minute it will be a three-man rush.

"We're not a team like Indianapolis where those guys are going to get, out of the plays they play, they're going to be rushing the passer on at least 85 percent of them. We don't have those types of opportunities. We don't four-man rush as much as we did before. The opportunities are still there, but there are not as many opportunities as there would be if we were a traditional 4-3 defense."

A review of sack totals for defenses coordinated by Williams, who runs a blitz-heavy scheme, shows that he has coached defenses ranked at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of the league in sacks, but his defenses were ranked 13th or lower in sacks in six of the past seven seasons, and the Saints are ranked 16th in that department this season.

Williams has bounced around a bit, going from Washington (2004-07) to Jacksonville (2008) before joining the Saints in 2009. His defense finished in the top five in sacks in two different seasons when he was the coordinator in Tennessee (1997-2000), The Redskins ranked ninth in sacks in 2004 in his first season after three years as the Bills' head coach (2001-03), but Smith is one of only two players (the other is Andre Carter, who had 10½ sacks in '07) to have a double-digit sack season in Williams' defense since he left Buffalo and went to Washington.

Smith, who accounts for 25 percent of the Saints' sacks since the start of '09, said it's still possible to be a very productive pass rusher in New Orleans' scheme, but added that it's probably not a good fit for players more worried about their own numbers than wins.

"You always want more, but at the end of the day, you have to play in the scheme of the defense and this defense has won us a lot of games and won us a Super Bowl and our ultimate goal is to continue to win a lot of games and win another Super Bowl," Smith said. " … We know we're limited on the sack plays, but also, we know that we can still make a lot of plays and still be a very productive player in that scheme. It doesn't hinder your (total) production, it just maybe hinders your pass-rush abilities at times."

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