Steve Spagnuolo's defense struggles in red zone - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Steve Spagnuolo's defense struggles in red zone

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Metairie, La. - Throughout most of the season, the silver lining for the Saints defense was their red zone defense but against the Giants, they allowed four touchdowns in five attempts.  Steve Spagnuolo discussed the 52-27 beat down with the media Monday and the following is a copy of that conversation, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:

Opening Statement: "Obviously, it was a rough day yesterday. I did like the way they came out at the beginning and started the game (defensively). I'll break it down first half and second half. First half, it was solid except for the two-minute drive at the end which we have to be better at. In the second half there are a lot of things you can look at, but to me we didn't play good enough in the red zone and there was a stretch of three straight third down plays that they converted and we didn't stop. I think it was a third-and-one, a third-and-two, a third-and-six, third-and eight and I forget what the other one was. You're not going to play a perfect game, you're not going to go up there and stop them on every play. I think it comes down to playing better in the red zone in the second half and making some stops on third down. I will say this, and I always say this about those guys, I just got done visiting with them right now (and) I love the character of these guys. They never stop fighting, never. Every one of them. I'm proud of that fact and I know they'll continue to do that."

How hard is it for a defense to play more than half of its snaps on its own side of the field?

"What I said to the guys just now was we've had our struggles and when the other phases struggle, we have to somehow find a way to rise up. If that means playing a perfect game, that's what we've got to do. It's hard to be perfect but if that's what our team needs us to do, that's what we need to do. (We need to) Somehow find a way to make them kick field goals. Tough duty, that's a good football team. We all know that."

Did you feel that the defense controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half?

"I know we were doing well in the run game. Now, controlling the line of scrimmage, there are two phases there: stopping the run and putting some pressure on the quarterback and we needed to do a little bit better job at that. Even when I go back and look at it, you can't blitz every down because that'll get you in a little bit of trouble and you saw at the end of the game they were trying to make a play and get a negative play and it pops out and that's the risk that you run. So you don't want to do that all game and yet, somehow, you have to find a way to get the quarterback to pull it down and hit him a little bit. We pressured him a couple of times and actually hit him, bumped him. We didn't really get the big hit on him. Obviously we didn't get the sacks, we need to do a better job there."

Does the scenario allow for younger guys to get some reps for the remainder of the season?

"I'll be honest with you, my mind has not gone that way yet. I'm just coming off dissecting the film, getting headed toward Tampa Bay. I don't think it's our nature, it's not my nature, to think that way. By that I mean, I think we'll do the best things for the football team to win a game this Sunday."

But could younger guys that maybe get 18-20 reps per game get closer to 25 or more per game for example?

"We'll see. There could be some merit to that but again, if it fits in what we're doing game-wise, if it helps us beat Tampa Bay, I think that we would do that."

What is your assessment of Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker and Martez Wilson?

"That's a good group of guys you're bringing up there. Akiem had a couple of struggles that are coming in to my mind right now, in yesterday's game. It was a little bit up-and-down yesterday although through the course of most of the season I think he has been on that kind of track which is encouraging. Walker is a tough nut, he's working. I think he's going to be a pretty good football player. Some time will tell here. And you mentioned Martez. He's been (an) ongoing development. We all know he switched positions and I still think he is finding his sea legs as a defensive end. When you add up the number of reps, it's not like he's out there 50-60 snaps a game. If you add them all up, maybe it's a three game total, like he was a starter for three games. I love having him out there. Martez is passionate about the game of football. He loves being out there. We had to work through some things early because it was all new to him. I think we've gotten better. I think he would have liked to have had a few more pressures or a sack in there somewhere yesterday but that didn't happen."

The defense played really well in the past two weeks, did the unit take a step back in the game against the Giants?

"A little bit. I don't have those notes with me but one of my points in the meeting this morning (was that) I did remind them that we are the same group that held San Francisco to 17 points. That's a good offense. We went to Atlanta and certainly were very good on third down and (held them) under 300 yards. My point to them was that we're the same group of guys that fared pretty well two weeks ago, some weeks before that, Philadelphia, I can pull out some games, and yet we didn't play well enough yesterday so it was a little bit of a step backwards. I think that just gives us a little more determination this week to regain that and go forward."

What role did momentum have on the struggles in the second half?

"There is an ebb-and-flow to the game but one of the things good football teams do is they don't let, especially defenses and I think defensive football players have to think this way, that you can't let what goes on out there in the other two phases affect you. Offensively, it has to because if you're ahead or behind. Defensively, our job, it doesn't matter what the score is. I just firmly believe this; when we go out there our job doesn't change. We can't let that stuff affect us. Now, we are all human so you'll have to ask the players if it affected them. One thing I know about this football team, they have great confidence in our offense. Even though things may go the other way, even against us, they certainly expect our offense to rebound and we would like to rebound for our offense and special teams as well."

Can you talk about the performance of Elbert Mack?

"I'll tell you, that was a nice play he made. I remember we had to let him go and then we brought him back and that was hard to do. He has fought his way through. I am happy to see his success. It was very similar to the one in Oakland where he got hurt, he made that same play. It was great to see him catch it and get in the end zone, I was happy for him on that."

Facing Tampa Bay's offense again, what are the challenges there? What about the young running back Doug Martin?

"It's interesting because their offensive coordinator (Mike Sullivan) came from the Giants so I think there will be, I've just watched a little bit of their Philadelphia game yesterday, a little bit of carry-over in the offense. I think that's good in a way. At this point in the season, you don't get as many reps in practice as you normally would. They'll have a wrinkle or two that are different than the Giants but they've got a quality quarterback and a good running back with receivers that you have to worry about. There is the package when you are trying to defend them. You can't concentrate on one phase. I think they will present problems for us. I'm trying to go back and remember the first game. I know we played a lot of red zone plays, I remember that about the game. I remember the ending. We found a way to win which is a good thing. Right now, we're just kind of focused on fixing what happened yesterday, putting it to bed and moving forward."

Can you talk about Isa Abdul-Quddus?

"One thing about Isa, he's one of those guys that every football team needs as many as you can get. That is a guy that doesn't get a lot of reps during the week because he's backing somebody up and yet when somebody goes down in the game, he's able to go in there and, especially at that position where he has to manage a little bit of the game with coverages and what-not, and really do a good job with it. That's a credit to him because even though he is not getting all of the looks during the week (and) he was able to function pretty effectively. He came up with that nice interception that helped us. I'm sure he'll tell you that he'd like to have a couple of tackles back and do better there. I think he did a solid job of going in there and filling in for Malcolm (Jenkins)."

Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman lost 20-25 pounds over the offseason and he has played better in the second half of games this year. Thinking about the positives, is there anything that he is doing special right now?

"Even though he lost 20 pounds, he's still pretty big to me. That's a big quarterback. The league, I guess, is headed that way. These athletic quarterbacks that can also throw the ball are a real threat. He's one of those guys, a big guy that can stand in the pocket and play big and throw the ball down field with some good receivers. Yet, if you let loose as a defensive linemen group and don't have a little bit of pass rush integrity, he can hurt you with his feet. I haven't seen a lot of their games since we played them the first time so I can't comment on what he's been doing there. I certainly will be digging into it as I leave here. I know what he's all about, I've faced him before. He's another quarterback that's really good at the end of the game and they do really good things with him. I think it will be a challenge for our guys. We've played them before which helps a little bit with regards to knowing the personnel and now we have to fix some of the things that happened yesterday and move forward and hopefully it will be positive."

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