How the Saints found their niche on defense and emerged as one of the NFL’s best units

The Saints felt close. It wasn’t like the defense was blowing every single coverage and lacked talent. The performances weren’t consistently poor, but a big play here, too much time in the pocket there, and the inability to get a linebacker in the flat now and then will undermine your talent when those things are happening every game. “We’ve done a great job of eliminating, for the most part, the big chunk plays,” coach Sean Payton said. “And then I just think that, overall, we found a niche. Some of it is in nickel, some of it is in dime, some of its been in an odd-spacing look. But the rush and the coverage are playing awfully well together.” After the slow start, Payton said the coaches had to look at everything they were doing on defense and how those things were being taught. So, the question is, what changed, and is it sustainable? Here is one attempt to answer those questions.

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