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Lattimore: Saints must turn around 'embarrassing' D

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NEW ORLEANS -- Two games into the 2018 regular season and it's almost deja vu for the Saints from a defensive statistical point of view.

In the same span last year, the Saints' defense ranked last in the league against the pass (388.5 yards allowed per game), last in total defense (512 yards per game) and 31st in points allowed (32.5).

Entering Week 3's game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints rank 29th against the pass (325.5), 29th in total defense (428), 30th in points allowed (33) and last in yards allowed per play (7).

The current defensive standings don't sit well with the 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

"We're at the bottom of the league right now," cornerback Marshon Lattimore told NFL.com. "Man, that's embarrassing. We just got to get it right. That's motivation enough just to see those numbers up on the board. We don't want to be known for being a terrible defense."

Given Lattimore's passionate response, it is easy to come away knowing there is a sense of pride among the core group of defensive players, all of whom proved last year it doesn't matter how things start, rather how everything finishes.

After the slow start in 2017, the Saints turned it around defensively as the season rolled on and entered Week 11 ranked seventh against the pass, eighth in total defense and fifth in points allowed.

At one point of the 2017 season, specifically Weeks 7-10, the Saints held opposing quarterbacks to 130.2 yards passing per game, and the defensive surge was one of the top reasons the team went 11-3 after starting 0-2 en route to the NFC South title and a postseason berth.

The Saints' defense slipped down the home stretch and finished the season ranked 15th against the pass, 17th in total defense and 10th in points allowed. The respectable numbers, however, provided optimism for a carryover when considering the unit remained mostly intact.

Linebacker Demario Davis, safety Kurt Coleman, nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson and rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport are the notable additions, while the remaining positions reflect the same personnel.

Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison is one of the carryovers from the past three seasons and he believes having the same foundation will prove beneficial for a turnaround given the experiences of the 2017 campaign.

"I think it helps a lot because we know we're capable of being a good defense and it sets the expectation higher," Davison told NFL.com. "I also think we're bringing everybody back -- I'm not saying we have this mindset -- but it can create a mindset that, 'Oh, we just got to show up and things are going to be like they were at the end of last year.'

"That's not the case here because you really have to work and we work just as hard as we worked last year on all the details to come together as a defense. We're doing that and I think we're going to be just fine."

Lattimore agreed emphatically.

"We know how to turn it around," Lattimore said. "We have a team full of dogs -- defense and offense -- so we know how to turn it around. We know what we got to do."

Meanwhile, the Saints' desire for a turnaround should start with eliminating big plays down the field.

Through two games, the Saints have allowed nine explosive passing plays, typically defined as a completion of 20 or more yards. Four of those incidents resulted in touchdowns, including three from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1.

The Saints allowed four explosive passing plays in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, one resulting in a 47-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, but came out with a 21-18 win.

All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan admitted Thursday to a group of reporters at his locker that he was hoping for a faster start on defense to the season. But Jordan believed the Week 2 performance could provide momentum to right the ship in time for Sunday's matchup against the Falcons' potent offense.

"I hope so," Jordan said. "I do think, again, a little confidence booster in playing the team we just played with [wide receiver] Jarvis Landry there. We did definitely let an explosive play happen down the stretch that we have to eliminate.

"It will be up to us to eliminate these explosive plays. So, going in, again, we have to do just that with this upcoming offense, for this upcoming receiver corps that they have."

Free safety Marcus Williams echoed Jordan, adding the turnaround of the 2017 season is in the past and there is no panic in the locker room.

Instead, it's up to the current group of Saints players to apply the lessons learned from the mistakes of the past two games to move forward.

"It doesn't matter if it was last year to this year," Williams told NFL.com. "It could be the same players, it could be new players, but it's us on the field making those mistakes or giving up plays. So, we have to be able to lock in and make sure we eliminate those plays."

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