Ask Vic: Is high-powered offense hurting Saints defense?

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Question: Why can't the Saints' defense get it together? Other than Jonathan Vilma and maybe Roman Harper, the rest are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Our pass rush is atrocious and our pass defense is even worse. Is it the fault of defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs? With Will Smith, Charles Grant, Sedrick Ellis and Bobby McCray, you would think we could establish some sort of pass rush, but no. Week in and week out, we allow the quarterback to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before taking five more seconds to throw to one of his five open receivers. Can you please shine some light on the reasoning behind why the Saints, with pretty decent talent, can't get it together on D? -- Jonathan R.

The pass rush is soft, but I think the biggest problem is in the secondary, which has been terribly inconsistent. Too often the Saints' defensive backs allow receivers to get behind them for big gains. Show me a defense that covers well and I'll show you one that gets pressure on the quarterback. The Saints' defensive backs also have a tendency to miss tackles, letting receivers get far too many yards after the catch.

For the most part, the Saints struggle when opposing offenses are able to spread them out with three- and four-receiver sets and find favorable matchups. Larger receivers, such as the ones they faced in Week 8 when they took on the Chargers in London, present an especially difficult challenge when they line up across from 5-foot-8 cornerback Jason David.

To the Saints' credit, they are pretty stout against the run. They've managed to shut down some pretty good backs, including Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden. Of course, when teams are forced to throw on them, they usually do so with success.

I would also say that another problem for the Saints' defense is the fact they have a quick-striking passing attack, which tends to limit the amount of rest the defense gets between series. Face it, the Saints are built to put up plenty of points and, because of their defensive limitations, have to be able to win the sort of shootouts that they were in against the Chargers, who are pretty much built the same way.

I don't know that the Saints can make any sort of significant improvement in their pass defense through the second half of the season. However, I would think that some greater consistency and better tackling by their defensive backs would go a long way toward helping to bring at least some reduction to opponents' big plays.

Question: I am a die-hard Steelers fan and although the defense is playing very well, the offense this year has looked inept in games that meant something. Is this because our offensive line can't block or because Big Ben is making terrible choices? I'd love to see what he could do with a solid line, but he might just make the same mistakes regardless. What's your take? -- Ian A., Allentown, Pa.

I think the issue is more with the line than it is with Big Ben's choices with where to go with the ball and when to get it there.

I'm not sure how much he is able to trust his protection. And if there is a lack of trust, it's going to impact his decision-making. It would with any quarterback.

Also, Roethlisberger's preference to wait until the last possible moment to get rid of the ball, in order to maximize his chances of making a big play, doesn't work so well behind a line as porous as the Steelers'.

Question: Hey, Vic, you and everyone else that is on the Titans' bandwagon will end up falling off. Who have they played? Every team they have faced (except for Baltimore) is below .500, so before you decide to talk about respect, figure out what it exactly takes to make a good team. Don't crown them. Let them season finish and then look at their record. -- Eddie N.

Three points, Eddie.

  1. The record of the Titans' opponents doesn't bother me. Teams that have lost one or more games to this point have faced some weak teams as well.
  1. I'd like to think I have a pretty good handle on what makes a good/great team. One, a dominant defense, which the Titans have. And no one would argue that they have the league's most dominant defensive player in tackle Albert Haynesworth. Two, a dominant offensive line, which the Titans have. Three, a strong running game, which the Titans have because of that offensive line and some very talented backs. Four, a quarterback who, at the very most, is a consistent playmaker or is consistently efficient. Kerry Collins falls into the latter category, although he has demonstrated on multiple occasions -- including Monday night's victory against the Colts -- that he can make plays when he has to. And, because of that offensive line, he has yet to be sacked.
  1. I am not "crowning" the Titans or anyone else, but part of the job I do involves determining, to the best of my ability, where teams stand each week during the season. Sure, I could let the season finish, check the records, and tell you what team is the best. But that's what standings are for.

Question: I admire what Jason Campbell has done, but at some point I have to wonder if he is playing a little too safe. Even Tom Brady and Joe Montana have/had about 2.6 percent of their passes intercepted. Is Campbell prone to losing a tight game because he won't risk it when he needs to? -- Andy B., Raleigh, N.C.

I really see no reason to complain about the fact Campbell hasn't thrown an interception during the Redskins' 6-2 start.

I don't think it's a case of playing too safe or conservatively. The fact he has been able to do as well as he has done while adjusting to yet another new offensive system is a testament to his talent and ability to absorb and apply what he has learned. With strong league MVP candidate Clinton Portis in his backfield, Campbell doesn't need to try and carry the offensive load and end up forcing bad throws or making bad decisions.

To your point about whether he is prone to losing a tight game because he won't take risks, the fact the Redskins' victories have been by eight, seven, six, five, three, and two points is a fairly strong argument for Campbell knowing how to win the close ones. I also think the fact he doesn't turn the ball over is a huge advantage when the outcome is determined by the smallest of margins.

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