Saints' nickel-and-dime approach

METAIRIE, La. -- I’ve noted in the past that the New Orleans Saints' defense is spending the majority of its time this season in nickel and dime formations (five or more defensive backs). Over the past two weeks they’ve only increased that trend, playing all but nine of their snaps in nickel and dime during victories against the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears.

The Saints' defense leads the NFL in percentage of snaps played in nickel and dime -- 83 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Denver Broncos are second at 77.3 percent (in part because so many teams have been playing catch-up against them).

Part of the reason the Saints are playing so much nickel and dime is based on their personnel. They’re deep at the safety position, and they suffered a number of long-term injuries at linebacker this summer. But defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said two weeks ago that they “absolutely” would have been using a heavy dose of nickel and dime formations regardless.

“We’re playing a lot of sub defense, but that’s how the game is played now,” Ryan said.

Clearly, it seems to be working so far. The Saints are 5-0. They’re ranked fourth in the NFL in points allowed (14.6) and 11th in yards allowed (330.4). And they’ve done an excellent job of preventing deep passing plays.