Saints mailbag Part 2: All about the defense

Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. There was enough good material to break it down into two parts. Click here for Part 1, and send your questions anytime @MikeTriplett.

@MikeTriplett: That question is actually inaccurate. The Saints have blitzed more often this season (78 times through five games this season, as opposed to 52 times through five games last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information). They averaged 10.5 blitzes per game throughout the entire season last year. The Saints like to mix in blitzes to confuse and surprise offenses, but they would prefer to generate consistent pressure through a four-man rush, which was probably the biggest key to their success last season (see below).

@MikeTriplett: "Smoke and mirrors" is probably a little strong. But I think last season the Saints found the perfect combination early of a strong four-man pass rush and great cornerback play. This season, we've seen a drop-off in production from pass-rushers like Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks, in particular -- maybe in part because offenses are game-planning better against them with double-teams and quicker throws. And the Saints have struggled to find consistency at the No. 2 cornerback spot since Jabari Greer was injured last season. No team has really sat back in the pocket and picked them apart deep. Though the Saints have worked hard to make sure they don't get beat by guys like Julio Jones in Week 1 and Dez Bryant in Week 4, they have struggled with all of the underneath stuff. We've seen a rotating variety of problems from missed tackles in the open field (Week 1) to assignment breakdowns in the secondary (Week 2) to poor run defense (Week 4). So if the Saints can clean up those types of correctable fundamental issues, they can get back to being solid, like they were against Tampa Bay. And if they can get their pass rush and cornerback play back on track, they can go back to being above-average, like they were in 2013.

@MikeTriplett: I wish I was smart enough to lay out the solution. But you are absolutely right. Hicks' lack of production this season has quietly been as disappointing as Jordan's downturn in production. Hicks simply isn't winning the 1-on-1 battles up front as often as we saw last season. He is still a good athlete with rare power for his size, though, so I think the Saints will count on him to get things turned around. They are also confident that second-year pro John Jenkins is on the rise after a slow start -- though both he and fellow nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley are more assets in run support. And the Saints are trying a variety of lineups. This past week, they used ends Glenn Foster and Tyrunn Walker as the tackles on several snaps in a four-end alignment, and Foster especially had some good pressures from that spot.

@MikeTriplett: That mostly referred to cutting down on the number of on-field checks and adjustments. The Saints have done that quite a bit since they struggled so much with miscues at Cleveland in Week 2 -- especially in their home games, which is a must because of the crowd noise when they are on the field. Both Rob Ryan and Kenny Vaccaro said that has continued to be an emphasis, as much as possible, so that players can feel freed to play faster and more aggressive. I think we saw how that benefited guys like Vaccaro and Patrick Robinson this past week. At the same time, Ryan doesn't want to be too vanilla, so there will continue to be some checks. Ryan said players just need to reach the comfort level playing together where that can be accomplished with a simple hand gesture or two.