Spagnuolo: Saints defense a step slow in debut
Steve Spagnuolo wanted to make it clear he was sorely disappointed with his debut as Saints defensive coordinator, and that his unit recognizes the urgency to improve.
And quickly - it lines up across from Cam Newton in North Carolina on Sunday.
''We all to a man on defense feel like we let the football team down,'' Spagnuolo said Friday, his first meeting with reporters since last Sunday's 40-32 loss to Washington. ''You score 32 points, you should win the football game, so we all feel that.''
Spagnuolo added he felt he personally let down Saints owner Tom Benson, as well as suspended head coach Sean Payton and suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt.
''Hopefully with a strong week of practice and some prideful men, which I do believe we have, we can get it straightened out,'' he said.
The Saints hoped to force quarterback Robert Griffin III into rookie mistakes and turnovers in his NFL debut. Instead, Griffin threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns while helping the Redskins reach their highest point total since Mike Shanahan took over as head coach in 2010.
Spagnuolo said he saw ''a little bit of tentative play'' by a Saints defense still adjusting to a new scheme after spending the past three seasons under Gregg Williams.
''We were a step away, a second away,'' Spagnuolo said. His message to his players this week was: ''Let's find that one more step, that one more second or half a second, and make sure that when we have those opportunities to make those plays we make them.''
Had a handful close plays gone the other way, Spagnuolo said, ''It's a completely different game.''
''I do think the athletic ability of that quarterback we played last week caused some of that,'' Spagnuolo added.
The close plays included Malcolm Jenkins' blitz that was a moment too late to stop Griffin from finding receiver Pierre Garcon across the middle for an 88-yard touchdown. Then there was a cornerback blitz by Corey White that arrived just after Griffin unloaded a pass that was nearly intercepted by Patrick Peterson, but caught instead by Santana Moss for a 27-yard gain into Saints territory.
Saints defensive end Will Smith said the unit came away from its opening loss with its confidence unshaken, despite the final score.
''I learned we have a good defense,'' Smith said. ''We made some bad mistakes during the course of the game.''
The Saints will need to avoid such mistakes this Sunday against Newton, who like Griffin is a dual-threat quarterback, only bigger and more experienced.
''He's not afraid to tuck the ball and run with it - like a fullback,'' Spagnuolo said of Newton.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who once worked on the same staff with Spagnuolo in Philadelphia, said it would be short-sighted to underestimate Spagnuolo's ability to adjust whatever plagued his unit a week earlier.
''You have to be patient. Everybody wants to jump to conclusions after one game,'' Rivera said. ''We've played one game this year and the big thing is the proof's going to be at the end of the year.''
Rivera said that during the 2007 season, Spagnuolo's Giants defense showed substantial improvement as an eventual Super Bowl championship campaign wore on.
''After the third week (of that season), everyone wanted him fired and the next thing you know they go to the Super Bowl,'' Rivera said. ''My whole point is if we're going to make judgments after the first game, a lot of crazy things happen.''
Spagnuolo agreed, but added, ''The goal isn't to start out slow and we'll make our mistakes and we'll be OK. It's to be ready now.''
Notes: Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer said WR Devery Henderson (concussion), CB Johnny Patrick (right thigh) and DE Turk McBride (left ankle) will miss Sunday's game at Carolina. ... He said CB Jabari Greer (groin) and LB Scott Shanle (right knee) practiced on a limited basis on Friday and are questionable for the game.
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