It almost feels like forces are conspiring against the Saints defense in something that is playing out like a plot from a "Final Destination" sequel.
Right now, that invisible force is ripping through the team’s cornerback depth chart and has cleaned it out of any familiar faces. The versatile Kyle Wilson, P.J. Williams and Damian Swann have all landed on injured reserve. Star cornerback Delvin Breaux is out for at least another month with a broken fibula, and Keenan Lewis was released last month after a lengthy battle with a hip injury.
If you lost count, those are the five players who were expected to make the team during the offseason. The lack of luck in regard to injuries at this position is almost unfathomable.
“No, I haven’t (even seen a position group hit like this),” safety Jairus Byrd said. “It’s been one after another.”
It’s surprising, though, right?
“These last two years, nothing shocks me with the luck we've had,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “Whether it’s the D-line or linebackers, I've gotten used to just plugging and playing.”
The injuries have altered New Orleans’ plans on defense. Last week against the Giants, with Sterling Moore and Ken Crawley handling the majority of the snaps at cornerback, the defense mixed in more three-safety packages and used more zone coverages to provide those players with better protection.
Though the Saints surrendered 417 yards, they did not allow a touchdown and limited New York’s big-play opportunities. However, it remains to be seen whether the two-safety looks become a staple until Breaux returns.
While it worked against the Giants, one of the underrated challenges for the members of the secondary is getting to know one another. Last week was Moore’s first appearance for the Saints, and B.W. Webb will likely make his debut this week. The players lining up at cornerback are still figuring out how the safeties play their positions, and the safeties are still getting used to the cornerbacks.
“It’s one of those things where coming in you’re kind of learning your position at first,” Moore said. “Then, once you start getting comfortable with that, you can start learning, 'All right, here’s my help, I know he’s going to be here.' It just allows you to play a little faster.”
Take Breaux and Vaccaro, for example. Those two have been on the field enough times together that there are no longer surprises. Vaccaro knows how Breaux is going to cover, and Breaux knows how Vaccaro is going to attack a run or screen play.
That familiarity makes things easier and allows the players to easily adjust and cover for one another. Vaccaro often tells the cornerbacks to play off of him, and they’re able to do that because they know how he’s going to approach certain situations.
That doesn’t mean the new cornerbacks and safeties can’t be successful while learning one another. It’s just easier once that process is already complete.
“There are certain things I know I can do, I know I can get away with when I’m in there with (Breaux),” Vaccaro said. "If you don’t play with a guy, you just don’t know how they’re going to react in game-time situations. Those corners know how I play. So, they’ve learned how I’m going to fill runs, how I’m going to do certain techniques.”
It’s a bit of a process. After seeing live action last week against the Giants, Moore said he’s starting to settle in and get used to playing with Byrd and the other safeties. He feels like he knows what he’s doing after being with the team for two weeks. So now the safeties have a better idea of how Moore approaches things, and he’s starting to have a better understanding of where his help is going to be.
For Webb, he’s still in the thick of the learning process. He’ll be able to capably slide in this week against the Falcons if called upon, but he’ll still be gaining familiarity with the other members of the secondary while on the job, much like Moore did last week against the Giants.
“You come in, you have to learn a new playbook, you have to learn the tendencies of your safeties,” Webb said. “Know what to say in certain situations and things like that. To get comfortable with them might take a little time.”
They’ll find that comfort. They have to. Otherwise, this team might not like its final destination.