METAIRIE - One area the New Orleans Saints needed to get better this season was their defensive line.
The reconfigured unit came up big against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, limiting them to just 60 yards rushing - with 42 of that coming on one run by Matt Forté - in New Orleans’ 30-13 victory.
Against the Bears, first-year Saints defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers and Mitch King teamed with Sedrick Ellis to force Chicago’s offensive line into double teams.
That freed their teammates, including defensive ends Turk McBride and Junior Galette along with linebackers and defensive backs, to make tackles.
New Orleans sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six times for 58 yards in losses and finished with 10 quarterback hits.
Chicago was “squeezing inside because we were getting so much push and pressure on the inside, we were getting DBs running free and we were getting linebackers running free on the outside,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.
The Saints (1-1) did that without top pass rusher, defensive end Will Smith. The eight-year veteran missed the first two games of the regular season after being suspended by the NFL for using a banned diuretic.
Smith was reinstated by the league on Monday and will be eligible to play in Sunday’s game with the Houston Texans (2-0) in the Superdome. The Saints have a roster exemption for Smith which runs out when the team returns to practice Wednesday.
The decision to overhaul the defensive front came after last season’s playoff loss to Seattle.
Saints coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams watched the Saints give up 150 yards rushing, including a 67-yard tackle-breaking touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch.
After ranking 16th against the run in 2010, the Saints signed the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Rogers in March before the NFL lockout began.
In August, after the lockout ended, the Saints were able to sign Franklin away from San Francisco, where he was one of the 49ers top run stoppers in their 3-4 defense.
They’ve helped New Orleans become a top-10 defense against the run, allowing 81.5 yards per game on the ground a season after giving up 112.3 rushing yards per game a year ago.
“I think the biggest thing is their size,” Ellis said. “You just have to account for those guys in the middle, especially Shaun because he’s just so huge and a big guy.”
Both signed one-year contracts and came to New Orleans to win.
“That was the common denominator I heard through this process of bringing players in was, ?We want to win a Super Bowl. We want the opportunity to win,’” Payton said. “That’s encouraging.”
As he did after the game, Payton on Monday said that he was pleased with the way his team bounced back from a 42-34 season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“One of things that was real apparent without watching the tape was our hustle and our energy,” he said during his weekly news conference. “I thought we had a good week of practice. We had good focus. We recognized that we were playing a good team.
“I thought all of us felt, watching their (season-opening) tape against Atlanta and in the games the last half of last season, this is one of the better teams in the NFC. That being said, it was a good win for us. There are a handful of things we still need to clean up. I thought our penalties were high, but we made some improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and there are some tangible things we can point to.”
Payton, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill., defeated the team he rooted for and later quarterbacked during the 1987 players strike for the first time. He was 0-3, having lost the 2006 NFC Championship game and regular-season games in 2007 and ‘08. All three games were played in Chicago’s Soldier Field. ? The crowd of 73,019 that passed through the doors of the recently-remodeled Superdome on Sunday was the largest to watch a Saints game in the building in the regular season or playoffs. The previous largest crowd was 71,276 for the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 24, 2010. The old mark for the regular season was 70,940 for a Sept. 2, 1979 meeting with the Atlanta Falcons. ? The Saints will have to make a move on Wednesday to open a spot on the 53-man active roster for Smith.