Saints defense continues getting slapped, but it’ll find the upper hand

At times, the Saints defense reminds me of that old Spike and Chester cartoon. Spike is the big, intimidating bulldog in the red sweater. Chester is small and annoying, but Spike is everything he wants to be. He admires Spike.

“Hey Spike, you wanna play ball? Huh, you wanna play ball?,” Chester says in the cartoon clip as he bounces around Spike’s feet. “Huh Spike, you wanna? Huh, huh, huh Spike? You wanna? Huh?”

Spike gives Chester a big slap, but he comes back for more.

“Nah, you wouldn’t like that would you Spike?,” Chester says. “Hey Spike, how about we chase cars, huh, does that sound like fun?”

Spike slaps Chester again.

The great thing about Chester is that no matter what, he always comes back for more. He never quits. He’s constantly annoying Spike, much like the Saints’ defense annoys Who Dat Nation.

Saints’ opponents treat the Saints defense like Spike treats Chester. Poor Chester is determined though.

Rob Ryan’s unit is giving up 370 yards per game, that’s good for 20th in the league. Not terrible, considering what this defense has been through. Safety, a position of strength going into the season, is now a potential major liability.

* Safety Jairus Byrd played in three games before being lost for the season with a knee injury.

* Safety Rafael Bush went down last week with a broken leg for the rest of the season.

* Rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri is on injured reserve with a broken arm.

* Top cornerback Keenan Lewis played on one leg against the Bengals after sustaining a knee injury the week before.

* There isn’t a legitimate NFL starter in the rest of the cornerback bunch. The Champ Bailey experiment was a bust. He is now retired.

* The loss of veterans like Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith all at once has left a bigger leadership void than the team likely anticipated.

The Saints paid big free agent money for Byrd and let former first round pick Malcolm Jenkins walk. There weren’t many people debating the move then, but seeing Jenkins rejuvenated in Philadelphia makes one wonder.

What if the Saints had re-signed Jenkins for far less than it took to sign Byrd and went after a legitimate corner on the other side of Lewis? The Saints knew they had major question marks at cornerback and didn’t seriously address the issue.

As many anticipated, teams are torching the likes of Corey White, Brian Dixon, Patrick Robinson and Stanley Jean-Baptiste on a regular basis. Opposing defensive coordinators must salivate when game-planning the Saints.

Teams are converting 46 percent of their third downs against the Saints. 46 percent! Only the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons are worse.

The defense has pressured the quarterback better lately, but still has only 22 sacks on the season. Buffalo’s defense, the league leader, has 39. On top of that, the Saints’ six interceptions and four fumble recoveries are far below the league average.

The Saints have lost four games which they led in the final two minutes. Four blown leads. That’s an extreme lack of ability to close out games and it’s disturbing.

But here’s the thing — the Saints, at 4-6, are tied for first place in the dreadful NFC South. First place. Despite all the problems, all the drama, they still control their own destiny. There are six games left to write a success story about the 2014 season.

Last season, when the Saints’ defense finished 4th in the NFL, it gave up about 70 yards less per game than this season. You know what that equates to? A few big third-and-long stops. A long run here and there that is stuffed instead. This defense, despite its problems, isn’t that far away from making a positive difference in games.

The defense, like Chester, just needs to keep coming back and ignore the guy who loves slapping it. Chester eventually gets Spike to come around by telling him he knows where to find a cat. All of a sudden, Chester had the upper hand.

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