Giants respect Spagnuolo defense, despite ranking

METAIRIE (AP) — The New York Giants know better than to underestimate a Steve Spagnuolo defense, even one that currently ranks

at the bottom of the NFL.

When the Saints' defensive coordinator was in New York, the Giants not only won a Super Bowl, but they saw how Spagnuolo could

adapt when things went wrong and improve his unit over time.

"He can adjust. He makes a lot of game adjustments and that's the thing I remember from him being here," Giants guard Kevin

Boothe said this week as New York prepared to host New Orleans this Sunday. "It's going to be a tough challenge. They are

a team starting to play well on defense and they have a lot of great players."

The Saints brought in Spagnuolo to replace

Gregg Williams last January because Spagnuolo had a record of success as

a defensive

coordinator. When he was with the Giants in 2007, they upset

previously unbeaten New England in the Super Bowl on the strength

of a dominant defensive performance that slowed Tom Brady and a

Patriots offense that set scoring records.

Incidentally, that same Giants defense was torched for 80 points through its first two regular season games, both losses.

This season had a disastrous beginning as the Saints started 0-4, and seven games into the season, following a loss at Denver,

New Orleans' defense had given up more than 500 yards in a game three times.

The Saints are still on pace to give up more

yards in a season than any defense in NFL history, but now they also

have a realistic

chance of avoiding that dubious distinction.

The defense held Atlanta to 283 yards, the Falcons' second-lowest total this season, last week. Atlanta had a stretch of five

consecutive possessions without a first down.

That marked the second straight game New Orleans defense yielded fewer than 400 yards after not keeping opponents below that

threshold in any of its first 10 games.

The Saints still lost their past two games,

but arguably because of Drew Brees being in a recent slump in which he

has thrown

seven interceptions, with two returned for TDs in a 31-21 loss to

San Francisco. In Atlanta, the Saints defense held the Falcons

to 23 points and kept New Orleans in the game despite Brees' five

turnovers.

Citing the recent losses, Spagnuolo balked when asked if he felt vindicated by the way his unit has come around.

"I don't go down that road, quite honestly, because there is still a lot of season to go. If you rest on any laurels, I get

concerned you're going to go backward," Spagnuolo said. "Is it better than it was before? Yeah, but it's not exactly where

we want it."

Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, was more complimentary.

"The last four weeks we played pretty damn

good defense. Last week was probably one of our best defensive

performances of

the year," Vitt said. "Spags has done a great job of keeping this

team together. Spags has done a great job of keeping the

morale of our defense at a high level. He's done an outstanding

job of being patient teaching this defense and I think it's

starting to show now."

The statistics say the Saints give up 440.5 yards a game, worst in the NFL, and 27.3 points per game, ranked 28th.

Eli Manning and the Giants' offense see those numbers as misleading.

"They do a good job of trying to show some

different looks, some different blitz looks. They try to get hits on the

quarterback

so it's an aggressive style of football," Manning said. "We have

to play smart and make sure everybody knows their assignments

and knows who is blocking whom."

Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride

said Spagnuolo's balance of pressure and pass coverage makes for "a

well-thought-out,

well-conceived approach to defensive football."

Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said it

took a while for players to feel comfortable in Spagnuolo's new scheme,

and that

Spagnuolo also adjusted his approach to suit the strengths of his

personnel. Now when he looks at the film, it just doesn't

look to him like he plays for the last-ranked defense in the NFL.

"We're playing pretty darn well," said Jordan, who leads the Saints in sacks with seven.

Jordan's shifting role is an example of one of Spagnuolo's adjustments. The Saints experimented with playing Jordan inside

on pass-rushing downs early in the year, but lately have kept him more on the end after seeing he had most of his success

there.

"We needed time to adjust," Jordan said. "Any given defense you're going to have that where you just have to feel out the

players and feel out what you want in your defense."

Notes: Only two Saints players missed practice: T Charles Brown (right knee) and CB Corey White (left knee), but White says

he was resting and hopes to play at New York. ... CB Johnny Patrick returned to practice from an illness that kept him out

Wednesday.