METAIRIE, La. (AP) The New Orleans Saints' dead-last defense won't be getting an overhaul under new coordinator Dennis Allen, who says it's too late in the season for major changes.
Allen, who took over when Rob Ryan was fired last week, expressed hope that incremental improvements would slow opponents down enough that they won't be able to keep pace with New Orleans' second-ranked offense.
''It's not like you can just go in and just wholeheartedly change everything you've been doing schematically,'' said Allen, who will debut in his new role Sunday in Houston. ''What we've got to do is try to give the guys a plan that they can go out and execute. Try to eliminate some of the white noise or the distractions for them, make sure that they feel comfortable and ready to play.''
The Saints, who are coming off their bye week, are 4-6 and in desperate need of victories to keep even the slimmest hopes alive of making the playoffs. Ryan was fired following a 47-14 loss at Washington in which the Redskins gained more than 500 yards.
''Obviously you hate to be making a decision like that especially in the middle of the season and it got to a point where something needed to change,'' coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. ''We're just not going to continue on status quo, if that makes any sense. That would be madness.''
Allen was an assistant in New Orleans under Payton from 2006 through 2010. He was the secondary coach for the 2009 team that won the Super Bowl. He left in 2011 to become Denver's defensive coordinator, and then moved to Oakland in 2012 when the Raiders made him a head coach. Last season, Oakland fired Allen, and he wound up back in New Orleans as a senior defensive assistant charged with helping Ryan shore up a unit that ranked 31st in 2014, when the Saints went 7-9.
Allen had worked primarily with the secondary this season and was assigned third-down play calls, while Ryan continued to oversee the general game plan and made most of the play calls. Payton noted there were too many recurring problems with defensive personnel mix-ups, late play calls and misalignments.
''We've got to find a way to get a call in and play a defense without it being a panic where guys are late getting lined up,'' Payton added. ''That was a big thing a year ago and again, a lot of that is the ability to communicate quickly what we're seeing and what we want to get done, and then make a call. The first opportunity to play good defense is to be set and ready, and know what the call is.''
Although Allen's addition to the staff as a senior defensive assistant seemed to set the stage for him to take over in the event the defense continued to struggle, Payton denied such a contingency plan existed.
''Rob is a talented coach and there is no one more than me that wanted to see him have success and yet for us to be able to hire Dennis, we go all the way back to 2006,'' Payton said. ''We felt (Allen) was a valuable assistant to us and someone that brings clarity and organizational skills. He's very thorough, very meticulous. He's got great command and respect in the building.''
Allen also expressed mixed feelings about being promoted, accepting some blame for the Saints giving up league-worst averages of 424.3 yards and 31.5 points per game.
''It's really a difficult situation for everybody that's involved,'' Allen said. ''We've all got our autograph on where we're at as a football team and specifically as a defense.''
Players often raved about Ryan's ability to relate to them and are now dealing with a measure of guilt over the circumstances under which Ryan left.
''I felt kind of sick when he left. I felt like it was our fault,'' said safety Kenny Vaccaro, a first-round draft choice in 2013, which was Ryan's first season in New Orleans. ''It can't just be on the coach. Everybody's hand has got to be in the pot for that to happen. ... We've got to accept it. At the end of the day this is a result driven league and as a player you've still got to perform.''
''If we're going to go where we want to go, it's going to be on the defense,'' Vaccaro added. ''The offense is rolling. They've been good every year since coach Payton's been here.''
NOTES: Four players did not practice Wednesday, all members of the defense. They were linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (hip) and David Hawthorne (thigh); and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis (hip, knee) and Damian Swann (concussion).