The New Orleans Saints are expected to name Joe Woods their new defensive coordinator, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Monday.
Woods, who was fired as the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator after the season, will reunite with Saints head coach Dennis Allen. Woods was a defensive backs coach with the Raiders in 2014 when Allen was the team’s head coach.
The Saints had co-defensive coordinators last season, with Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard sharing the duties. Nielsen was hired by the Atlanta Falcons as their defensive coordinator on Jan. 27; Richard and the team parted ways on Feb. 1, a source confirmed to ESPN last week.
Allen, however, called the defensive plays last season, his first as the Saints’ head coach. Nielsen was also in charge of the defensive line while Richard ran the secondary. The Saints are also expected to hire Todd Grantham, a source told ESPN’s Chris Low. Grantham, who was a defensive analyst at Alabama last season, was last in the NFL as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line coach from 2008-2009.
Woods, 52, had been Cleveland’s defensive coordinator under coach Kevin Stefanski since 2020. In Woods’ first season, the Browns advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2002, then won their first playoff game in 26 years.
But slow starts hampered the Browns’ defense the past two seasons. At one point in mid-October this season, Cleveland ranked 31st in defensive efficiency. A porous run defense especially hurt the Browns. Cleveland finished next to last in the league in defensive total rush expected points added (minus-23.11).
Cleveland’s defense, notably covering the pass, improved significantly during the second half of the season, as the Browns finished 20th in defensive efficiency. The unit also forced 12 turnovers in the final six weeks, including eight interceptions. That was an issue the Saints struggled with in 2022, as they finished 30th with seven interceptions and 20th with 10 forced fumbles.
But it wasn’t enough to save Woods’ job or keep Cleveland in the playoff hunt. Woods was fired after a string of difficulties against the run in the final four games of the season. The Browns allowed 157.5 rushing-yards-per-game in that span.
The Saints also faded in that category toward the end of the season, allowing 148.3 rushing yards-per game in the final four games, with a standout defensive game against the Philadelphia Eagles being the exception in Week 17.
Woods also was a defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos for two seasons (2017-18).
ESPN’s Katherine Terrell and Jake Trotter contributed to this report.
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