At the conclusion of the 2012 NFL season, if you had told a New Orleans Saints fan that the Saints would rank no. 4 in overall defense heading into Week 4 of the 2013 season, you might have drawn some odd looks. Fans of other teams might have even openly mocked you.
Yet, that is where we are with three weeks of this new NFL season in the books.
Measured by total yards per game, New Orleans does indeed rank no. 4 overall, having allowed a total of 887 yards through their first three games. That works out to a very respectable 295.7 yards per game average. Passing wise, the Saints also come in at the no. 4 spot, having allowed 553 passing yards through three games. This also averages out to a very respectable 184.3 passing yards per game.
This scenario is almost impossible to believe following a disastrous 2012 outing that saw New Orleans give up over 7,000 yards through 16 games.
So what is the difference between this season’s respectable defensive effort and the dismal numbers they allowed last year?
The answer isn’t any one thing, but rather a combination of things. Having head coach Sean Payton back in the captain’s seat certainly helps. More importantly is that the defense was bland, predictable and without energy under last year’s defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnoulo. Personnel were not used to their strengths, and the defense in general just gave up too many big plays. All in all, it was a defensive disaster in the Big Easy.
This year, however, Payton brought in Rob Ryan to be the defensive coordinator, and the Saints haven’t looked back. Ryan brought with him a new 3-4 base defense with several other looks after being let go by the Dallas Cowboys, after which he famously quipped “Yeah, I’ll be out of work for like five minutes”.
The beauty of Ryan is that he knows how to run a defense and understands how to use his personnel. A fine example of this is New Orleans’ leader in sacks, Cameron Jordan. Jordan has been used more and more on the inside of the line during passing downs, is flourishing under Ryan’s system and has the makings for a breakout year.
New Orleans also has a bit of a youth movement on their hands. Jordan is 24, Jordan Galette is 25 and of course, there’s rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, who has played every single defensive snap through three weeks. Vaccaro is being used in a variety of roles and looks, and has even drawn some early comparisons to the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Troy Polamalu.
Add in the veteran leadership from Roman Harper and Jabari Greer in addition to the acquisition of cornerback Keenan Lewis, and you have the potential for an excellent defensive effort this year.
The Saints’ defense will get yet another test this coming Monday when they host another undefeated team, the Miami Dolphins, for Monday Night Football. One of these teams will exit the game with a mark in the loss column, and I’m willing to bet it won’t be New Orleans. At least, not if Rob Ryan has anything to say about it.