Saints Continue Developing Super Bowl-Caliber Defense Under Rob Ryan

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 1, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins is sacked by  Junior Galette #93 of the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 30, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan might still stop into local taverns to buy the patrons rounds of drinks, because he’s that kind of dude.

But he doesn’t have to.

Ryan has this Saints defense looking so phenomenal that he might be the most popular man in the Big Easy. A defense that last season gave up more yards than any team in NFL history now looks like a Super Bowl contender.

Before Ryan took the job in New Orleans, last year the Saints defense ranked last in the league in yardage allowed, giving up 440.1 yards per game, next-to-last in points by giving up 28.4 points per game, and 29th in the league at getting to the quarterback with only 26 sacks.

This season, through four games, New Orleans is in the top 10 in two of those categories and just outside the top 10 in sacks.

The Saints used a stifling defense Monday night to easily handle the Miami Dolphins 38-17. While the offense is still the marquee Saints unit, New Orleans might not have coasted to this 4-0 start without its vastly improved defense.

New Orleans tallied four sacks of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, picked him off three times and forced the second-year passer to fumble once. In all, the defense created four Miami turnovers, which Brees and company turned into 14 points.

So, what’s so different about this 2013 Saints defense?

The best answer is that they have switched from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. But that’s obvious and not 100 percent accurate. New Orleans still plays some 4-3 and still functions well out of that look.

The biggest reason New Orleans is killing it on the defensive side of the football is the pass rush.

You already know that the Saints rank 12th in the league with 12 sacks. But dig deeper into what those sacks really mean, and more importantly, how the Saints are getting them.

With Ryan’s new scheme—and really with all the pre-snap movement and confusion—New Orleans is able to get pressure on the quarterback by rushing only four players. That means seven Saints defenders can drop into coverage. Because New Orleans can drop so many guys into coverage, opposing offenses have only been able to muster 192.3 yards per game through the air.

Sure, cornerback Keenan Lewis has been an upgrade to the Saints secondary in terms of playing against the pass, but the real reason New Orleans is giving up 100 yards fewer through the air this year compared to last year is the pass rush.

It was the typical cast of characters Monday night registering sacks. Defensive end Cameron Jordan pulled down his fourth quarterback of the season. Linebacker Junior Galette notched his third sack.

But newcomers also got into the act.

Linebacker Martez Wilson recorded his first sack of the season, as did defensive end Tyrunn Walker.

Seven different players across the Saints defensive front have sacks. That shows that not only is Ryan showing many different blitz packages, he’s also sending multiple players through many different passing lanes to confuse offensive linemen and quarterbacks.

Ryan has a lot to look forward to as his pass-rushing contingent makes a name for itself. The average age of the front seven, minus the two inside linebackers, from Monday's game is 24.2.

This young unit is going to get better as the season progresses.

Expect an even more intense pass rush. Expect the already high number of sacks to grow bigger. Expect the secondary to continue to shine, since it’s hard to throw footballs if the quarterback is on his back.

Also expect this team to make a serious playoff push, if not a Super Bowl push, because of the upgraded defense Ryan has developed in New Orleans.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.