With a full season and now two training camps under Rob Ryan, the New Orleans Saints‘ defense will be nothing to tamper with this year. The Black and Gold are stacked at just about every position heading into the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, but it’s that front seven that could really spell trouble for the Dirty Birds on Sunday, especially for QB Matt Ryan.
The first two names that come to mind are Cam Jordan and Junior Galette, which they should. Jordan finished first on the team and fifth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks last season, followed by Galette, the new defensive captain, with 12.
Of course, we also have Akiem Hicks, who is a breakout candidate in 2014, and Parys Haralson, another pass-rushing threat on the outside. Curtis Lofton at inside linebacker knows Atlanta’s system very well, giving him a favorable advantage against his former team.
Even defensive ends Tyrunn Walker and Glenn Foster, who have both done nothing but impress since signing on as undrafted free agents in 2012 (Walker) and 2013 (Foster), could give the Falcons’ quarterback problems as Jordan and Hicks’ relief. Their explosiveness and capabilities — and I hate to say this — could land them starting jobs with other organizations in the hopefully not so near future.
2014 undrafted free agent Kasim Edebali, along with Saints’ fifth-round pick Ronald Powell will serve as aid to Galette and Haralson at outside linebacker with Khairi Fortt on injured reserve. Edebali, a Germany native, finished his senior year at Boston College with 67 tackles (14 for loss), 9.5 sacks, five passes defended and three forced fumbles. He was a force to reckoned with in the ACC and is an excellent addition to Rob Ryan’s unit.
Powell was a five-star recruit heading into the University of Florida. He was the nation’s No. 1 prospect, according to Rivals.com. He could have been one of the top defensive players in college, but injuries kept him sidelined for most of his career. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis gambled on him during this year’s selection process, and by the looks of it so far, it seems to have been the right decision. The potential is endless for young Powell.
Again, that New Orleans defense is stacked to the brim with outstanding talent. This is where the wreaking havoc part really comes into play though — between injuries and inexperience, the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line could be in some deep you know what when they have to face the Black and Gold on Sunday.
First-round pick Jake Matthews looks to be the long-term option at right tackle, and probably will be. However, with the season-ending injury to Sam Baker, he will be protecting Matty Ice’s blindside, which is the side Pro Bowl DE Cam Jordan and OLB Junior Galette will be attacking. Matthews is an outstanding young talent, but he is still developing, which could wind up making him an accessory to the brutal beat-down his quarterback may take.
Overall, Atlanta’s offensive line was pretty subpar a season ago. C Joe Hawley is inexperienced, starting only 19 times in 53 games with the Dirty Birds. He eventually made the move to center last November against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The addition of right guard Jon Asamoah may help a bit — he helped anchor a Kansas City Chiefs line, but was limited to only nine games in 2013.
It seems like the Falcons just can’t catch a break. The injury to Baker will likely haunt them this year. Matthews probably is the team’s best offensive lineman, but he’s a rookie and rookies are prone to rookie mistakes. The Saints are going to try and bring the heat early to set a tone — this is the offensive line to do it against.
Pressure, pressure, pressure. I’m not just talking about sacks, although it would be nice to see Junior Galette zip Ryan up in a “body bag.” Pressure the quarterback and force him to make some errors. You know that “no-fly zone” secondary is more than ready to hawk some balls up. The front seven is the key to the game. Atlanta has an outstanding offense, but with a weak line and a tantalizing Saints pass rush, they will be extremely vulnerable in the season opener. Matty Ice could be in for a long day.