Jun 10, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints safety Jarius Byrd (31) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The New Orleans Saints are doing their best efforts to replicate the formula for winning another Super Bowl, and they know the window is closing for veteran quarterback Drew Brees. In recent interviews with defensive personnel like Rob Ryan, Cameron Jordan, and many others, the recent focus has shifted to an emphasis on turnovers. I suddenly keep having this thought: ‘Aside from Darren Sharper, when’s the last time the Saints have made ANY noise in terms of interceptions?’
After some research, and primarily help from New Orleans Saints History, I’ve discovered something that is bound to be shocking to you. Take a peak at the all-time interceptions leaders (and enjoy a trip down memory lane, if you will):
Dave Whitsell – 1967 (10)
Dave Waymer – 1986 (9)
Darren Sharper – 2009 (9)
Tommy Myers – 1979 (7)
Johnnie Poe – 1983 (7)
Ashley Ambrose – 1999 (6)
Toi Cook – 1992 (6)
Sammy Knight – 2001 (6)
Sammy Knight – 1998 (6)
Tommy Myers – 1978 (6)
Dave Waymer – 1989 (6)
Dave Waymer – 1986 (6)
Dave Whitsell – 1968 (6)
So, is the ‘interception’ just a lost art in the NFL these days? The league has not seen a double-digit interception leader since 2007, when San Diego Chargers cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, led the league with 10. The last time a player threatened to finish with double-digit interceptions was the 2012 season, when Chicago Bears corner, Tim Jennings, finished the year with 9. Just for fun, the all-time record for interceptions (which will never be broken in my opinion) is 15, set by Dick Night Train Lane in 1952 with the Rams.
As for the Saints, the team finished out 2013 tied for 24th with the Minnesota Vikings in team interceptions with 12. For perspective, the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks led the league with 28. For comparison, the 2009 Saints finished 3rd in the league with 26 team interceptions, and also scored 5 touchdowns off of them. Speaking of team interceptions, here’s how the Saints have fared in the SPE (Sean Payton Era).
2006 – 11 (T-28th)
2007 – 13 (28th)
2008 – 15 (T-11th)
2009 – 26 (3rd)
2010 – 9 (32nd)
2011 – 9 (T-28th)
2012 – 15 (T-14th)
2013 – 12 (24th)
Is it realistic to bank on free agent Jairus Byrd to carry the load and become the next ‘Darren Sharper’? I say, no. Byrd’s best year came in his rookie season, when he finished with 9 interceptions in 2009 (maybe it was something in the water?). Since then, Byrd has not replicated that number, but is known for his ability to be a ‘ball hawk’. However, Byrd helps the Saints in the overall ‘grand scheme of things’. As I wrote in March, Jairus Byrd helps complete the Saints defense.
"For Byrd, he joins key pieces in the Saints defense like Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, who are coming off career high seasons in sacks. Keenan Lewis showed quarterbacks how difficult it is to throw on him, as he shutdown some of the top receivers all season long. David Hawthorne drastically improved his play in 2013. Curtis Lofton led the team in tackles for 2012 and 2013, and as the ‘quarterback’ on defense, is a brilliant student of the game. Akiem Hicks continues to improve his game, as his size and stature is tough to defend against. Let’s not forget that the team will get a healthy Kenny Vaccaro and Victor Butler back."
The Saints ended up landing veteran Champ Bailey, who is looking more and more each day as the favored starting corner opposite of Keenan Lewis. In an interview with the press, Bailey said it best about the team focus:
"“Getting turnovers is about everything clicking from pass rush to guys staying in the right place and anticipation,” he said. “So many things. Another thing is believing what you see. A lot of guys see it coming, but they don’t believe it. They don’t pull the trigger to go make the play.”"
When you factor in the ‘hunger’ and ‘surge’ of the Saints defense, and couple it with role players like safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Patrick Robinson, the Saints field and possess a very promising group on defense. Clearly, the track record shows that the Saints have not been a strong team whatsoever in the interception department. However, they have not had the type of talent on the roster as they once had previously. I look for this team to finish at least in the Top 10 in takeaways this season, and we’re already seeing how it’s paying off in minicamp.
While we aren’t likely to see one single player flourish in terms of interceptions this year, one must realize that it’s no longer about the individual, but the team who has one goal in mind: The Lombardi Trophy.