When you look across the NFL during this entire offseason, the New Orleans Saints have undoubtedly had one of the most interesting. Just think about it. The Saints didn’t make an immediate splash in free agency like last year by signing an attractive star. Instead, they did the unthinkable by trading their superstar tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle. It wasn’t over. The team also moved on from wide receiver Kenny Stills and guard Ben Grubbs. When you factor that in with the amount of losses during this offseason with players like Curtis Lofton, Pierre Thomas, and Patrick Robinson, it figures to be both exciting and scary.
In an offseason that has had the Saints bring in the experiences of Brandon Browner, Kyle Wilson, Anthony Spencer, and Dannell Ellerbe to the nearly once again league’s worst defense, the time is now for Rob Ryan and the Saints defense to deliver.
The free agency moves, which are promising, are all meaningless unless the Saints fix their Achilles heel, tackling.
As per Pro Football Focus, Rob Ryan’s squad finished out as the league’s worst in tackling efficiency. On 1,092 total defensive snaps, the Saints missed 148 total tackles. Now, that’s not the worst in terms of actual numbers, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with 152 missed tackles. However, the Saints finished last in regards to the most missed tackles per snap (0.136).
We aren’t naive. We know it was bad. It wasn’t just your imagination. If you want to play the blame game, here are some of the main culprits from last year’s squad.
- Curtis Lofton (22)
- Kenny Vaccaro (19)
- David Hawthorne (16)
- Keenan Lewis (10)
- Pierre Warren (10)
- Parys Haralson (9)
- Corey White (9)
- Ramon Humber (8)
For some perspective, let’s look at the 2009 Super Bowl season. The most missed tackles from that squad? Ten. There were three Saints defensive players, Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, and Darren Sharper, who led the team in that department. Even during the 2011 run, the Saints squad didn’t finish nearly as bad, and again only had three players in double digits: Jabari Greer (17), JoLonn Dunbar (13), and Roman Harper (11). When the Saints defense pulled off a complete one-eighty in 2013, it was a similar theme. Three players finished in the double digits: Curtis Lofton (17), Malcolm Jenkins (16), and David Hawthorne (11).
Was last year a complete drop off in work ethic? Was it truly a lack of discipline? Did the players just expect to show up and let it all unfold? Trying to figure out the complete debacle from last year is meaningless, as we strive to look forward.
The bottom line is that for Rob Ryan’s job safety (and some player’s future), the New Orleans Saints cannot miss out on this fundamental skill. Going after the ball to generate turnovers is a nice philosophy, but when you can’t even execute on that effectively, then it’s a moot point. The Saints were fourth worst in the league at taking the ball away last year with 17 takeaways. Only Tennessee (16), Kansas City and Oakland (14), and the New York Jets (13) performed worse.
Gaining the services of players like Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha from the NFL Draft should only improve the philosophy on defense, not hurt it. Naturally, we’ve been in this spot before of feeling like ‘it’s our year’ and that ‘this defense will be the next big thing’, and this season certainly cultivates those exact feelings again.
However, as I’ve said many times previously, it must translate on the field. If not, we’re in for another agonizing season, no matter how flashy the additions have been. Starting strong is going to be key for this unit.
Do you feel better about the New Orleans Saints defense this season? What do you believe is going to make this squad perform?
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