The New Orleans Saints defense: Just the facts


Unfortunately, the New Orleans Saints can’t seem to catch a break. No matter what side of the ball you look at, there tends to be opportunity. However, we can all definitively conclude that the defense tends to absorb most of the blame these days. Does that mean the offense gets a total pass despite their stellar first overall ranking? Not so much, but we can look at the facts (or stats) when it comes to Rob Ryan’s squad through nine games.

New Orleans Saints – Defensive Team Rankings

Points per game – 29.8 (31st)
Total points allowed – 268 (32nd)
Yards per game – 414.8 (31st)
Yards per play – 6.5 (32nd)
Total yards – 3,733 (31st)
Total passing yards – 2,630 (31st)
Total rushing yards – 1,103 (29th)
Penalties – 65 (T-24th)
Penalty yards – 475 (12th)
Interceptions – 4 (T-24th)
Fumbles – 9 (T-1st)
Total takeaways – 13 (T-12th)
Sacks – 19.0 (T-14th)

I bet you didn’t know that the Saints defense was actually ranked high in anything, and it’s really astounding considering that last year’s defense finished 31st in the league with 17 total takeaways. If there’s one thing that’s encouraging for Ryan’s squad, it’s been the ability to force turnovers. However, the inconsistency is what seems to be the main theme.

Lowest Pro Football Focus Grades

Brandon Browner, CB (-23.3)
Kasim Edebali, DE (-6.9)
Tyeler Davison, DT (-6.9)
Bobby Richardson, DE (-6.4)
Ramon Humber, LB (-6.3)
David Hawthorne, LB (-5.7)

Not having key players like cornerback Keenan Lewis (93 snaps) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (188 snaps) has desperately hurt the scheming, forcing other players like David Hawthorne and Brandon Browner. I don’t have to convince you of Ellerbe’s impact on the field, and obviously the penalties and overall coverage from Browner has been a clear opportunity.

Is it all Browner’s fault? Is he just a bad football player? No, and I don’t think it’s fair to place all blame on his shoulders. The Saints have been asking way too much of Browner to begin with, in my humble opinion. Why do I say that? Browner’s output and snap counts from the past several seasons have never been featured as the prominent cornerback.

In 2014 with the New England Patriots, Browner racked up the fourth-most snap counts among cornerbacks, finishing with 591 snaps. Yes, Browner was hurt for a handful of games, but it still didn’t change the fact that his utilization when healthy was not always 100 percent working alongside Kyle Arrington and Darrelle Revis.

It’s not like the Saints defense needs to be incredible down the stretch, and I said that long before the season started. The big plays prove to be killer, and it strikes at the most inopportune times. As per the Sporting Charts, the Saints don’t exactly rank well in giving up those big plays. Sporting Charts defines a big rushing play as 10 yards or more, and a big passing play as 25 yards or more. The Saints have given up 36 big rushing plays, which ranks dead last in the league. In terms of passing defense, they’ve surrendered 20 big passing plays this year, putting them towards the bottom again.

At the end of the day, you could very well conclude that Rob Ryan’s days are numbered in New Orleans. Making a coaching change at this stage of the season doesn’t seem likely, and all you’d have to do is go back to 2012 with Steve Spagnuolo to get that confirmation. The Saints committed to giving Ryan most of their 2015 draft, and talked at length to bring a more simplistic defense. Injuries are part of the game, and overcoming them hasn’t been something we’ve witnessed. Nine games into the season, we sit and wonder if we’ll ever see such a thing for the New Orleans Saints defense.