The Big Uglies Week 1: Saints offensive and defensive line grades
Defensive line – Where it went wrong
For defensive line, it’s difficult to give them a grade on a play-by-play basis. Instead of grading each play, I made general observations as the game went along. You’ll find these thoughts throughout the piece when talking about each player. The final overall grade is a subjective mark I’ll give based on the unit as a whole.
In a game that felt like the defense was made of Swiss cheese, it was interesting to go back and look at the defensive line performance. At times, Dennis Allen would dial-up nice run slants to create confusion for the Buccaneers. Other times, the Saints would get interior penetration on passes that would flush Ryan Fitzpatrick out of the pocket.
For the other 60+ plays, however, it was very plain.
Cameron Jordan was obviously the star of the afternoon, as he was dominant. Doubled or given running back/tight end help on many occasions, Jordan played with an excellent motor that never stopped. Showcasing an excellent spin, club, and speed-to-power moves and playing with great pad level throughout the game, he showed once again why he’s the heart of this defense.
On the other side of the line, Alex Okafor had a polar opposite game. Okafor struggled to set the edge in the run game and struggled to stay square with his man. Coming off a 2017 campaign where he registered a sack every other game, I expected more from Okafor in pass rush situations. His pass rush moves were nonexistent, and it allowed Tampa Bay to focus on Jordan the entire night.
In a quiet debut for rookie Marcus Davenport, nothing really stood out. He showed high effort every play he appeared in. He got turned too easily in the run game early on, but improved throughout the game. He also showed great recognition on a screen pass late in the game. While it wasn’t spectacular, he’ll continue to develop and push for starting time.
The other good performance on the afternoon came from Sheldon Rankins. While he struggled to keep gap integrity at times in the run game, Rankins played with great pad level and used his hands skillfully to shuck lineman against the run and in passing situations.
Tyeler Davison’s playing time over David Onyemata is puzzling to me. Basing this off of one game so far is quite irresponsible, but Davison did not have a good game. He consistently was moved yards off the ball on double teams and couldn’t get off blocks in time to make plays. On the goal line, Davison played with poor pad level. He also offers nothing in the passing game, as I noticed reps where his feet seemed to just stop. The Saints will need much more out of him if is to continue playing the nose tackle position.
David Onyemata didn’t play like a world beater, but he did show flashes of improved hand usage. There were plays where Onyemata needed to get off blocks quicker to make plays, but he also showcased the awareness and power to shuck his man at anytime.
All in all, the middle of the defensive line needs to work on holding their ground, maintaining their gaps, and tightening up their stunts. If this could get cleaned up, it would free up the linebackers to make more plays and improve their run defense tremendously.
The offensive line of the Saints definitely put on a good showing. They consistently gave Drew Brees time in the passing game, and they had enough success in the run game to give Kamara many opportunities to break runs.
The defensive line, however, has to improve to give this defense a chance at reaching their 2017 level again. Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins are high quality players, but another person both on the outside and inside need to step up. For the Saints to reach their playoff aspirations, there must be more penetration and more pressure coming from the front four.