The New Orleans Saints have found the right combination heading into the 2015 season for their ailing defense and it appears to be defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and defensive assistant Dennis Allen.
Heading into the offseason, the idea that Ryan could be let go gained a lot of ground considering the dramatic dip that occurred in the Saints performance on defense.
A similar situation happened to Ryan when he was with the Dallas Cowboys where their defense was ranked, according to ProFootballFocus.com, seventh overall in 2011 and then eleventh overall in 2012.
While having a defense ranked in that area may seem to be a positive, the negative was that the Cowboys missed the playoffs both times and Ryan shouldered some of the blame resulting in him being fired at the end of the 2012 season.
Nov 2, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones smiles prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
In fact, in a February 2013 interview with the Star-Telegram Cowboys VP Stephen Jones made it clear when it came to the reason behind the dismissal stating,
"“Where we fundamentally came down with Rob is that his philosophy is about multiple scheme,” Jones said. “I think you have to skinny it down. Philosophically, I don’t think Rob believes in that. And it’s not something that happened and all of a sudden at the end of the year we had a problem. I think Rob will tell you we had long visits about this in the off-season last year that there was too much scheme. He tried to cut it back and he did skinny it back, but it’s still a lot.“This is no revelation we had after we went 8-8. This was after the year before’s 8-8. We just didn’t feel like at the end of the day Rob could skinny it back enough to our satisfaction that we could make plays.”"
When Ryan was hired by New Orleans as their new defensive coordinator, the idea of the complex schemes he had made many nervous because this was the issue the Saints faced in 2012.
That season then defensive coordinator Steve Spagnola was criticized for being too complex or confusing with his scheme and was said by players to be unwilling to budge in order to simplify it.
But as Ryan began to install his defense, there were shades of former defensive coordinator Greg Williams style of play.
Players were aggressive, physical, and most of all looked like they actually enjoyed playing for Ryan who was said to be a player’s coach and said that “I demand we have fun.”
Oct 26, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan celebrates following a win over the Green Bay Packers in a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated Packers 44-23. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints enjoyed a renewed success under Ryan and catapulted up to one of the top defenses in the league in 2013.
But 2014 was a different matter as the Saints plummeted to being ranked 31st in the NFL on defense and nobody had answers for the decline.
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Sure there were the obvious like injuries and also the heavily paraded one like the immaturity storyline but there was one that goes back to Ryan’s tenure in Dallas…multiple, complex schemes.
Enter current Saints defensive assistant Allen into the picture…
NOLA.com’s Saints beat writer Katherine Terrell recent article of the team rebuilding their defense even referenced defensive end Cameron Jordan’s comments as a hint to this.
"“At this point … I know two or three of the base packages that we have. Although, this time last year we were like 20 schemes in, now we’re at like, four,” he joked."
As you can see, a huge difference compared to the 2014 season which is likely the reason why players had such difficulty grasping the concept along with all the other scenarios.
Terrell also mentions Allen as being one of the reasons for the strict diet that Ryan’s playbook was placed on and bringing a “calming presence.”
Everyone has heard or seen Ryan’s larger than life personality that matches his physique as well as his hair and apparently it spilled over into his approach on defense.
Ryan’s ideas were well intended but he’s almost like a mad scientist bubbling over with excitement without regard for the ensuing chaos…until it’s too late.
August 15, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen looks at his play chart against the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Allen on the other hand seems to be more concerned with getting back to the basics of what made the Saints a fearsome defense when he was there in 2009 and also what he saw in 2013.
Placing players in a situation to win was something that Ryan preached and what Allen believes in as well.
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Too many times last year, players were asked to execute multiple roles in an attempt to “confuse” the opposing offense, but instead did the opposite and confused the Saints defense.
Fundamentals like tackling became a lost art which Allen has seen to correct with even being spotted manning a tackling pad himself for instruction with the defensive back group on Thursday’s OTA’s.
While Ryan has the ideas that will hopefully get the Saints defense back on track, Allen will be there to sift through the ones that are doable and ones that most likely won’t be feasible.
The dynamic of having Ryan and Allen both essentially splitting defensive coordinator duties may seem a bit like overkill, but in the end they could prove to be just the right combination the defense needs in 2015……