Saints Film Study: Defensive Resurgence Leads Team to a “W”


Unity. Growth. Experience.

These are the qualities the defense has needed to reach the point of dominant play we Sunday against the Colts.  Indivdually, the Saints had gathered a talented set of players. The cohesion of those players is what has brought the defense from one of the worst to one of the NFL’s better units.

Now, I’m sure most Saints fans read that and will immediately point to the fact that, as of today, the Saints are ranked 30th overall defensively. This ranking is of course based on total yardage, but there are some other areas where the Saints are actually excelling.

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New Orleans currently ranks 4th overall in 3rd down conversion percentage. Opposing offenses only convert 33.7% of 3rd downs against Rob Ryan’s unit. Seattle, Houston and Denver are the only units posting better numbers.

Another area of success is turnovers. The Saints are ranked 9th with 11 takeaways. Finally, the unit is ranked 12th with 16 sacks. These are all encouraging numbers that are only getting better with each week.

While the entire defense deserves credit, two players in particular have lead the way and in many ways are arguably the best at their respective positions in the NFL.  Delvin Breaux and Cameron Jordan rank highly by both analytical sites and analysts around the league.

Everyone has heard Breaux’s incredible story, but not everyone realizes how incredible his on the field play is. If you took away his name and just showed his film, most would assume he was  3-4 year NFL vet. He has only played 7 NFL games so far. Sticky coverage like the play above has led to Breaux shutting down receivers like Julio Jones and will help him with Odell Beckham, Jr. coming up this next week. Opposing quarterbacks only complete 43.9% of their passes when throwing Breaux’s way, and the Saints will need this to continue so that their defensive resurgence can grow.

Former Saint Jabari Greer had good things to say about Breaux and what he has seen so far. Like most, he sees a lot of potential mixed with current success. Hearing phrases like “great upside” might sound cliche’, but when one of New Orleans’ best corners in recent memory says it, its worth taking notice.

The defensive line has an absolute stud in Jordan. He currently ranks as the best 4-3 DE with Pro Football Focus. His 6 sacks are only .5 less than the NFL lead and over 47% of his tackles result in a tackle for loss according to Sporting Charts. He is lining up across the defensive line causing confusion for opposing linemen and the quarterbacks themselves. His 5 sacks in two games is the best streak of his career and the use of multiple fronts is helping him get them.

Here we see Jordan using excellent hands to break free from the block of the right tackle and prevent Luck from progressing through his reads. With the secondary taking away Luck’s first look, Jordan has enough time to make his move and bring Luck down before he can make the pass. It was pressure from the front four and Jordan combined with stellar coverage in the secondary that held Andrew Luck without a completion for almost a full 1.5 quarters.

Let’s take a look at Cam’s second sack of the day. This time Ryan has him lined up outside of the LT. Cam is going to use a speed move to complete bypass the tackles block. At roughly 285 pounds you wouldn’t expect a man his size to have such a burst off the line, but he shows it here.

Sean Payton got asked about Jordan’s performance the past two games and he stated, correctly I might add, that it’s been simply outstanding. Having your star linemen line up in the 3 tech, 6 tech, 7 tech, and anywhere else you need him to be and him doing it successfully is something very few teams can say they have.

These fronts do take time to develop. Moving your personnel around and running twists and stunts can be very effective, but like with any package system they can take time to both implement and to convert. The combination of secondary play and defensive line pressure provided the right balance to allow both sides to make plays most of the game.

The best way to form that cohesion is to have excellent leadership. Brandon Browner has received quite a bit of hate mail (tweets) from upset Saints fans, but the biggest things he provides are his experience and leadership. He might not be the most talented defender that takes the field for New Orleans, but he is unquestionably one of the most talented leaders.

His physical style does draw plenty of yellow hankies, yet I think he makes up for it in how he keeps the defense running smoothly. Breaux was very frustrated when his “fall downs” led to

T.Y. Hilton

scoring two touchdowns that brought the Colts back into the game. Browner immediately stepped in to talk to the young star and encourage him. Breaux would finish the game strong.

Lastly, Browner’s physical playstyle does have benefits on the field. Against the Colts Ryan assigned Browner to the inside coverage duties. He spent a lot of time covering the Colts’ larger receivers and tight ends and saw success. Also, as the play above shows, he can be the enforcer that any good defense needs. He’s earned the “C” he currently wears. The final play we’ll take a look at comes courtesy of Kenny Vaccaro who is quietly having a great season. We talk a lot about the Saints success (and sometimes lack thereof) in man coverage, but all defenses implement zone coverage as well. It is equally important to excel in both facets. Here Vaccaro is going to show a blitz before dropping back into a shallow zone. By reading Luck’s eyes he’s able to jump the route for a very athletic pass break up. Vaccaro had dropped back to the point where Luck believes he can thread the needle. Vaccaro proves him wrong. Many of the plays above weren’t happening in the first few weeks of the season.

This young defense has needed time to gel together and become a unit that can play off of each other. Now that they seem to have reached that point, they are forcing turnovers, making big plays and stopping offenses before they can string together a solid series.

The team that plays together, wins together. Hope you enjoyed today’s film study. If you ever have any questions, or if there is a play you want to see broken down send me a tweet. May God bless and keep you, and Who Dat!

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