In 2012, the New Orleans Saints were ranked dead last in the NFL when it came to total defense. The previous season, they were ranked 24th and Sean Payton came to the realization that something needed to be done. For Payton, it was a shift in philosophy after winning a Super Bowl in a 4-3 scheme to move it to a 3-4 one under Rob Ryan. Peyton did have some experience while he was in Dallas working with Bill Parcells of 3-4 defense and that might have influenced him to make the change as well.
Where it all starts for Ryan and this defense is with Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. These two really jumped out on the games I was able to study. Jordan leads the club with six sacks and you can see why in the way he comes off the ball. There is quickness and power to his game. Have seen him easily beat blocks one-on-one but against the Patriots, he out worked a double team to grab a sack of Tom Brady.
Galette is listed as an outside linebacker but like Ryan used DeMarcus Ware, he puts his hand on the ground and lets him attack up the field. Galette can get some serious push off the edge when he gets his hands inside the blocker and takes off running. Have to be worried about these two in the way they are used in the twist game. Will swap sides so they will each get a shot a Doug Free and Tyron Smith. Could see Ryan putting these two on the same side of the field and trying to get some pressure this way. This was something that he would do with Ware and Spencer at times last season.
Inside the Saints, have Brodrick Bunkley and he will play at the nose, while Akiem Hicks will get some work there as well. A player that looks to be playing better in the pro's than he did in college, is tackle, John Jenkins from Georgia. To his credit, his weight did drop as we got closer to the draft and it appears that the Saints might have stolen one here in the 3rd round with Jenkins. He is not going to give you much as a pass rusher other than push but he is hard to move against the run and will play off blocks for tackles.
I really like what I have seen from these Saints linebackers, in David Hawthorne, Curtis Lofton and Parys Haralson. These guys do a really nice job of getting to the ball. Hawthorne is an outstanding tackler that is very smart. It's rare that you see him get fool on a play. He has the size to take on blocks and get rid of them. He is physical and plays with outstanding awareness. Lofton looks lighter on tape and there are times where he doesn't fight the blocks like Hawthorne but when he is on the move, he is quicker than him and when he gets in position, he can tackle. Of the two, he is the better of the blitzers. Haralson plays as the Sam and he has the strength to hold up against tight ends in the running game. You don't see him get knocked back much and that is his best trait. [embedded_ad]
In the secondary, the Saints had plenty of issues in 2012 but that appears to have been cleaned up. If you remember his days while he in Dallas, Ryan liked to play man-to-man press coverage with the corners and leave them out on the edge to handle things. Ryan is doing the same thing with Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis. What is making a difference for these corners has been a better job of the front seven getting pressure. Both of these corners are very handsy in the way they play. They will test these Cowboys receivers right from the jump and how much the officials allow them to play and that will dictate how this game might go. Corey White will see action in the nickel and when Ryan wants to put Kenny Vaccaro down in the box, he will bring Rafael Bush in the game to play safety with Malcolm Jenkins.
This Saints defense is clearly better than what they had shown the last two seasons and Rob Ryan has made the difference in that regard. With the personnel that he currently playing with, I believe that he is going to come after Tony Romo and this Cowboys offense to see if they can handle the pressure and the crowd noise. These are the types of games that Romo relishes, when he can toe-to-toe against a guy like Rob Ryan.