We continue and conclude the Team X-Factor series with the defense. As I defined in the offense edition, "X-Factor" is a variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
We can all agree that last season the defense was extremely inconsistent. The group often gave up big plays to below average players such as 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. But in some instances when it was time to hunker down and make a stop, they would do it. The goal line stand against the Tennessee Titans and the fourth down stop against the Dirty Birds come to mind. There's no question that the defense had the ability to play like that all of the time, but the performance was mostly erratic.
Looking back at the consummation of each player last year, it is difficult to find someone that stands out as a "X-Factor." Malcolm Jenkins had 77 combined tackles but failed to get an interception. As a free safety that is unacceptable. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis posted 29 combined tackles yet was only credited with half of a sack. Again, unacceptable.
Out of every player that participated on the Saints defense last year, strong safety Roman Harper's performance was closest to that of a "X-Factor." Even though he is listed as a safety, he was unorthodoxly used as another blitzing linebacker by Gregg Williams. Though in that role Harper did contribute quite nicely. He led the team in tackles with 95 as well as sacks with 7.5. His role will likely change with Steve Spagnuolo taking over the defense, using a different scheme.
As far as a "X-Factor" for next years defense, though, look for newly acquired linebacker Curtis Lofton to be the guy. Lofton is a reliable defensive player and knows how to lay the wood. He comes to the Saints off his best statistical season with division rival Atlanta Falcons. He finished fifth in the league for total tackles with 147. Lofton also posted one sack and two interceptions. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a linebacker for the Saints last season, led his position on the team with 76 total tackles. Curtis nearly doubled his number. As you can see, he has a nose for the ball.
Being 6 feet tall and 241 pounds, Curtis is a stout, strong player. And at the age of 26, he still has most of his career ahead of him. If he can post numbers similar to those of last season, he will be a great addition for the black and gold and will sport those colors for a long time.