2013 Saints Defense: The Rob Ryan Effect

Scott Cunningham

Eleven games through the 2013 season it is clear that the Saints' winning ways are directly related to their improved defense. Here's a detailed look at exactly how much it actually has improved.

When Rob Ryan arrived in New Orleans the Who Dat Nation was excited and welcomed him with open arms, but much of its members were not sure how much he would actually help. I personally figured he would give us a mediocre (at best) defense, but never the top-5 defense that we have now.

As we are almost three quarters of the way through the season, we have enough statistical evidence to compare their improvements with the prior season. Let us take a look at the hard numbers.

Points Passing Yards Allowed Rushing Yards Allowed Sacks Turnovers
Falcons 17 279 88 3 2
@Buccaneers 14 113 160 1 2
Cardinals 7 247 161 4 2
Dolphins 17 216 115 4 4
@Bears 18 340 94 3 1
@Patriots 30 235 141 5 1
Bills 17 211 88 4 3
@Jets 26 140 198 2 0
Cowboys 17 104 89 3 0
49ers 20 115 81 3 1
@Falcons 13 264 91 5 1

The table above includes the major defensive statistics that the Saints have recorded through their eleventh game of the 2013 season. Under Rob Ryan, these statistics have earned them the following rankings in the NFL in the respective categories.

They have allow an average of 309.9 total yards per game (5th in the NFL), 198 passing yards per game (3rd in the NFL), 111.9 rushing yards per game (15th in the NFL), and 17.8 points per game (5th in the NFL). They also have 37 total sacks (tied for 1st in the NFL) and have 17 takeaways (tied for 18th). While the Saints still have a top-3 offensive attack, their defense has won them numerous games this season and is a large part of their success.

Now let's take a look at their defensive statistics from the previous two seasons, both of which had different defensive coordinators.

Points (per game) Total Yards (per game) Passing Yards (per game) Rushing Yards (per game) Sacks Turnovers
2012 28.4 (31st) 440.2 (32nd) 292.6 (31st) 147.6 (32nd) 30 (tied for 25th) 26 (tied for 12th
2011 21.2 (13th) 368.4 (24th) 259.8 (30th) 108.6 (12th) 33 (tied for 19th) 16 (31st)

Captained by Steve Spagnuolo in 2012, the Saints' defense was absolutely horrendous on all accounts. Even though it is not even worth the time to look at last year's numbers, we must look at them for comparison. As of now, 2013's squad is allowing about 110 less yards per game and nearly 11 less points per game. They have already passed last year's sack total, but are mysteriously on pace to finish with one less turnover. This speaks loudly of their current third down conversion percentage allowed, which is 34.3, since they are tied for the league's best in time of possession.

2011 saw better statistics than 2012, but they are still not as good as this year's. Gregg Williams, who has a similar style to that of Rob Ryan, was good at dialing up pressure and was willing to allow yards in exchange for turnovers. Ironically, the team was at the bottom of the table in the takeaway category after finishing with the second most turnovers in 2009 with virtually the same players. The 2013 Saints have already passed both the sack and turnover numbers from the 2011 season.

It is evident through statistical analysis and just plain common sense that Rob Ryan has found the Saints' winning formula on defense. He dials up pressure when needed and mixes in many different looks each game, my personal favorite being the Amoeba defense. He has been labeled a "players coach" by the team and he is great at getting the defense pumped up for games. His performance on and off the field makes him the ideal defensive coordinator for any team, and we as Saints fans should be (I believe everyone is) ecstatic that he is leading our team.

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