Just admit it. We won’t judge you, I promise.
When Matt Ryan and the Falcons were slicing the Saints’ defense open on the last drive of Sunday’s game, you knew it was over. You stared at your TV and contemplating throwing it out the window. A defense that was statistically the worst in NFL history just one season ago had played amazing all day and stuffed a vaunted Atlanta offense filled with potential Pro Bowl talent. And you were watching that performance wither away in two minutes.
But that’s when the unthinkable happened. Kenny Vaccaro was able to get his precious fingertips on a pass intended for Tony Gonzalez and Roman Harper – who couldn’t catch a cold butt-naked in the snow – made the interception.
Your TV is safe for another week! But more importantly, you witnessed a revolution on the defensive side of the ball not seen since Gregg Williams left New Orleans in a cloud of blood and severed heads two years prior.
Rob Ryan has transformed the attitude of this defense in less than one year. You’ve been hearing it all week. CONFIDENCE! SWAGGER! YOLO!
All that is true. I haven’t seen this unit that jacked up since they were playing for a Super Bowl berth.
But it has been Ryan’s schematic changes that are what’s really paying dividends for the Saints defense already. Ryan chose to run more of a 3-3 stack in lieu of his traditional 3-4, using Vaccarro as an extra safety on the field. Vaccaro’s presence in the middle gave Matt Ryan problems all day and it was the rookie’s hit on Ryan when he tried to slide after a big run in the first quarter that turned the tide in the game.
The Falcons’ QB was visibly shaken afterwards and it seemed like he rushed a lot of his throws when pressure started to come to avoid being hit again. I’ll trade those fifteen yards for that every time.
The defense got into the backfield early and often, recording three sacks and generally disrupting the flow of the Falcons’ tempo -- limiting human mouthpiece and Predator look-a-like Roddy White to one of his most ineffective games ever. Even when giving up a big play to Harry Douglas or Steven Jackson, the D never once looked like the unit that was marred by inefficiency and terrible play just one year ago.
It wasn’t a completely different unit out there on the field Sunday afternoon but it sure did look like it. They flew to the ball, limited mistakes and generally looked like a defense that can win this team ball games moving forward.
Roman Harper, who earned forgiveness for a porous 2012 season for recovering two clutch turnovers Sunday, said it best:
"We didn’t win in spite of the defense. We won because of the defense. And that’s a good thing going forward."
Somebody buy Rob Ryan a cheeseburger (extra mayo!) for what he’s done so far. And while you’re at it, stop by Ms. Mae’s and take a shot for him.
He deserves it.