Quiet confidence and stoic leadership.
These are traits the 2013 New Orleans Saints defense do not possess. Clearly this is a confident group, but there is nothing quiet about them. Kenny Vaccaro, Junior Galette, and Cameron Jordan have spearheaded the new era of confidence on the field for the Saints, not with dirty play or cockiness, but with stellar play and renewed energy. There is leadership here with the Saints defense, but Rob Ryan is anything but stoic. His aggression and passion has reinvigorated a Saints defense that was left for dead just one season ago.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has molded the Saints defense into his own image, not literally of course, as that defense would truly be horrible. This defense has taken on the self-confidence, charisma, and swagger of Rob the Slob™ himself. Has the switch to the 3-4 made a difference? Sure, but the Saints are still running 4-3 formations regularly. Have the additions of Kenny Vaccaro, John Jenkins, and Keenan Lewis made a difference? Of course, but the majority of the defensive personnel remain from last season's abysmal unit. Rob Ryan is the biggest variable here.
In 2012 under Steve Spagnuolo, the Saints defense appeared increasingly unsure, uptight, and apologetic. None of these traits can be attributed to this renewed Saints defense. Many may compare Ryan's defense to that of Gregg Williams in 2009, but this defense isn't the turnover creating machine that played on the edge like that squad. Also unlike the Gregg's defenses, this Saints unit is getting to the passer with regularity. The front seven is creating pressure without selling-out the secondary. This combination of confidence and scheme have been devastating to the competition.
Now the skeptics will say that the Saints have faced a terrible Atlanta offensive line, a horrible Tampa offense, and an underwhelming starter in Arizona's Carson Palmer. For all of their success, Miami potentially falling victim to Rob Ryan's D will do little to sway the same skeptics, but the tests will continue to come this season and so far this defense has been up to the challenge. In fact, the simple fact that the Saints defense has played so well against offenses with these deficiencies is beyond encouraging.
The Saints have a terrible habit of playing down to the level of their competition, but this defense is taking nothing for granted. This defense is willing to carry the load when the offense isn't producing, and this is where the confidence, pride, and swagger come into play. There is a belief in themselves, belief in their coaches, and a belief in each other that simply wasn't there a year ago. This defense is confident, unapologetic and fun. I made a case for Rob Ryan in the offseason but I wasn't completely sold. This performance, even at this early point in the season, has exceeded expectations.
The 2012 Saints defense carries the unfair and inaccurate burden of being the "worst defense in NFL history", but these are grown men, these are professionals, and they have pride. This 2013 defense refuses to carry that burden any longer. This is a defense born in anger, scorn, and ridicule. They, like their coach were left for dead and prematurely buried, but this isn't Spagnuolo's defense. This is a proud group of talented players led by an enigmatic leader, poised to lead the league in their craft. It's so refreshing to say this about the defense as well as the offense in New Orleans.