Eleven games into their season, the Saints showcased a formidable pass defense in part thanks to a very capable pass rush. The last two games have left most of us feeling concerned as the Saints have looked somewhat vulnerable. The main stat that jumps out is the pass yardage they are giving up and the lack of pressure they are getting on opposing QB's. Tony Romo is known for hanging onto the ball and making things happen with his ability to escape pressure while behind the line of scrimmage, so there will be opportunities to sack him. Romo has been sacked 28 times this season, good for 8th most in the NFL. Compare that to Brees, as a reference, who has only been sacked 15 times. The key to regaining confidence for the Saints will be to resurrect their pass rush.
Cowboys vs Saints coverage
Check out these key average numbers the Saints were posting through eleven games:
Pass Yards Allowed Per Game: 217.5
Sacks Per Game: 2.3
Interceptions Per Game: 2.0
Then, facing mediocre quarterbacks in Jason Campbell and Chris Redman, these are the numbers they posted in comparison:
Sacks Per Game: 0 vs. Redskins and 1 vs. Falcons (if you can even call Sedrick Ellis' tackle at the line of scrimmage a "sack")
Interceptions Per Game: 1 vs. Redskins, 1 vs. Falcons
So all of the numbers aren't as good across the board and those are the main reasons why the Saints haven't played nearly as well in the last two games. Both Washington and Atlanta got the ball out quickly, trusting their receivers to make plays around the line of scrimmage. While injuries to starting corners Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter have a lot to do with the pass yardarge the past two opponents have amassed, let's consider the fact that Saints have gone from a 2.3 sack average per game over the first 11 games to a half sack per game average over the last 2. That one "sack" in two games, by the way, could have easily been ruled a tackle for no gain.
It's a small sample size, sure, but the Saints are getting a decreasing amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Part of that has been the gameplan for both Campbell and Redman to get the ball out of their hands quickly, and part of it has been the lack of production by Bobby McCray and Charles Grant specifically. They've both performed so poorly it's allowed offenses to double team, chip, and focus on the one real threat off the edge: Will Smith.
With the ball out more quickly, the Saints haven't been able to rely on their playmakers in Porter and Greer. Malcolm Jenkins, Mike McKenzie and to a lesser extent Randall Gay are missing tackles and assignments. Add to that the increasing demand for Roman Harper to help out in pass defense, where he's a liability, and the drop in the level of Darren Sharper's play; we've got ourselves a bit of a problem. Right now the performance of our corners and safeties is so subpar that I don't really think the Saints can afford to send the crazy blitzes that Gregg Williams is so in love with. We've seen how that's worked out the past two games.
So, I think it falls on the Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, Sedrick Ellis, Charles Grant, Bobby McCray and Jeff Charleston to start getting more pressure as a front four. If they can do that, the Saints will get more sacks, more turnovers and yield less pass yardage. Right now I think their drop in performance of the front four is more to blame than the injuries to our starting corners.
Do you agree that the lack of pressure has been more of an issue than the starting cornerbacks being out with injuries? How many sacks do you expect us to get Saturday against Romo, a quarterback that's known for hanging on to the ball longer than most?