After fielding the worst statistical defense in NFL history in 2012, the Saints made a point to fix at least something in the 2013 season. Well, part of that "something", otherwise known as the Saints' pass rush, turned out to be pretty ground-breaking and was a large part of the Saints' eventual 11-5 finish with a trip to the Divisional round of the playoffs. Led by defensive end Cam Jordan, the Saints' defensive line was a huge part of the team's success in 2013. Recording 12.5 sacks was definitely the highlight of his season, but he also was able to register 47 tackles and force two fumbles in the process. Akiem Hicks, the end opposite of Jordan, didn't have a shabby year himself, finishing with 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Big John Jenkins, the Saints' prototypical nose tackle coming in a 6'3", 359 lbs., learned behind Brodrick Bunkley for most of the 2013 season but will assuredly have a greater role this coming season.
Defensive line? Check.
The other half of the Saints' pass-rushing dominance came from the linebackers, most notably outside linebacker Junior Galette who led this force with 12 sacks and an additional 40 tackles. Galette's support staff, consisting mainly of Parys Haralson, David Hawthorne, and Curtis Lofton, were the run stoppers of the group, finishing with 30, 91, and 125 tackles respectively. While it would be great for the Saints to add a little more depth to both the inside and outside linebacker positions, the core and necessary pieces are already in place for the Saints' thumpers to have repeated success. Having a more defined 3-4 look due to the return of healthy players will help tremendously in this effort.
The Saints did great for themselves prior to the 2013 season by snagging cornerback Keenan Lewis in free agency and drafting rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, but those guys were really the only two polished pieces of the secondary. This was especially evident after both them and the likes of former starters Patrick Robinson, Roman Harper, and Jabari Greer missed time due to injury. Those that were farther down on the depth chart ended up with more playing time and were largely disappointing.
To fix that issue, the Saints emptied out their pockets on highly-coveted safety Jairus Byrd and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey to help bolster their secondary. However, with Champ turning 36 prior to the start of training camp this year, the Saints needed a more solidified option at the cornerback spot opposite of Keenan Lewis. And that, my friends, is where the newest addition to the Saints' defense, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, comes in to play.
Jean-Baptiste brings to the Saints exactly what they were missing all along: a corner with the perfect combination of size (6'3" and 218 lbs) and speed (4.61 40-yard dash). Both of these qualities are exactly the types that are perfect for Rob Ryan's press-man scheme on the outside. While he may be slightly unpolished only having played two years at the cornerback position, he will quickly learn the ropes from both Champ Bailey and Ryan and will flourish. NFL analyst Mike Mayock seems to agree, as he said the following to say about Stanley:
"At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he is today's NFL corner. He is a lot like Richard Sherman in that he is a converted wide receiver, but he has the size of Brandon Browner. I think (New Orleans defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan is going to turn him in to a future All-Pro."
But the magnitude of Stanley Jean-Baptiste's arrival in New Orleans doesn't just stop at his size, speed, or even his fundamentals and ball skills. It's the fact that he is the missing piece to the Saints quest for the dominant defense that means so much. Richard Sherman has his Brandon Browner and his Earl Thomas. Now Keenan Lewis has his Stanley Jean-Baptiste and his Jairus Byrd. Oh, and don't forget about that Kenny Vaccaro cat, either.
Mark my words, Saints fans, but the Saints will finish the 2014 season with the best defense in the NFL. That's right: THE BEST.
Dominant defense? Check mate.