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Tee's Corner: Toe the Line

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The New Orleans Saints have a collection of young defensive talent. The defensive line is home to a few players who can wreck an offensive scheme, but have not always reached their potential. Let's get to know some of these guys and try to figure out what to expect in 2015!

Lawrence Virgil on the tackle
Lawrence Virgil on the tackle
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What's good, Who Dats! It's the one and only Tee Word, comin' atcha with another Tee's Corner. In this long off-season there is plenty of talk about the recent combine performances, upcoming draft, and  eventual roster moves that will be made. Well, that's not my thing to be honest, it's all about the game for me and I focus on that aspect to maintain my sanity. I know that I'm not alone in my approach and there are some CSCers out there who still want to talk about how the players' play. Let's talk about the Saints defensive line, less about technique and more about potential and realistic expectations.

The Cast

The Saints defensive front is littered with a mixture of high-level talent and mid-level grit. There is also a veteran player who may make the final roster this fall if the money is right. At defensive end we have Brandon Deaderick, Glenn Foster, Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker, and Cameron Jordan. Walker and Hicks are very big men who can actually play nose tackle if needed, but fit better as a 3-4 defensive end. Deaderick had a handful of good games down the stretch last season and Foster was productive in 2013 and 2014 in limited snaps. At nose tackle, there's the two young players in John Jenkins and Lawrence Virgil who both showed flashes in their respective rookie seasons. Also add in veteran NT Brodrick Bunkley who has been okay but is definitely not a long term solution. Kassim Edebali and Junior Galette both get down in a 3 or 4 point stance with the linemen but are considered linebackers. These guys factor into line play in my opinion but I'll catch up with them when we talk about the linebackers at a later time. The potential is there along the defensive line, along with enough youth to be a force for years to come (think of the NASCAR Giants defensive line).

The Numbers

Statistics for defensive linemen can be misleading because it does not always make it clear of what actually has happened from game to game. A high tackle total by one player or another could simply reflect more opportunities because he is a constant target due to his teammate drawing double teams. To get a better idea of what actually happened to the Saints DL in 2014, I decided to use Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) from Football Outsiders. According to FO "they don't include quarterbacks or fumbles, long runs are truncated, and a different set of adjustments is used, attempting to isolate line play rather than total team defense." In short, the focus is on ranking the play of the guys in the trenches.

What I have found is that our eyes did not deceive us in 2014, there was regression along the defensive line and the rankings show it. In 2014, the Saints dropped from #4 in sacks to #26 while accumulating only 34 sacks after getting 49 in 2013. Their adjusted sack rate dropped from 8.6% to 6.0% from one season to the next with the same cast of characters. There are many factors that play into this type of occurrence, mainly complacency (code: we like the kool-aid). Further evidence of their poor production shows up in their ranking as a unit in run stuffing and open field yardage yielded. The Saints D ranked 22nd at stuffing the run, 28th at 2nd level stops, and 31st in open field yards. By comparison, in 2013 they finished 12th, 12th, and 30th in the three categories. These numbers show that the run stopping was better previously, but the tackling issues have been around for much longer. The DVOA rank for the team says it all as they tumbled from 10th to 18th in just one season.

The Skinny

It's time for redemption, the rest of the defense needs these guys to play lights out in 2015! After a tough 2014 campaign, let's hope the hunger is back and the guys play with a chip on their shoulders ALL SEASON LONG!

So what do you guys think? Have we seen the best this defensive line has to offer or can they get better (I think they can)? Leave your ideas in the comments!

As always, Thanks For Reading and Be Cool Who Dats!