What's Up Who Dats, It's ya boi Tee Word! Did ya miss me? I'm sure you didn't with this whirlwind of excitement that is the NFL off-season. Today I wanted to chop it up with you about the Rob Ryan the changes to the New Orleans Saints roster. The biggest storyline that will be in constant development between now and opening day (and possibly a few weeks beyond) is Ryan and the .38 hot seat he is resting on. After being unemployed for "about 5 minutes" after being fired by the Dallas Cowboys, Ryan was hired by the Saints and led a remarkable turnaround in 2013. As we all know, the success was not sustained in 2014 and defense fell back to the bottom of the league. The fall of the Saints defense and off-season attempt at recovery has forced me into full 2Pac therapy, which brings me to the title of this piece - 'I Ain't Mad At Cha'.
Believe it or not, I (like most of you) was not completely surprised by the regression of the defense last season. However, I was surprised by how far our mighty Saints defense fell in 2014. But here's the thing, I refuse to blame Rob Ryan for the poor performance of the unit. Well, no more than I'd blame Sean Payton for the overall lack of fire of the entire team. I'm not mad at Ryan and I have 2 reasons to support my position. The difference between an excuse and a reason/cause, in my opinion, is that an excuse is usually some B.S., while a reason/cause has merit. So, here are my top 2 reasons 'I ain't mad at cha':
1. All Hype and No Substance
Heading into the 2014 season, the hype train was loaded with fuel and running at a breakneck speed towards week one in Atlanta. Word on the streets and blogs and ESPN and NFL Network was that the big, bad bayou bullies were the team to beat and that defense, boy that defense, was going to lay the wood all season. The much improved pass rush was ready to ascend to the next level and settle in among the elite in the league. Let's not forget the defensive backs - the sky was the limit with the transition from Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins to Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd. The stage was set for the Saints to compete with the Seattle Seahawks, and Houston Texans for the top defense in the league. Then the season actually started and the defense allowed Atlanta to remain in the game and eventually win in overtime. My personal opinion is that the 11+ guys responsible for stopping the Falcons that day, and a few subsequent opponents, bought into the hype. They all believed that they just needed to show up and offenses would just lay down. Say what you will about organizational control, but the reality is, a coach or coaching staff can only control so much. These players are exposed to so much media, that it's impossible to keep them from getting at least a little full of themselves. It also doesn't help when everyone is crowning you Super Bowl champs before you take the first snap. Hey Rob Ryan, I ain't mad at cha!
2. One Starting Caliber Cornerback and Linebacker
Let's be real y'all, Keenan Lewis was the only starting caliber CB on the roster last season. More truth, Curtis Lofton was the only starting caliber LB. It is nearly impossible to be a consistent winner in the NFL if you have below average coverage and less than a pair of solid LBs on your team. You can scheme and try to use tricks to generate faux pass rush, but in the end, you only expose your greatest weakness to more stress. This is exactly what happened in 2014. While the Saints were parting ways with Victor Butler, Martez Wilson, Harper and Jenkins, no one was brought in to replace them. Factor in the timely release of Jonathan Vilma and unfortunate injury to Jabari Greer and you've lost quite a bit of talent, even if aged talent. Again, the team was not reloaded in the slightest way. Yeah, RR could've raised hell heading into the draft and begged for players, but we know he wouldn't have gotten his new toys after what he'd just orchestrated in 2013. Payton needed to get his offense kick-started so the draft was his to burn. So Ryan was left with David Hawthorne, Ramon Humber, Parys Haralson, Corey White, Patrick Robinson, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste to keep his good thing going. I can point out one common thread among these guys (no, not that they suck) - none of them is a complete or all around player. Each is limited in what they do well, more situational players than anything. So what do you expect when Cameron Jordan disappears until week 7 or 8 and your mega-millionaire safety pulls up lame? This is not a coaching thing, this is a personnel thing! Hey Big Fella, I ain't mad at cha!
Alright, so quick review - Rob Ryan was gifted a bunch of cocky players, many of whom were limited in ability and you wonder why the defense tanked. Well, here's a bonus point, there were no veteran leaders! From where I'm sitting, it's kinda hard to produce a winner under those conditions. I know many will disagree and consider my reasons to be mere excuses, but I stand by my points 100%. Players with inflated self-worth and limited talent will not be successful in general. The good news is that the team seemed to take the defense very seriously this off-season and addressed each area of need and also brought in some locker room presence to reign in the cocky youth. Things are looking up and Rob Ryan will lead another defensive rebirth in New Orleans!
Great to be back and thanks for reading. As always, Be Cool Who Dats!