What's up, Who Dats? Tee Word comin' at ya with the first edition of Tee's Corner of the 2015 season!
Our beloved New Orleans Saints opened the season with a Week 1 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals. There are many areas of the team that are receiving the blame for the poor performance, but something that has been over-hyped is 'bad' defense. A team that gives up 31 points is going to have things said about its defense, but that final tally doesn't tell the full story. Going a little deeper, I've seen articles and comments about how woeful the secondary played. All of you who know me, know that you can't just say the DBs suck, you have to tell us why. Delvin Breaux and Damian Swann have been getting roasted on news sites and blogs since Sunday, let's talk about their NFL debuts!
Delvin Breaux was signed by the Saints this past offseason to compete for a roster spot. Breaux responded by impressing coaches and was quickly penciled in as the nickel-back. Then an injury to Keenan Lewis suddenly thrust him into a starting CB role. While not a true rookie, he entered his first NFL game and was flagged for four penalties in his debut. Fans across Who Dat have come out of the woodworks to state that he was no better than former Saints Patrick Robinson and Corey White. I disagree! While penalties are not a good thing, we all have to understand that this comes with the territory. Breaux is physical and makes his presence felt in coverage, something Saints DBs have not been in a long time, if ever. At this point, we have to decide - do we want passive, off coverage? Or 'in your face' toughness? I'll take the latter and subsequent penalties that come along with his aggressive style.
Damian Swann is a good, rookie CB who will develop under Dennis Allen. Naturally, he will get beat and may give up a high completion percentage when his man is targeted. Swann can play press-man coverage with success, but getting that opportunity in small quantities can take a player away from his basic fundamentals. We witnessed the same passive approach by Saints DBs that hurt them in 2014. Brandon Browner is more adept at playing up close and personal, then switching to off-coverage on the next play. Less experienced CBs like Swann and Breaux will have a harder time transitioning between aggressive and passive approaches from one play to the next. More to my point though, Swann did well for a rookie based on this being his first 'real' action. By comparison, he is at or better than the level of play of Robinson and White in their final seasons in NO. That means he has room to grow and should trend upward going forward.
The above factors considered, you have to think, "The Saints played off coverage with zone defense a lot on Sunday, why so many penalties?" Simple - the change in style was more than the young CBs could handle. Browner has the experience to apply little techniques and be diverse if needed (he's been a starter on two Super Bowl participants, clearly he does something right). Breaux and Swann had to handle the bright lights of pro football for the first time, on the road, and against a very good QB. My position on this topic is based on the players the Saints have brought in to play CB over the last two or three years. Lewis, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Browner, Breaux, and P.J. Williams are all at least 6 feet tall and Swann is just under 6 foot at 5-11. What does it mean? Well, that's easy - the Saints wanted to get longer and more physical at the position.
Besides White and Lewis, the Saints had a vertically challenged crew with Jabari Greer (Mr. Class Act), Robinson, Brian Dixon, Rod Sweeting, and Trevin Wade on the roster and deployed a very passive approach, afraid to get manhandled by the big WRs in the league. So after revamping the depth chart with the desired length, I wonder why the approach didn't change for Sunday's game. I say, let these guys do what comes natural to them and play aggressively, right in the WRs face. Then, as their experience and confidence grows, give them some flexibility to play off. It's all about rhythm, let them develop some before flipping them back and forth between coverage and leaning heavily on something that is opposite of their current strengths.
This exact thing is the stuff that ruined previous Saints CBs like Malcolm Jenkins and Robinson. Let's not do it again guys! My personal solution to this problem is to move up and press the WRs more often than not and send heat at the QB frequently. Take the boom or bust approach now and make corrections as the players progress. I'm confident Allen wants to turn these young guys loose, but it appears Rob Ryan has other plans.
As always, thanks for reading, Be Cool Who Dats!