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Charting the New Orleans Saints Defensive Line vs. Houston Texans

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Upon further review, how did the Saints defensive line perform against the Texans?

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

One area of the NFL that does not get a bright enough piece of the spotlight is the line of scrimmage. The offensive and defensive lines are the crux of every team; the best lines lead the best offenses and the most formidable defenses.

I’m doing my part to give those underrated units the respect they deserve by giving them a weekly focus. I’m rewatching every snap played by the New Orleans Saints defensive and offensive lines at a quarter of the live-action speed to see who won their brutal contests in the trenches.

There’s been some confusion about my methodology, so I’ll break it down a little further. On any given play a lineman will WIN by moving his opponent off their spot or knocking them to the ground, STALL by holding up and neither giving nor gaining ground (nor getting bodied themselves), or LOSE by failing to complete his responsibilities on the play.

I then take that raw data to find the key stat I use to measure offensive line play: success rate. By combining wins with stalls (which are valued slightly less than wins) and dividing them by the total number of snaps played, I can get an idea of how often a lineman was helping the offense. Stalls go in favor of the offense over the defense because they don’t hurt play execution.

Full disclaimer: My charting of those outcomes is highly subjective and comes with a lot of leeway. Without knowing the Saints’ playbook I can’t definitively say what each lineman is supposed to do on any given play. Combine that with the chaos that happens when an offensive line meets its defensive opponents, and you get a mess that even the most-experienced scouts struggle to navigate.

So, take my findings less as gospel and more as general guidelines to indicate how guys are performing.

Best Win Rate: Tyeler Davison. This was a close contest between Nick Fairley and Tyeler Davison, with Davison ultimately winning more of his snaps (9-of-16) than Fairley (10-of-19). Davison’s win percentage of 56.3 percent was the best rate measured this preseason; Fairley was just behind, winning 52.6 percent of his snaps. The two defensive tackles took advantage of the Houston Texans’ starting center, rookie Nick Martin, missing the preseason game with an injury.

I wouldn’t expect this high win percentages to continue into the regular season, but this early success is encouraging for a defense in need of some positivity. Rounding out the top five is Pro Bowler defensive end Cameron Jordan (35.3 percent), veteran reserve lineman C.J. Wilson (31.6 percent), and sophomore defensive lineman Bobby Richardson (30.4 percent).

Worst Win Rate: Matt Shaugnessy. While some fans and analysts pegged former Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals defensive end Matt Shaugnessy as a candidate for a career revival in New Orleans, that hasn’t materialized on the field. Shaugnessy has struggled to make push the pocket or shed blocks in run defense, ultimately seeing a win percentage of only 5.6 percent against the Texans.

What’s more concerning is who came in second-to-last place: second-year pass rusher Davis Tull. Coming off of a pair of surgeries on both shoulders, Tull struggled to use his elite athleticism and was regularly blocked out of plays. He seemed more ambitious than last week, winning a couple of times, but still at a subpar level (9.1 percent). Tull couldn’t hold up on the edge, either, losing 22.7 percent of his snaps.

Best Loss Rate: Tyeler Davison and Nick Fairley. What’s more impressive than the two defensive tackles’ high win rates is that neither of them lost a snap on 35 combined plays. They executed their assignments regularly and didn’t see any negative plays. The top five here is the same as the best win rates: Bobby Richardson (4.3 percent), C.J. Wilson (5.3 percent), and Cameron Jordan (5.9 percent).

Worst Loss Rate: Obum Gwacham. There was a lot of hype and hope that Obum Gwacham could help Kasim Edebali fill in for Hau’oli Kikaha at weakside defensive end this year. Gwacham is finishing up his transition from college wideout to pro pass rusher, bulking up body to “look like a superhero”. He won the sixth-best percentage of his snaps against the Texans (24 percent), but got just as badly as he gave with the same loss percentage (24 percent).

Like Tull (whose 22.7 percent loss rate was second-to-worst), Gwacham seemed a little overambitious with pass rush moves and got bodied for his trouble. Both young pass rushers have the physical tools to win in the NFL, they just need to execute better.

Onyemata on the Spot. David Onyemata has been thrust into a bigger role than planned thanks to Sheldon Rankins’ injury, so his performance took a bit of a downturn from last week. Onyemata won 27.3 percent of his snaps against the Patriots and lost only 9.1 percent, but won only 20.7 percent and lost 17.2 percent against the Texans.

Onyemata is going to have his ups and downs as he enters his fourth year of playing football, but his athletic upside and football player’s mentality gives him better odds to succeed as a “project” than past failures like Martez Wilson and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. You can see Onyemata picking things up and learning from his mistakes. So far Onyemata looks like he belongs at the NFL level.

Cameron Jordan Lives. The Saints got by last week with less-than-stellar production from their defensive ends, but Cameron Jordan made his preseason debut against the Texans and quickly established himself as the best of the group. Jordan posted the best win percentage behind only Davison and Fairley and led all defensive ends in that category with a rate of 35.3 percent – the next-closest was Obum Gwacham at 24 percent. Jordan is one of the NFL’s great underrated players and he looks primed for another productive year.

Reserve Linemen in Contention. The competition between Darryl Tapp and C.J. Wilson to win the last roster spot on the defensive line took another turn this week as Tapp struggled (win percentage of only 12.5, loss percentage of 20.8) and Wilson thrived (posting a win rate of 31.6 percent and loss rate of only 5.3). Wilson has been noted by several New Orleans Saints beat writers as a candidate to take some snaps in Sheldon Rankins’ absence, and his play against the Texans gave that argument some merit. The Saints usually keep one older veteran to mentor the group, so the 29-year-old Wilson checks that box as well.