Following yet another opening day L to start the season both Cameron Jordan and Sean Payton gave their thoughts on what lead to a shoddy defensive performance.
“we didn’t play well on the back end, and we didn’t do a good enough job rushing” Saints coach Sean Payton Said.
I know we had a couple good rushes but a couple good rushes is not enough Jordan said. “as far as the D-line goes we’ve got to do a better job and it starts with me”
Now what if I told you those quotes were following the loss to the Vikings LAST YEAR in Week 1 and then pointed out how similar they were to this years assessment?
“Take your pick. We did not hurry the passer. Guys were open.- Sean Payton on what didn’t work defensively vs Buccaneers
That’s on the defensive line That’s on me. We got a wake-up call for sure. The good thing for us is that it is week one. We can adjust this. It’s early.” said Cam Jordan
Three years of data going back to 2016 suggest that the Saints defensive line is a notoriously slow starting unit that improves significantly from week 1 to week 2.
In 2016 vs the Raiders they produced 0 scks, 4 def, and 3 QB hits. They followed that up with a 2 sck, 4 def, 2 QB hit performance. They doubled their sacks and Cam Jordan himself seemed to wake up from his slumber by chipping in with 8 tcks 2.5 for loss, 1 pdef, and a sack after only posting 1 solo tackle and a QB hit against Oakland
In 2017 vs the Vikings it was more of the same. They generated 1 scks, 2 pdef, and 2 QB hits only to come out the next week and double down on every category with 2 scks, 4 pdef, and 4 QB hits vs Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Last Sunday vs Tampa Bay the defensive front posted a paltry stat line of 0 scks, 3 pdef, and 2 QB hits that fell right in line with their week 1 modus operandi.
That brings us to the Browns and their QB Tyrod Taylor
The last time the Saints faced off against the Browns elusive quarterback (then with the Bills) they generated 2 sacks, 5 pass def, and 3 QB hits. Taylor delivered a performance that was so abysmal it got him benched in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman.
Ironically enough after joining the Browns #5 is in a similar scenario but with a much higher profile rookie, Baker Mayfield, waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile his Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley employs 5 step drops that are designed to attack downfield and Tyrod likes to hold onto the ball.
When both factors of that relationship are working this can result in chunk yardage plays but when it’s not it gets your QB beat up. This was not more evident than in last weeks game vs the Steelers as Pittsburgh racked up 7 sacks, 10 pass def, and 11 QB hits of Taylor.
While the New Orleans defensive line will find themselves hard pressed to duplicate such a dominant effort, Cleveland’s scheme and QB should give them ample enough chances to try.
Now to jump into some burning questions the Saints need to answer heading into Week 2.
Which new receiver steps up to claim a role?
New Orleans has three receivers on the 53 that weren’t there a year ago. Austin Carr, Tre’quan Smith, and Cam Meredith combined for 2 catches and 22 yards on 2 targets in Week 1. Against Tampa Ben Watson proved to be reliable in key situations (the seam route was beautiful) and Ted Ginn continued his potency in the deep threat role most recently occupied by Brandin Cooks.
Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara can’t sustain last weeks production for 16 games so one of the aforementioned players needs to separate from the pack. I expect the picture to be a little clearer after the final whistle on Sunday.
Where will the running game come from?
Sean Payton said he “hated that the game got one dimensional”. Drew Brees ended up throwing 45 passes and while the offense put up 40 points it wasn’t because they were balanced. One could even assume that lack of balance lead indirectly to the defensive line seeing 50+ snaps last Sunday.
New Orleans has yet to call Boston Scott up from the practice squad hinting that if Payton has a plan to remain balanced it’s going to happen because he trust either Mike Gillislee or Jonathan Williams to get the job done. After a paltry 3.4 yards per carry effort vs Tampa one can only assume the run game has been a point of emphasis this week.
Who’s the man in the middle ?
I get that the Saints are rotating LB’s to figure out who does what best but your Mike LB is the last position that should be unclear in week 2. When asked about it following the game, none of the LB’s seemed to have a clue they’d be rotated the way they were during the game. All responded valiantly with some variation of “I do my job when my number is called” but it’s slightly concerning that the guy who will play next to Davis in over 60% of the snaps hasn’t been chosen yet.
Random Thought – Cleveland’s O-line is mushy on the left side after the retirement of Joe Thomas. Marcus Davenport will see more than the 23 defensive snaps he saw against Tampa. Rookie gets the first sack of his NFL career.
Though I’d like to have written a section about the secondary I’m going to take Marshon Lattimore’s word that “there’s nothing to panic about” just yet. The defensive line has more draft collateral thrown into it and is the engine that makes the entire train go. I need to see that unit tune things up before I can give an accurate assessment of the defensive backs. Sean Payton vs Gregg Williams is its own storyline but I think New Orleans overcomes their history vs Cleveland. Saints win 30-20