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“Kwontifying” Alexander’s immediate impact with the New Orleans Saints

It’s only been two games since Kwon Alexander was traded to New Orleans and his impact is already hard to miss.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

10 combined tackles, one pass defended, and one fumble recovery.

That’s what you would see if you were to “box score scout” your way through linebacker Kwon Alexander’s immediate impact over his first three games with the New Orleans Saints. It doesn’t tell the whole story by any means.

Even the advanced statistics undersell exactly how great the former San Francisco 49er has been with the Saints’ defense.

Per Pro Football Focus, Alexander had one hurry as a pass rusher, four missed tackles and five defensive stops. In coverage, He also allowed 5/7 receiving for 36 yards and an 83.0 passer rating.

While the passer rating is a pleasant sight given the early season totals many New Orleans defenders put up, it’s clear that it’s still too early in his tenure to evaluate his performance based on stats alone. How instead do you quantify (or “Kwontify”) the added impact of a new arrival who is asked to do a little bit of everything at linebacker?

Understanding the true impact of Kwon Alexander’s addition to the team takes a bit more sleuthing. With a more nuanced look the changing trends of the Saints defense as a whole since his addition, we get a better idea of his contributions. For instance, instead of just looking at Alexander’s passer rating allowed, let’s look at the teammates he most immediately impacts in coverage.

Second Level Defender Passer Ratings

One of the most consistent compliments we have heard about Alexander since his arrival is how he has taken on enough responsibility to free up the rest of the Saints’ second level players (linebackers and defensive backs in the box in this instance) to play their brand of football. Here are the allowed passer ratings of three players that are highly impacted by Kwon Alexander’s addition before he was acquired.

Demario Davis: 121.0
Malcolm Jenkins: 101.0
C.J. Gardner-Johnson: 108.6

Here are those same players since Alexander hit the field in Week 10 and 11.

Demario Davis: 70.1
Malcolm Jenkins: 48.6
C.J. Gardner-Johnson: 37.4

A clear improvement. And aside from C.J. Gardner-Johnson who notched a Week 12 interception, neither Davis nor Jenkins benefited from the quarterbackless matchup against Denver. But there is still one big question. Is it fair to compare eight games of passer ratings to two? To help with that, I also looked at the total passer rating over back-to-back games before the Alexander trade.

Three-Game Ratings Before Kwon Trade

Name Weeks 1-3 Weeks 2-4 Weeks 3-5 Weeks 4-7 Weeks 5-8 Weeks 7-9
Name Weeks 1-3 Weeks 2-4 Weeks 3-5 Weeks 4-7 Weeks 5-8 Weeks 7-9
Demario Davis 129.8 140.3 129.6 119.6 110.8 77.8
Malcolm Jenkins 109.5 132 129.2 148.3 135.4 85.7
C.J. Gardner-Johnson 113.8 111.4 103.2 112.1 98.9 101.2

No player had a better three-game passer rating before Alexander joined. In fact, only Malcom Jenkins achieved a better two-game game passer rating before the linebacker arrived in New Orleans and he did so only once in Weeks 8 and 9.

All four of these players spend a considerable amount of time player in the box either at linebacker, safety, or from the slot. Alexander’s ability to cover in the middle, in the flats, and up the seam have opened up more opportunities for Davis, Jenkins, and Gardner-Johnson to play near the line of scrimmage, blitz the passer, or cover specific assignments in man coverage. That, among other things unseen has been a huge benefit for the Saints defense.

Coverage vs. Tight Ends

During Weeks 1 through 9, tight ends caused the Saints a ton of trouble defensively. Every week it seemed New Orleans was matching up with a very talent Y or simply had trouble accounting for them in coverage, particularly near the goal line.

Against the Saints opposing tight ends combined for 42 receptions, 395 yards, and six touchdowns. That’s 49.4 receiving yards surrendered per game.

Over the last three games since Alexander has been in New Orleans, tight ends have only combined for a meek seven receptions for 38 yards, fewer yards than the early-season per game average. Almost the entirety of that stat line comes from the Week 10 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. This week against Denver, the only catch allowed by the Saints defense was to tight end Noah Fant for 13 yards. Week 11 hosting the Flacons, the Saints did not allow a single reception to a tight end. That’s the first time the team hasn’t given up a catch to the position since Week 2 of the 2011 season vs. the Chicago Bears.

Short Passing Defense

Some found it curious when the Saints decided to trade for Kwon Alexander at the trade deadline rather than a safety or defensive back to help sure up the secondary. But digging into the passing defense beyond the big plays given up shows where the team may have been concerned. Consider that when New Orleans landed Alexander, they had given up seven 40+ yard passing plays on 240 pass attempts. Of those seven 40+ yard plays, only two were touchdowns. During that same time New Orleans had given up 15 passing touchdowns on 158 completions within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage along with a 76.7% completion rate.

New Orleans was vulnerable close the line of scrimmage, particularly over the middle. This, and on third downs specifically help tell the story of Alexander’s impact more clearly. Here are the passer ratings and completion percentages given up in each area of the short field. This includes the offensive left, middle, and right zones of the field within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. All numbers provided by Sharp Football Stats.

Weeks 1 - 9

Short Left: 114 passer rating, 82.7 completion percentage
Short Middle: 107 passer rating, 70.4 completion percentage
Short Right: 100 passer rating, 73.3 completion percentage

Each of those numbers, aside from the completion percentage over the middle were well above the NFL averages. But since Alexander hit the field in Week 10, these numbers have dropped significantly. Of course, we can caveat Week 12. But that game only actually affected the short right side of the field thanks to C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s interception.

Weeks 10 - 12

Short Left: 60 passer rating, 60.0 completion percentage
Short Middle: 46 passer rating, 61.5 completion percentage
Short Right: 64 passer rating, 58.3 completion percentage

That’s an enormous improvement. Again, this has just as much to do with the players around Alexander, but his ability to lighten the load for other defenders can’t be ignored. He’s been a massive contributor and has a positive impact on this team. It’s even more pronounced in our final comparison, third downs.

Weeks 1 - 9 (Third down only)

Short Left: 140 passer rating, 85 completion percentage
Short Middle: 94 passer rating, 66.7 completion percentage
Short Right: 126 passer rating, 73.6 completion percentage

Weeks 10 - 12 (Third down only)

Short Left: 20 passer rating, 50 completion percentage
Short Middle: 3 passer rating, 33.3 completion percentage
Short Right: 81 passer rating, 66.7 completion percentage

Dropping from a 140 passer rating allowed to 20 or from 94 to three, three, is nothing short of remarkable. Again, the only area affected by this week’s win was the short right zone after Denver only converted one third down on a seven-yard run. Denver went 0/4 and a sack throwing on third down. Two of those four attempts were designated as short right.

So while the general stat line and box score numbers don’t tell the whole story, it is possible to quantify the impact Kwon Alexander has had since arriving in New Orleans. He’s come along at the perfect time, picked things up very quickly, and contributed to a resurgent defense which now ranks atop the league in total yards allowed and fifth in points allowed.

Of course, things can always be better. Things can always improve Alexander has by no means been absolutely perfect, but he’s been a part of a defense that’s been damn close as of late.

How have you felt about the addition of Kwon Alexander so far? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.