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Saints defensive line rotation continues to wreak havoc

Even without Marcus Davenport in Week 13, the New Orleans defensive line continues heavy rotation and pressure.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday’s 21-16 win against the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints found themselves short-handed along the defensive line. Even though Sheldon Rankins was making his return, the team had lost Marcus Davenport to a delayed concussion symptoms during the practice week and soon lost defensive tackle Malcom Brown during Sunday’s game.

Despite being down two key players, the Saints defensive line continued to rotate and shift, making it hard for offensive lines to keep up and perform. While the offensive linemen are playing every snap, the Saints continue to sub in and out fresh legs. With Rankins back, a larger focus on twists and stunts were present as well.

Below, we’ll discuss two different defensive line combinations:
Player combinations refer to the group of players lining the trenches. Deployed in three and four man fronts in this game. Meanwhile personnel combinations could be the same four players, but all playing different techniques.

For example, if Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, and Trey Hendrickson play two straight snaps, that would be two snaps for that player combination. However, if Onyemata and Rankins switch three- and one-tech reps on those plays, that would be one snap for each personnel combination. This allows us to really dig into how much New Orleans likes to rotate.

Here are each of the defensive line player combinations and the snap counts. There are 67 total snaps accounted for in this week’s tracking. 63 plays were run, four additional are considered “no play” thanks to defensive penalties.

Player Combinations

  1. Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson: 20
  2. Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle, Trey Hendrickson: 14
  3. Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Shy Tuttle, Carl Granderson: 10
  4. Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Shy Tuttle, Trey Hendrickson: 5
  5. Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, Carl Granderson: 5
  6. Ryan Glasgow, Sheldon Rankins, Shy Tuttle, Carl Granderson: 4
  7. Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Malcom Brown, Trey Hendrickson: 2
  8. Ryan Glasgow, David Onyemata, Malcom Brown, Trey Hendrickson: 2
  9. Ryan Glasgow, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle, Carl Granderson: 2
  10. Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Trey Hendrickson: 2
  11. Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson: 1

Of those 11 player combination a total of 26 personnel combinations were shown as the linemen continued to move about with some interesting front fours.

Four the second week in a row, the Saints used quite a bit of “Wide 9” techniques with their edge rushers in an effort to keep contain on some keep rushing downs. They even lined Cam Jordan over the top of a tight end for one play in which he bumped the receiver at the line and then proceeded to rush the passer.

New Orleans also had several plays in which the ends were lined up on the outside shoulders of the offensive tackles, nothing new there, but the three- and one-tech players (Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata) were lined up on the offensive left to help overload that side of the line. Sometime Demario Davis would be up on the line for these threatening the opposite A-gap.

Most Productive Player Combination

The most popular play combination of Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, and Trey Hendrickson had a nice day. This group piled on two sacks (including 10.5 on the season for Hendrickson) along with some additional hits and pressures. But when this unit was on the field, Matt Ryan completed only 5/15 passes for 65 net yards after the two sacks. That means allowing only 3.82 passing yards per play with this pass rushing unit. No struggles against the run either allowing only 23 yards. Though they let that total up on just two carries including a long of 15.

With this group of lineman, New Orleans also ran only one play in base (three linebackers), three in nickel, and the remaining 16 in dime.

New Orleans rarely relied on three-fronts not doing so until the final three plays of the game. Other than that, they were solely playing with a group of four.

Positions Played

Here are all of the positions that each lineman played. Some of the three-techs may be more line 2i defenders, but working off of broadcast views only allowed for so much detail.

Week 13 D-Line Personnel

position Cam Jordan David Onyemata Malcom Brown Trey Hendrickson Sheldon Rankins Shy Tuttle Ryan Glasgow Carl Granderson
position Cam Jordan David Onyemata Malcom Brown Trey Hendrickson Sheldon Rankins Shy Tuttle Ryan Glasgow Carl Granderson
Left Wide 9
Right Wide 9

Least Effective Player Combination

The second-most called upon defensive line group wasn’t as successful unfortunately. The group of Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle, and Trey Hendrickson were on the field a ton in the fourth quarter including seen plays of the Falcons up-tempo scoring drive in the fourth quarter. When deployed, this group had no sacks, fewer pressures than the aforementioned combo, and Matt Ryan completed all five of his passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. They also allowed four yards per carry on seven rushes totaling 28 rushing yards.

Amazing how one player and a game situation can make a difference. An up-tempo, no. huddle offense can help to neutralize the Saints’ rotation by forcing New Orleans to keep one unit on the field for longer than they’re accustomed. Outside of redzone and hurry up possessions, Dennis Allen and Ryan Nielsen kept player packages on the field no more than four times in a drive.

New Orleans continues to be special with their ability to rotate and substitute along the defensive line. Even though the player and personnel combinations aren’t as widely expansive as they were the first couple of weeks of the season, they still dominate the trenches with fresh legs and varying skillsets each game.

What did you think of the Saints’ win? 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.