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How more man coverage can benefit Cam Jordan, Saints pass rush

The Saints ranked 3rd in sacks last year. How new personnel and more man defense could help them take the top spot in 2020.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Quarterbacks across the NFL that took more than 200 snaps in the 2019 regular season were sacked a grand total of 1,101 times. That’s a lot of punishment by defensive units. The time we have all come to learn is the target for many quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands is 2.5 seconds. So it should come as no surprise that a vast majority of those sacks were secured after beyond that timeframe. A whopping 945, in fact.

The average time from snap to sack among those 1,101 takedowns happens right around 3.5 seconds while the average throw falls right around 2.6. Where do the Saints fall near this average?

Recently, CSC contributor Ellias J. Williams astutely acknowledged during one of the Who Dat Confessional livestreams that Saints sack leader and elite edge rusher Cameron Jordan is not a 2.5 second sack guy. He wears down offensive lineman with his motor and is relentless with his pressure for four quarters a game. That’s what inspired the rest of this research because, unsurprisingly, Elias was right and it tells us a bit about how New Orleans might improve their pass rush in 2020.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I hand timed each Saints sack from 2019 and found that the average time from snap to any part of the QB hitting the turf was approximately (hand timed, after all) 4.5 seconds. That puts them around one second behind the NFL average according to PFF. Of those 51 regular season sacks, 39 were wrangled by the defensive line. Those alone timed out to about 4.9 seconds.

The largest share of sacks from the defensive line came from Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Trey Hendrickson. Jordan’s 15.5 sack (16 total that he was in on) timed out to an average of about 4.1 seconds while Hendrickson timed around 4.4. Davenport however, brought down opposing quarterbacks right on that 3.5 second average. So even though those numbers fall on par with or below the average NFL time, there isn’t not much to be concerned about.

In fact, looking at the top five player sack totals in 2019, timing doesn’t fully correlate to success or lack thereof. Shaquil Barrett, Chandler Jones, Cam Jordan, Danielle Hunter, and T.J. Watt ranked atop the sack charts in 2019. Respectively, their averages fell around 3.6, 3.7, 4.1 (Jordan), 4.5, and 3.5 seconds. No surprise the edge rusher most often coming out of two-point stances with alongside an odd-manned front has the fastest total of the group.

Cam and the rest of the defensive line get their pressure deep into snaps. Next year, they may have that opportunity more than they did in 2019. Earlier this offseason, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was asked about the importance of retaining Janoris Jenkins. In his answer he talked about how his talents could potentially affect the defense

Certainly, we feel like he has real good man coverage talent and when you do have corners of that nature with he and Marshon (Lattimore) both it does lend to the ability to play, maybe a little bit more man-to-man. That will be something (we look at) as we go through training camp and get through some of these preseason games.

If this proves to be the direction the Saints defense goes in 2020, it could mean more opportunities for the defensive line and Cam Jordan to get home, forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer. Effective man coverage will take away options deep into the passing attempt, as long as the pass rush can get to the passer. This can already be seen in play in last year’s tape as many of Cam Jordan’s sacks came while the pass defense was manned up.

Wait too long, of course, and the receivers begin to improvise, passers scramble, and chunk plays become a risk. But unlike zone coverage, which inherent gives receivers a chance to find holes in the defense, successful man coverage should allow the Saints pass rush more time to pin their ears back, wear down offensive linemen, and leap to the top of the NFL in sack and pressure totals.

How many sacks do you expect from the Saints defense in 2020? Let us know in the comments below. 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.