The New Orleans Saints defense is known for utilizing versatile players all over their half of the field. Whether it’s defensive line rotation, safeties in the box or splitting the field in deep zones, or the scheme versatile corners bouncing from press-man to off-man to zone responsibilities, the Saints maximize their deployment constantly and intentionally.
This is one of the elements that stands out most when you further examine Pete Werner, the Ohio State University linebacker selected by New Orleans at 60th overall in the second round.
Consistently referred to as a guy that’s good at a lot, but may not have an elite element to his game, Werner is a very good fit for the Saints defense because of his ability to do anything a coach asks from anywhere on the second level.
While a lot of focus has gone to his ability to cover, which was evident in college but not spectacular in terms playmaking, perhaps an undervalued asset of Werner’s is his ability to apply pressure as a blitzer.
In his career at Ohio State, Werner turned in a total of 26 pressures and four sacks. And while that doesn’t sound like much, consider that was credited by Pro Football Focus with only 156 total pass rushing snaps over his final three seasons. That also means he rushed the passer on 13.7% of his pass defense plays since 2018.
Werner is a reliable pressure player from the second level. Like coverage, this is a must in the New Orleans Saints defense. Last year, both linebackers Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone primarily lined up beside Demario Davis.
While Davis lead the backers with 136 pass rushing snaps and 33 pressures of his own, Anzalone and Alexander weren’t far behind with a combined 118 snaps as pass rushers. That’s 16.6% of passing snaps wherein the two only generated a combined 13 pressures according to PFF.
In 2020 alone Alexander and Anzalone picked up pass rushing grades of 66.4 and 49.0 respectively while Werner finished his senior season with an impressive 72.8. While grades are far from an end-all-be-all, it does tell the story of Wener’s success in an area of the game in which he excels. An area where the Saints focus intensely.
You can look at raw numbers if you’d rather as well. Let’s go back to the pressure numbers against the number of pass rushing snaps in the most recent season. Alexander and Anzalone combining for 13 pressures on 118 pass rushing snaps means they successfully generated pressure just 11% of the time. Meanwhile, Werner’s 26 on 156 snaps yields a 16.7% rate. It hurt that in 2020, Alex Anzalone only piled up a 6% win percentage on those pursuit plays.
The Saints love to send pressure and the linebackers are a big part of those packages, Packages that include a three-man front with two DBs and two LBs on the line of scrimmage post snap. A look that generates confusion as to where the blitz will come from. usually, the team will drop three and send four out of that look, but sometimes they send five, and on third downs have no hesitations in sending the house.
Nice curveball by Dennis Allen and the Saints on third down. Yes, Jet misses the block for the sack, but New Orleans doubled both slot WRs on third down.— KP (@KP_Show) November 15, 2020
Wonder how Kyle counters next time down here pic.twitter.com/DySNWxPpci
In 2020 alone Alexander and Anzalone picked up pass rushing grades of 66.4 and 49.0 respectively while Werner finished his senior season with an impressive 72.8. While grades are far from an end-all-be-all, it does tell the story of Wener’s seccess in an area of the game in which he excels.
The former Buckeye fits right into those pressure package as someone that can take on blockers, blow up running backs, and get after the quarterback.
Werner brings with him to the NFL a formidable toolset, perhaps the most pro-ready of the Saints’ draft class in 2021. His ability to play all three linebacker spots, though coaches and scouts seem to think of him a WILL or MIKE for the time being, and his availability as a blitzer are of high value. While coverage will always lead the conversation in a passing game, pressure sometimes generates just as much defensive production.
This was huge play early. Lawrence overthrows his TE on would-be TD. Pete Werner hot enough late pressure to alter the throw. Would have been 14-0, Clemson, and possibly a much different game. pic.twitter.com/hoTUpRrC1q— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) January 4, 2021
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