What to Expect in the Future from Rob Ryan's Innovative Defense
This was a quote from yours truly, over the summer, when I really didn't have a strong basis to support my theory. Now that I've had a strong sample size, calling him a mad scientist may be an understatement!
After finishing 32nd in total yards in 2012, New Orleans currently sits 17th ahead of its tilt with the Buffalo Bills. In addition, the Saints are now notched at 11th, a season after ranking 31st, in passing yards per game allowed.
I believe that Rob is just what the doctor ordered defensively for an elite franchise the likes of the New Orleans Saints. His scheme is versatile, the personnel is plentiful, and the offense will most certainly do it's part. I will do my best to convey the manner in which Rob Ryan operates such a unique scheme that will undoubtedly lay plenty of NFL offenses to rest.
One of the main points that I stressed was Ryan's lack of support from his teams' offenses. Before being linked up with Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Ryan's defenses were opposite Kerry Collins (Oakland Raiders), Aaron Brooks (Oakland), Marques Tuiasosopo (Oakland), Andrew Walter (Oakland), Josh McCown (Oakland), Derek Anderson (Cleveland Browns), Brady Quinn (Cleveland), Colt McCoy (Cleveland) and Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys).
Outside of Romo, those are some of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history!
Ryan would've eventually been a success in Dallas—where he was coordinator for only two seasons (2011-2012). He was used as a scapegoat to mask the true source of the problems, which is within the infrastructure of the program.
Ryan's defenses were often dealt a bad hand in 2012, as Romo and the offense committed 29 turnovers (fourth most in the NFC).
This is where the efficiency of Brees and Co. assists the defense. If you saw the amount of times Dallas' defense was put in peculiar situations and forced to defend short fields, sometimes with no rest, it might have been enough to make you cry (not that there's anything wrong with showing emotion).
The ability to operate from a position of power is paramount in football.
There's power in a well-rested defense (New Orleans is currently the No. 2-ranked offense in time of possession). There's power in having opposing offenses drive the length of the field. Even more so, there's substantial power in defending a lead.
These are aspects that were unaccounted for when pundits were attempting to project the potential success of a Ryan-led Saints defense.
The scariest part of all the early success Ryan is having might be the fact that he's not quite running his full scheme.
Rob Ryan runs a multiple scheme that is complex in nature, and heavy on personnel groupings. A lot of his scheme is built around front seven play. He wants stout coverage on the outside, superb tackling throughout, and versatility amongst his defensive front. His defense is a base 3-4, but for teams that are heavy on the pass—he morphs into his fathers 46. He likes to play three safeties at once, which should work well with the Saints trio of Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, and Kenny Vaccaro.
Ryan likes to identify a wild card and work off his abilities throughout the scheme. Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro is the epitome of what Ryan has lacked in previous stops. He tried to use veteran safety Gerald Sensabaugh in a similar role in Dallas, but there's a significant talent disparity between the two.
Vaccaro has played strong and free safety, corner, nickel corner, and both inside and outside linebacker. Simply put, this kid is the truth.
Vaccaro's safety counterpart, Malcolm Jenkins, has been every bit as impressive (if not more), quickly erasing the stigma that he's a first-round bust. Jenkins has moonlighted at many of the same positions as Vaccaro, establishing a one-two punch that will give offenses headaches for years to come.
The versatility of these two defensive backs allows Ryan to dig into his bag of tricks. In the past two games against the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, Ryan took a page out of his Cowboys playbook by running the two-man game.
Exotic blitzes often have what's referred to as a sacrificial lamb. On this play, it happens to be outside linebacker Junior Galette—who is lined up at the 9-technique. His job is to occupy two blockers to ensure the numbers game is in the Saints' favor. He does this, rather comically, by rushing and taking forever to get into his move.
Galette takes up two blockers by moving laterally toward the B-gap. This leaves Vaccaro and Jenkins two-on-one with Bears running back Matt Forte. Forte might be the best run-blocker in the league, but even he can't block two players at once!
Jenkins is lined up in his normal nickel corner position, while Vaccaro is essentially playing outside linebacker in this 3-3-5-based alignment. To account for the receiver vacated by Jenkins, inside linebacker Curtis Lofton works the underneath zone.
Notice how the defensive linemen are paired up with two offensive linemen. The spacing was so good from Galette that it left plenty of room for Vaccaro and Jenkins to run the two-man game. Whatever back Forte chooses to block, the other will have a free release.
Forte chooses Vaccaro, but he barely touches him. This allows both blitzers the opportunity to get home. Well-designed plays like this are merely just scratching the surface of what we will see from the Saints.
The Patriots game uncovered the next level of rusher that's reminiscent of what Ryan had in Dallas.
Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware is the best pass-rusher of this generation. His ability to rush from all areas of the formation was on full display under Ryan. Ware requires a double-team, but his athleticism allows him to be used as the pursuit player in stunt situations—in addition to covering tight ends and slot receivers.
Ryan undoubtedly sees similar traits in Saints inside linebacker Ramon Humber.
At 5'11", 232 pounds, Humber is a bit of a tweener. He's smaller than most linebackers but bigger than most safeties. He's rare in the fact that he has traits of both positions. He's more of a natural Cover 2 outside linebacker who would man zones, but he's the ideal fit as a wild card in the multi-scheme defense the Saints employ.
Humber is lined up at the rush backer spot here. End Junior Galette is the sacrificial lamb once again. Galette's rushing prowess warrants extra attention, so he's perfect for this role. Not pictured (but illustrated) is the nickel back, Jenkins, who is blitzing from the slot.
The lamb is being slaughtered, while Humber is displaying his agility and quickness. Once Humber uncovers, the running back is the last line of defense. If the back successfully blocks Humber, Jenkins will become the free rusher.
The Saints have a backup plan for Humber. Curtis Lofton, No. 50, bluffs a blitz of his own—which in turn occupies the running back's attention.
This is the situation no quarterback wants to be in. The Saints have successfully created two free rushers against possibly the best QB in the NFL in Tom Brady. Imagine what these schemes would do to teams of a lesser ilk.
In Dallas, Ryan loved to get all of his best rushers on the field at once—in clear pass situations. This would often entail having only one down lineman on the field.
This is simply breathtaking. The only lineman on the field is defensive end Jason Hatcher, and even he is in a stand-up position! There are three linebackers and seven defensive backs all on the field as well.
If the Saints were to do this, defensive end Cameron Jordan would be the lineman, with Galette and Humber (or Martez Wilson) occupying the backer spots. Upon his return, veteran Roman Harper would mesh with fellow safeties Jenkins, Vaccaro and Rafael Bush, while corners Keenan Lewis, Jabari Greer and Corey White would round out the 11.
What this does is get an exorbitant amount of speed on the field all at once. Having four safeties provides better tackling than you would get from a bunch of corners. This would undoubtedly be a very effective personnel grouping for the Saints.
Here we have a true three-man stunt with linebackers Ware, Anthony Spencer and Dan Connor. The attention that both Ware and Spencer require makes this easy pickings for Connor. Both attack the interior of the line simultaneously, which allows Connor to hit home with a free release.
Saints fans are clamoring for the return of former Cowboy—and Ryan protege—Victor Butler (knee injury), who would be the ideal linebacker to fill the role of Anthony Spencer. In fact, Butler did just that the last four seasons in Dallas.
Galette would more than likely play the role of Ware, with Humber reprising Connor's role. If the Saints can get Wilson up to speed, Ryan may have an even better athlete than Ware on his hands.
Make no mistake; Wilson isn't anywhere near the realm of Ware as far as production, but his athleticism can be pitted against anyone in the NFL.
Bottom line is the Saints have a myriad of options as far as scheme and personnel go. It's rare for a coach to take personnel who were deemed the worst in the league the prior season and turn them into some of the best the subsequent season.
Ryan is a special coach with a forward-thinking thought process. The roster was a vat of coal; it just took a mad scientist to turn that coal into diamonds.
The future looks bright for the Black and Gold!
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