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How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer 21 Shares Email print comment METAIRIE, La. -- Five defensive coordinators in eight years. That's all the evidence needed to show the New Orleans Saints' defensive problems run much deeper than just Rob Ryan. Ryan ...

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Old 11-19-2015, 11:21 AM   #1
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How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- Five defensive coordinators in eight years.

That's all the evidence needed to show the New Orleans Saints' defensive problems run much deeper than just Rob Ryan.

Ryan joined Gary Gibbs, Gregg Williams and Steve Spagnuolo in the parade of coordinators who have been sent packing. That pins a good portion of the blame on those who have been constants throughout the Saints' years of defensive struggles -- head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, the scouting department, and veteran defensive assistants Joe Vitt and Bill Johnson.

It's not for a lack of trying, though.

Those longtime decision-makers have tried in vain to build a stronger defense. For six straight years from 2008-13, the Saints' highest draft choice was a defensive player. And they've spent megabucks on defense in free agency, including Jairus Byrd, Brandon Browner, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Lofton, Brodrick Bunkley and David Hawthorne, over the past four years.

This year, more than ever, the Saints seemed intent on rebuilding the defense with youth. They traded offensive players Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Ben Grubbs while stockpiling draft picks and using six of them on defense. They also revamped the scouting department after player personnel director Ryan Pace left to become general manager of the Chicago Bears, bringing in Jeff Ireland to run the college scouting group.

Maybe those rebuilding efforts will start to pay off soon. But nothing is working right now. The Saints are on pace to allow the second-most yards in NFL history. And they're chasing themselves. The only team worse was the 2012 Saints, under Spagnuolo.

Here are the main reasons -- other than Ryan -- why it has gone so wrong:


Sean Payton has fired another defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, as the Saints' defense continues to perform poorly. AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
Draft flops: The Saints have only three picks remaining on their defense from all of the years prior to 2015: Cameron Jordan (first round, 2011), Kenny Vaccaro (first round, 2013) and John Jenkins (third round, 2013). Those were solid picks, but so many others have been busts -- none bigger than cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a second-rounder in 2014 who lasted one year. That entire 2014 draft class was a colossal bust behind top pick Brandin Cooks. Linebackers Khairi Fortt (fourth round) and Ronald Powell (fifth round) also lasted only one year.

The Saints also haven't had enough draft picks to work with. From 2008-14 they had by far the fewest picks of any NFL team (5.4 per year). That was the result of losing two second-round picks in the bounty punishments; trading up multiple times for the likes of Sedrick Ellis, Mark Ingram and Cooks; and trading for veteran like Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey.

I didn't fault the Saints for many of those moves since they were playing to win during their championship window with Drew Brees at quarterback. But we're seeing the cost of playing for the present now that we've reached the future.

Not much better in free agency: I also didn't fault the Saints for signing Byrd to a whopping six-year, $54 million deal last year. They were going all-in to win while they had a championship-caliber roster. They were a popular Super Bowl pick in 2014 with some claiming it might be their most talented roster ever. Byrd appeared to be the missing piece for a defense that finished fourth in the NFL in yards allowed in 2013 but had struggled to force turnovers.

But Byrd struggled early and then suffered a major knee injury, which lingered into this season. The rest of that fourth-ranked defense went through a sophomore slump, with Ryan and players admitting they had been drinking the Kool-Aid amid all that preseason hype.

This year's top signing, Browner, hasn't worked out much better. The Saints signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal as they switched to a more physical press-coverage scheme. Browner leads the NFL in penalties and has given up a handful of deep balls as the Saints have struggled to take advantage of his skill set.

Lewis was a terrific signing in 2013, but injuries have plagued him this season. Lofton was a very good signing in 2012, but the Saints cut him just three years into the deal when his contract was set to balloon. Bunkley and Hawthorne were decent rotational players, but they didn't provide nearly enough bang for the buck.

Dumping Junior Galette: This one is a category all on its own because it hurt on two fronts. The former undrafted free agent developed into the Saints' top pass-rusher from 2013-14, and they signed him to a four-year, $41.5 million extension last year. But Galette became such an off-the-field headache that they cut him this summer.

It was a move the Saints had to make for the sake of their team culture and chemistry. But not only did they lose their top pass-rusher, they're also dealing with a $5.45 million salary-cap hit this year and an astounding $12.1 million hit next year in dead money.

Injuries: Ryan might still be here if not for the injuries that have plagued the team in 2015. Byrd, Lewis and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe all missed the first three games while the Saints started 0-3. Then Lewis, cornerback Damian Swann and linebackers Ellerbe, Hau'oli Kikaha, Hawthorne and Ramon Humber have missed time during this latest ugly stretch (14 TD passes allowed in three games).

Payton's impatience: This one is harder to quantify, but it seems like the only job more difficult than being Payton's defensive coordinator is being Payton's kicker (he has gone through 10 of them since 2006).

I don't blame Payton for firing any of the four defensive coordinators. I recommended at least two such moves before they happened, and most observers could see all four coming from a mile away.

But whether it is Payton's nature or his inability to find the right guy, he has never seemed able to just hand the keys over to a defensive coordinator and let him be. This year, especially, Payton mandated that Ryan simplify his complex schemes and brought in senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen to help run things.

Ryan's way wasn't working in 2014, when the Saints' defense was plagued by assignment and alignment errors. But this setup didn't work either.

Maybe Allen will finally be that trusted partner who has the necessary kinship and chemistry with Payton. Allen was a member of Payton's original staff in 2006, and the mutual respect seems high.

Or maybe Allen will just become the next man in that parade line.

How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL
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Old 11-19-2015, 11:28 AM   #2
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

In the Saints "organization" the buck doesn't stop anywhere! They all point their fingers at each other and say "It's his fault"
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Old 11-19-2015, 12:16 PM   #3
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

Should change his name to Captain Obvious Jr....
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Old 11-19-2015, 12:53 PM   #4
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

We lost some leadership over the years too....

I'm going back as far Vilma, Smith, Fujiti, Greer & Harper (yes Harper). I don't think we ever recovered after Greer's career ending injury at the corner back position.
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Old 11-19-2015, 02:32 PM   #5
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

Crap runs downhill. Gravity is a ***** for the defensive coordinator.......
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Old 11-19-2015, 03:25 PM   #6
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

Next...................

But seriously I don't think there will be another one after Dennis Allen in the Sean Payton era.
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Old 11-19-2015, 03:32 PM   #7
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

There are a lot of reasons... just pick one and you won't be wrong.

I will argue that I don't think the D ever really got better from 2012.
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Old 11-19-2015, 08:07 PM   #8
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

Dumping Junior Galette: This one is a category all on its own because it hurt on two fronts. The former undrafted free agent developed into the Saints' top pass-rusher from 2013-14, and they signed him to a four-year, $41.5 million extension last year. But Galette became such an off-the-field headache that they cut him this summer.

It was a move the Saints had to make for the sake of their team culture and chemistry. But not only did they lose their top pass-rusher, they're also dealing with a $5.45 million salary-cap hit this year and an astounding $12.1 million hit next year in dead money.
That, in a nutshell is a huge reason why our pass rush sucks this year. That dumass cost us big time, for 2 seasons.
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Old 11-20-2015, 04:43 AM   #9
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

Originally Posted by Danno View Post
That, in a nutshell is a huge reason why our pass rush sucks this year. That dumass cost us big time, for 2 seasons.
Who is more of a dumass, Galette or the decision makers who decided to invest in him?!?
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Old 11-20-2015, 06:27 AM   #10
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Re: How the Saints' defense became the worst in the NFL, again

And we won a Superbowl.





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