Back again to take a look at the 2017-2009 defense comparison! We’ll do just like we did with the offense and discuss league rankings first and then the three major defensive groups: defensive line, linebackers, and secondary.
The 2017 Saints have improved on the marks set in 2009 in every area except turnovers. Although, allowing a couple less touchdowns this year certainly helps to make up for the lack of takeaways. This year’s crew still finishes in the top-ten so it’s not all bad. We said at the very beginning of the year that if the Saints could just have an offense that ran middle of the pack in the league, Drew Brees would be able to take the team to the playoffs. As you can see, ranking 17th, 15th, and 16th in yards accomplished exactly that. Being in the 10th least points allowed position certain doesn’t help. It’s pretty observable in terms of league ranking that the 2017 Saints defense is much improved.
While the league rankings tell a story of major improvement, looking at the numbers more in depth tells a bit of a different story. For the most part, the change in defensive production was nominal when it comes to percentage of improvement. Total Yards: 6% decrease, Passing Yards: 5%, Points Allowed: 4%. That’s not to say that pass defense was abysmal by any means, just that statistically they gave up around the same amount as the 2009 team. The big improvements came from the front seven though with a 9% decrease in Rushing Yards Allowed and a 20% increase in Sacks. Situationally, those sacks couldn’t have been executed with better timing. While in 2009 most of the team’s sacks came on 1st and 2nd downs, in 2017 20 of the defense’s 42 sacks came on 3rd down.
2009: Will Smith, Charles Grant, Ayodele Remi, Ellis Sedrick, Anthony Hargrove, Bobby McCray, Jeff Charleston
2017: Cam Jordan, Alex Okafor, David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, Trey Hendrickson, Hau’oli Kikaha
I tried to keep this to only the Defensive Linemen that played more than 10 games. But I want to give a quick mention to late 2017 addition DE George Johnson who has started just 3 games at the end of this season and has compiled 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 1 pass defense. He came into the rotation after injuries struck Okafor, Kikaha, and Hendrickson. His numbers aren’t factored in below, but his presence has been a welcome force since his addition.
This is another example of similar production but a couple of stats stick out. The numbers here do reflect the information we found earlier regarding run defense, though. 19.5 run stuffs just from the linemen I named above ain’t too shabby. Tackles for loss is a tricky stat to find for 2009, but in 2017 linemen gathered 42, Johnson included. This was a great year for the Saints when it comes to run stopping ability and while Jordan gets a lot of that credit receiving a 91.7 run-stopping grade from PFF, Alex Okafor and the rest of the defensive line deserves credit.
You’ll also notice that the passes defended stat of ’09 was more than doubled this year. That’s due mostly in part to Cam Jordan who personally logged 11 of those. Jordan, on his own, had more passes defended than the major contributors of the 2009 D-line. In fact, here’s a tweet of ours telling you how many defensive backs had fewer passes defended than Jordan by the end of week 16. Enjoy.
2009: Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle, Scott Fujita
2017: Craig Robertson, Manti Te’o, A.J. Klein
Man we were stoked for our LB corps this year. While they didn’t disappoint, per se, there was definitely something left to be desired. I think that was particularly true in pass coverage. You can see below that our top 3 backers from this year (after Anzolone’s season was cut short) just missed gather more than half of the INT total of the 2009 trio.
Now, let’s be real here. The 2009 Saints Linebackers are a group of the best we’ve had in our history. We all remember not only fantastic play by Vilma throughout his tenure with us, but one key adjustment that put Tracy Porter in position to ice the Super Bowl game with a pick-6. I honestly feel a little dirty comparing these two groups, but I definitely need to pat Manti Te’o on the back for a second. Te’o accounted for 7 of the 15 run stuffs counted above. He has been an absolute monster in the run game, particularly late in the season after Klein was sent to IR. Perhaps not as brilliantly as the way Vilma put together a great run with us after starting his career with the Jets, Robertson, Klein, and Te’o are looking like some candidates to resurrect their careers in New Orleans. Though for now, the 2009 LB corps takes this one.
2009: Roman Harper, Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins, Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer, Randall Gay
2017: Kenny Vaccaro, Vonn Bell, Marcus Williams, Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams
Before we look at stats, I want to talk about these two groups and a couple of things that really create some distance between then. When you see the stats below, keep these two things in mind: average age and average years of experience. The average age of the 2009 and 2017 secondaries of 22 and 26 respectively. Meanwhile, the average years of experience of the 2009 secondary were 4.3 while 2017’s is only 2.
Now, as you see these stats, take into consideration the youth of the 2017 team. This year’s super young unit exceeded or very nearly matched the productivity of 2009 sans touchdowns. Additionally, this was a secondary that forced their opponents to play them deep notching the majority of their pass defenses and interception from passes thrown 1-10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Certainly Harper, Porter, Greer, and Jenkins will forever be a secondary to remember in New Orleans, but it’s safe to say that the lockdown success of Lattimore and Crawley, the versatility Vaccaro and Bell (who had 4.5 of the unit’s 6 sacks) bring to the safety position, and the ball-hawking abilities of Marcus Williams are set to be the talk of the town for years to come. Depending on Kenny’s contract situation.
Like the offensive comparison, I’d have to award this one to the 2017 team 2.5 (League Rankings, Defensive Line, and Secondary) to 1.5 (Linebackers & Secondary). I’m splitting Secondary as a half point to each group because their stats aren’t heavily weighted one way or another. It’s clear that there is a lot to be excited about this year. This defense has been a large influence on the way the offense has been able to play recently. Brees isn’t having to throw 50-some-odd passes a season anymore and the games aren’t turning into shootouts. The latter is a welcome change that’s been a long time coming.
The Saints brass has done the unthinkable and completely rebuilt a defense from what looked like nothing more than the pieces of “meat” hot dogs are made off. Now we all of a sudden have a defense that’s keep us in games, playing with a ton of swagger, and reigniting the city leading the way for a playoff bound team.