This week the New Orleans Saints unofficially made the decision that Rob Ryan was returning to the team for another year as defensive coordinator.
That was the right choice made by head coach Sean Payton.
This team has been through Gary Gibbs, Gregg Williams, Steve Spagnuolo and now Rob Ryan as defensive coordinators under Sean Payton.
The question now is not about coaching, but about personnel.
Just ask yourself the simple question.
If you are the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens or the Green Bay Packers who would you swap starter for starter with if you were any of the above five teams?
With the exception of cornerback Keenan Lewis, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and despite a disappointing season, defensive end Cam Jordan, if you were any of those teams you probably wouldn’t trade any of your starters other than for the three named Saints players.
I have to give an incomplete evaluation right now to free safety Jairus Byrd since he is coming off of back and knee surgery, but if you can only have four players that you have to seriously think about it goes to show that the Saints issues on defense belong on the personnel side and finding the right “fit” players for Ryan’s defense.
My question is who made the decision to bring in veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, outside linebacker Victor Butler and defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman via veteran free agency and why is this team constantly proclaiming that cornerback Patrick Robinson is a “starting” cornerback when it has been obvious for the past three seasons he doesn’t have the ball reaction skills to start at the NFL level.
Bailey, Butler and Coleman didn’t play in any regular season games for the Saints, none. And remember back in the spring of 2013 the Saints made a major pitch to sign veteran cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha was a four-time All-Pro performer with the Oakland Raiders, but he was just a shell of himself after signing a huge free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. The word on the NFL streets was that Asomugha had long played his best football, and he seemed more concerned about the acting career of his wife Kerry Washington than playing football.
Asomugha turned down the contract offer from the Saints to sign on with the San Francisco 49ers, but he was waived in early November of 2013.
Butler and Coleman played for Ryan with the Cowboys, and Asomugha played for Ryan when he was with the Oakland Raiders. Ryan was one who raved about just how much football gas was left in the tank of the future NFL Hall of Fame cornerback in Champ Bailey.
Looking at the reports of friction between Ryan and Payton and some lack of total assurance right after the 2014 season for Ryan by the Saints management team to return you could trace it back to probably being Ryan's backing of players who didn't play a down in a regular season game for the Saints.
This year’s second round pick in cornerback Stanley Jean Baptiste got a redshirt year at the biggest need spot on defense. It is not Baptiste’s fault the Saints picked him in Round 2, but the comment that “if we didn’t pick him someone else would have” is typical of a team having a player they know is not mentally ready to play at the NFL level right now.
I wrote in my draft book that Baptiste had all the physical tools to play and start in the NFL, but he was a “reps player” and just learning how to play cornerback after spending most of his time as a wide receiver in high school and college. Baptiste had grade issues coming out of high school and went to a couple of different junior colleges before attending Nebraska.
Let someone else take the project player and the Saints should have selected someone that could have helped them now and not two years from now. And what makes matters worse is that the Saints fourth round pick in 2014, linebacker Khairi Fortt fromCalifornia, was released after the team saw his work habits and focus were so poor.
Other than signing cornerback Keenan Lewis, and he was a very good free agent signing, and making a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for a serviceable player in outside linebacker Parys Haralson they have “whiffed” on giving Ryan the right pieces to put out on the field.
If there is a coaching issue I would look to the defensive line.
The Saints have three players with top of the line physical skills in Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins and Cam Jordan and all three played very well in 2013, but what happened in 2014?
One player having an off-year is one thing, but all three?
This has to lie in the hands of defensive line coach Bill Johnson.
Injuries happen to every team and it has happened to the Saints in having injuries take out Victor Butler, Jairus Byrd, Brodrick Bunkley-who looks to be a salary cut victim in 2015 and safety Rafael Bush, but the issues are more magnified than just blaming the poor play on injuries.
But if the Saints can’t change one issue about their defense things will continue to look the same.
The Saints need to get on the plus side of the most important statistic in football and that is the giveaway/takeaway ratio.
Since Payton took over in 2006 the Saints under him have been on the plus side only twice and one of those years, (2012-Payton was not the head coach).
The only year the Saints under Payton were on the plus side of the giveaway/takeaway ratio was 2009. Guess what, they won the Super Bowl that year.
The difference between what we have seen from the Saints under Payton/Drew Brees and what we have witnessed from the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick/Tom Brady has been that the Patriots have been on the plus side of the giveaway/takeaway ratio in the regular season every year since 2006.
They are a whopping plus-122 in the giveaway/takeaway ratio since 2006 and have hit double-digits in that category 5 out of the 9 straight seasons.
The Saints in that timeframe since 2006 are a minus-24.
It is amazing since 2006 that the Saints have been to two NFC championship games, won one Super Bowl title and been to the playoffs 5 times with that sort of negative factor going against them.
It is a great testimony to just how great Drew Brees and this offense has been in the past.
On defense, it is all about personnel, pushing the right buttons to get the three young defensive linemen to play at a higher level and figuring out what happened to one of the most impressive defensive rookies in 2013 in safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2014.
Cornerback, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and depth at noseguard need to be looked at via free agency and the draft for the New Orleans Saints in 2015.
It is obvious that in today’s game of the NFL you need to have two good starting cornerbacks and a signature edge pass rusher at either defensive end or outside linebacker.
The Saints have one of the three pieces in place in cornerback Keenan Lewis, but they desperately need a starting veteran cornerback and a top young edge pass rusher at outside linebacker.
Even before the off the field incident with outside linebacker Junior Galette and you can bet the bank he will get a six-game suspension no matter what the courts say, the Saints need a top pass rusher.
The problem is at the 13thspot it is highly likely thatNebraska’s Randy Gregory,Florida’s Dante Fowler, Jr. andMissouri’s Shane Ray will all be off the board and it is no more than 50/50 that Clemson’s Vic Beasley will be around when the Saints pick in Round One.
Like bread and bottled water during a hurricane threat, pass rushers come off the shelves quickly come draft day.
For the Saints, it is all about finding the right “fit” personnel and creating turnovers.