Throughout the Sean Payton tenure in New Orleans, the one consistent glaring deficiency has always been an average to below average defensive line that’s never been particularly good at stopping the run and/or rushing the passer. Will Smith has always been the one constant when he’s been able to stay healthy, but the Saints have really struggled to assemble talent around him. Sedrick Ellis has been a mainstay at defensive tackle in recent years, but he is on pace to have by far the worst statistical season of his career. This offseason, a clear emphasis was put on boosting those areas when the Saints drafted defensive end Cameron Jordan in the first round, and they signed veteran defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers. These three additions where supposed to transform the Saints’ defensive line, allow them to get to the quarterback more using four man rushes, and control the line of scrimmage on running plays. So far, all three players have been a failed experiment.
Of the group, Jordan is still the one with the biggest room to grow. He’s certainly shown signs of potential and an admirable ability in run support. Still, the threesome that was supposed to improve the Saints’ defensive fortunes has combined for an underwhelming 57 tackles (an average of 1.58 tackles per player per game) and not one single sack. That’s right, the three players combined don’t have a single sack between each of them in 12 games. You may find that less alarming with Franklin, who’s stock in trade is stopping the run, but with Jordan and Rogers it’s unacceptable. While not his strength, Jordan is an end that starts and has been starting almost the entire season. Rogers is supposed to be an explosive tackle that excels in pass rushing situations.
Franklin is on pace to finish with 21 tackles, and he never had lower than 26 in his 4 elite seasons with the 49ers. Rogers is also on pace to finish with 21 tackles, which would total as second worst total in his 11 year career (last year being the worst). Rogers has also never had worse than 2 sacks in a season in his 11 year career, but this year he doesn’t have one through 12 games. To say that Franklin and Rogers both have been a disappointment is an understatement. Both are arguably having their worst seasons as pros. This is after many theorized that these sometimes lazy tackles would have a fire lit under them playing for a winning team with Super Bowl aspirations. The latter has proved true, the Saints are still winning, but the former has absolutely not.
It’s been a perfect storm for the Saints’ defensive line this year. Cameron Jordan can’t get to the quarterback, Turk McBride and Tom Johnson have been battling injuries all year, Will Smith was suspended for two games, and the Ellis/Franklin/Rogers interior trio are all having their worst season as pros. The result? The Saints are 27th overall in defense and 3rd worse in the NFL giving up an average of 4.9 yards per carry to opponents. That’s alarmingly bad. The Saints are also 19th in sacks, which is mediocre, but even worse when you consider that non-front four players make up for 54% of the team’s generated sacks. The Saints are below average in sacks in the NFL, and the times they do get sacks more than half the time it’s a blitzer getting there (not a front four player). Not good.
Regardless of what happens in these final four games it seems clear that the defensive line fixes this offseason didn’t help, and the unit is due for yet another overhaul next offseason. In the meantime, these guys have 4 games left to step up their game and avoid what I consider the worst performances of their career. With the team in first place in the NFC South at 9-3 and battling for playoff seeding, the stakes in each game continue to rise so lack of motivation shouldn’t and won’t be an excuse for poor performance. If these guys are going to show up at all this season, now would be the time to do it.