This week, I'm going to be talking about the pass rush for the Saints. The central question I want to bring up is, "Can Rob Ryan fix the Saints' pass rush?". Every game starts in the trenches, and if one team completely dominates the trenches, that team most likely will win. The trenches of the Saints were horrible in 2012, only racking up 30 total sacks over the course of the entire season. What that tells me is that the Saints either have below-average talent on their defensive line or they have good talent, but they're just playing at a below-average level. When you look at guys like J.J. Watt and Jared Allen racking up 20+ sacks in a season BY THEMSELVES, it really is shocking to realize how much of a non-factor the line was over the course of the season pressure wise. Of course, after the trenches, it gets to the secondary, and if the defensive line can get great pressure on the opposing team, then it will start forcing turnovers in turn making the entire defense look good. This is where I want to bring in the question: Can Rob Ryan fix the pass rush of the Saints?
My answer is yes. Rob Ryan brings an aggressiveness to the team that they haven't had in quite some time. However, I don't think Rob Ryan should be TOO aggressive or else it may come back to bite not only the team, but him as well. I was somewhat indifferent with the hiring at first but then I started to think about what he did in Dallas (granted, it wasn't an overnight change by any stretch of the imagination) and him making them a somewhat respectable defense, then the idea grew on me.
There are several players I would like to highlight that we should be looking forward to seeing better play from.
1. Martez Wilson – Played LB for the Saints the first couple years in the league, but was switched to DE to utilize his speed off the edges. Commendable move and I understand it completely. I would like to see Mr. Wilson work on his techniques getting off the blocks, because sometimes it seems and looks like he is just getting manhandled coming off the edge and if he has a better technique/signature move to get past the LT/RT, I think it would go a LONG way in developing him. A little heavier and a little shorter, I think Wilson (providing he does the work necessary) could be reminiscent of Dion Jordan. Would love to see him come to fruition. A move to outside linebacker should help maximize his strengths.
2. Junior Galette – Now, the question with Galette is not "can we fix him?". If it's not broke, don't fix it. The question with Galette is "how do we make him a better pass rusher?" Totalling 5 sacks last year and 9.5 over the past 2 years, Galette has been more than a good piece on our roster. If Rob Ryan can improve Galette as far as working with his skill set, and coming up with exotic ways to utilize his skills, I think Galette could be a potentially elite player in the league. The key with Galette is for him to see the field more, and like Wilson a move to outside linebacker could help maximize his abilities.
3. Cameron Jordan – At the end of the 2012 season, Jordan was looking like he was stepping into his first-round status. Being an immense help against the run game, all he needs really to do is to learn to rush the passer better. The 8 sacks he had last year doesn't really reflect some of his pass rushing over the past 2 years. In 2011, the year he was drafted, he had 1 sack. If Rob Ryan can improve upon Jordan, I think the Saints will have a very dynamic defensive line.
4. Akiem Hicks – With the departure of Sedrick Ellis, Akiem Hicks just inherited a lot more responsibility and pressure. Right now, it's the Hicks and Bunkley show at DT, with Hicks possibly getting reps at DE as well. Hicks needs to step in and be a mainstay at the end and tackle position due in part to the Saints not having much more depth than those 2 guys. He didn't do too much as a rookie, only racking up a small number of tackles and 1 FF in 14 games played. I expect to see the time that Hicks plays increase by a large margin.
Dont forget Victor Butler, who was just signed, and figures into this equation as well. If Rob Ryan has success in everything that I have mentioned here, the Saints' pass rush has the potential to be one of the top in the league. If Jordan, Wilson, and Galette all play to their potential, not only would it be a very young pass rush (with the exception of Will Smith), but it would also be a very disruptive one. I'm very excited to see who the Saints bring in on draft day and in my mind it doesn't matter who it is, I just hope the person plays well and represents the city of New Orleans well.