Cameron Jordan’s third NFL season saw him earn his first Pro Bowl bid in what many analysts thought was a good enough year-long effort to earn at least a few Defensive Player of the Year votes. He was the hands down defensive leader for the New Orleans Saints.
His second season in 2012 was a great improvement over his rookie campaign when he rarely ever found his way anywhere near the quarterback. It’s little surprise that Jordan has shown off talent but struggled in breaking out fully until this past season, given the number of different schemes he’s been asked to play in while in New Orleans. Going back to his days at the University of California, he’s played for five different defensive coordinators in the past five seasons.
Granted, a defensive end can deal with said fact and adjust a little easier than a young quarterback, but don’t think the constant transitioning hasn’t been tough on Jordan. As he told NFL: Around The League on Wednesday, “I’ve almost gotten comfortable with the uncomfortable, so now what’s uncomfortable is what’s most comfortable.”
Clearly Rob Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 scheme is the one that fit his talents the best at the NFL level. Jordan came into his own quickly, even in his rookie year as a run defender. His 12.5 sacks this past season from the 3-4 end spot would have obliterated the league mark, if not for the Watt of never-ending energy who plays his games in Reliant Stadium.
It’s the same hybrid scheme that Jordan gets to settle into for the first time in six years. Ryan’s scheme will mostly stay the same in 2014, though there will be some natural evolution of the scheme based on the personnel.
To that end, the recent free agent splash signing of safety Jairus Byrd will play a huge role in further solidifying the most improved one-year-to-the-next defense in the history of the NFL. Jordan said of Byrd’s presence, “To improve on defense and have a little extra time is sort of a nice bump.”
What Jordan means is that Byrd’s presence in the back third of the Saints’ defense will make it more difficult for opposing offenses to get receivers open. The natural progression of any pass play, then, is that the quarterback will have to hold the ball a tad bit longer. The result will likely be more than 12.5 sacks, or at least even more pressures than in 2013.
But that’s not all folks. Assuming he can return from an ACL tear at full strength, one of last year’s big free agent signings, Victor Butler, returns at outside linebacker to team with Junior Galette to make up the most dominant pass-rushing outside linebacker duo in the NFL. Even if Jordan doesn’t match his 2014 totals, his presence will certainly open rush lanes for those two dynamic pass-rushers.
But perhaps the greatest impact an improved pass-rush from Jordan and his brethren is in the secondary. In the NFL, owning one great player in the back four is pretty much a lock for a top-end defense. Owning two and you’ll be a guaranteed top-five defense in the NFL. Own three and it’s just an embarrassment of riches.
The Saints currently have three great players in the secondary. Like Seattle, it’s an embarrassment of riches (hence why the Seahawks were OK with both Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond leaving via free agency). For the Saints it almost doesn’t matter who starts opposite Keenan Lewis—who had his contract restructured Thursday. It could almost be a dead corpse and it simply wouldn’t matter. Some fans may say that the past works of Patrick Robinson and Corey White resembled a dead corpse.
The truth is that each has been at least a little better than that. But the point is that even if they were not, they’re good enough. A great pass defense is a two-way street, where coverage sacks are almost as common as defensive backs getting burned but lucking out because of a quick sack.
Still, ask any defensive back in the NFL and they’ll tell you their job is made much easier with a great pass rush. See the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. They went from having a great secondary in 2012 to a great pass rush and secondary in 2013. As a result, they went from a great modern defense to one of the greatest defenses of all-time.
That’s the kind of impact Cam Jordan and his pass-rushing mates can have in 2014, especially with the addition of Jairus Byrd roaming center field. Year two in Ryan’s scheme, and the natural progression of an already gifted player should lead to Jordan earning a few of those Defensive Player of the Year votes in 2014.
Like Seattle, expect the Saints to try extract one more quality pass-rusher either from the remaining free agent crop—as far as I can tell Anthony Spencer is still available—and/or a cornerback for depth. Of course either, or both, of those could also be found in the 2014 NFL Draft as well.
Even if none of that happens, though, we all know the Saints’ defense will be a nightmare for opposing offenses. And it will all start with Big No. 94 at defensive end, as he sets the edge against the run and creates nightmares for offensive tackles as a fierce, never stopping motor of a pass-rusher.