Cameron Jordan coming into his own in the New Orleans Saints' defense

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At the conclusion of his sophomore season as a professional, Cameron Jordan was a rare shining light in what proved to be the worst defense in NFL history. In Spagnuolo’s first (and last) season in 2012, he was their most talented pass rusher, coming off his 4-3 DE position to register 8 sacks on the season. After Spag’s firing, in stepped Rob Ryan and his 3-4 base scheme. The former Cal Golden Bear was now to play the position he played at in college – the 3-4 DE.

While each team has a few wrinkles thrown into their defensive schemes, the general rule of thumb is that rushing the passer is primarily the job of the defensive ends in a 4-3 defense, and the job of outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense. DEs in a 3-4 defense hardly ever match their 4-3 counterparts in pass-rushing stats as a result.

Not so for Cam Jordan though; his shift from being a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 DE yielded much better pass-rushing statistics, paving the way for a Pro Bowl appearance:

Statistics acquired from Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

Player

Pass rush snaps

Sacks

Hits

Hurries

Total pressures

Cameron Jordan

2012 Cameron Jordan

569

8

5

32

45

2013 Cameron Jordan

525

14

12

50

76

Other 3-4 DEs from 2013

J.J. Watt (HOU)

518

11

36

38

85

Justin Smith (SF)

462

7

10

39

56

Calais Campbell (ARI)

614

11

17

40

68

Kyle Williams (BUF)

533

13

17

39

69

Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ)

597

11

9

32

52

It’s extremely rare to see a player improve on their pass-rushing numbers while moving from a 6-tech / 9-tech to a 5-tech, but that’s exactly what Jordan managed to do. What this suggests is that Cam Jordan was an elite pass-rushing 3-4 DE in his first professional season in the role.

To say that though, discounts the versatility of Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme. While his base package was a 3-4 defense, he was in nickel far more often through the season – and his nickel package involved 4 down-linemen. Thus, Jordan rushed the passer as a 4-3 DE more often than a 3-4 DE. Still, the sheer bump in numbers from 2012 to 2013 despite rushing the passer less frequently is impressive nonetheless.

What separates him from his peers at the position? This play against the Falcons in the Georgia Dome gives us a window into the answer to that question:

jordan 1

He lines up at his usual right defensive end position, going up against Falcons RT Jeremy Trueblood.

jordan 2

He’s initially stone-walled, but uses his hands to ensure he’s not locked down by Trueblood. His motor is telling, as many a defensive lineman would consider this a failed attempt and save their energy for the next snap.

jordan 3

He then uses one of many pass-rush moves in his repertoire – the spin move. Surprisingly agile for a man his size, Jordan leaves Trueblood for dead as he spins off the right tackle.

jordan 4

With nothing but green between him and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Jordan closes that gap before any Falcons receivers gain any separation. His superb wrap-tackling technique ensures that Ryan has no way to escape, and he promptly goes down under the tackle.

The tackle resulted in the 2nd-and-long turning into a 3rd-and-very-long, resulting in a Matt Bosher punt.

Top-drawer performances against the hated arch-rivals the Falcons win the hearts of Saints fans everywhere. Cam Jordan certainly did that last year, as a whopping 17 of his 76 pressures (22%) came in the two games against the Falcons. With performances like that, Cameron Jordan will always find his name in the mix for the top-10 defensive ends in the NFL.

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