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Success for Sean Payton, Rob Ryan depends on improved talent on defense

More than anything, the performance of players like safety Darren Sharper allowed first-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to have great success back in 2009.More than anything, the performance of players like safety Darren Sharper allowed first-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to have great success back in 2009.

Is Rob Ryan the right guy to lead a turnaround of the Saints defense?

The answer is simple. Yes, if Sean Payton gets him the right players.

For Payton and his staff, personnel decisions will determine how quickly the Saints can make a successful move to the 3-4 defense.

Think about it. When Gregg Williams arrived in 2009, with his attacking scheme and considerable bluster, so did free agent safety Darren Sharper.

Sharper, an aging veteran signed for relative free agent peanuts, pieced together the greatest season of his career. His nine interceptions keyed a turnover feeding frenzy by the Saints defense.

One impact player in the secondary made a huge difference.

Clearly, Payton has some decisions to make.

Does he draft an outside linebacker/edge pass rusher like LSU's Barkevious Mingo in the first round? Or can he count on Martez Wilson (three sacks) and Junior Gallette (five sacks) to man the position?

Does Payton spend that first round pick on bulk up front? The 3-4 defense works when a big run stuffing nose tackle and a pair of stout defensive ends can hold the point of attack while active linebackers are free to make plays.

When the Saints defense was the NFL's best in the late 80's and early 90's, the inside of the 3-4 was manned by underrated but effective players like Tony Elliott, Jim Wilks, and Frank Warren.

Defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis, Broderick Bunkley and Will Smith don't seem to fit that profile. They fit a 4-3 scheme, still played by the majority of NFL teams.

Does Payton look into the secondary for some immediate help at safety?

Safety Isa Adbul Quddus flashed some ball-hawking abilities, with two interceptions in limited playing time. Does he have more to give?

A lot has been made of Rob Ryan's limited success as a defensive coordinator. My take? He hasn't coached at places (Raiders, Browns, Cowboys) that are pictures of stability.

In Cleveland, Ryan was coaching a defense that was playing often behind and defending poor field position thanks to a woeful offense.

In Dallas, Ryan was often defending poor field position after a Tony Romo turnover. In 2012, Romo threw 19 interceptions, and fumbled six times, losing thre.

Romo threw five interceptions against the Bears, four against the Giants and three at Washington. Dallas lost all 3 games.

In the games that Romo didn't throw an interception, the Cowboys won five of the seven.

So, my guess is Payton said the following to himself:

"I need to win now, and I need a veteran defensive coordinator to make the happen. Plus, Rob has never part of a dynamic offense in the NFL since he left New England. He can help us and we can help him."

Which is sound logic.

Much has been made of Ryan's personality, one that appears to be as big as he is.

But, my guess is, after the Gregg Williams divorce, Payton wouldn't hire Ryan without some comfort of a solid working relationship.

Both Payton and Ryan have a lot on the line.

If the Saints return to Super Bowl contention, Sean Payton's rep as one of the NFL's best head coaches is enhanced.

Plus, if the Saints play great defense and make another run to a Super Bowl, Rob Ryan can position himself as a head coach candidate.

Both can happen, but only with the right players.

 

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