The New Orleans Saints defense of coordinator Rob Ryan showed improvement from week one against the Chiefs to week two versus the Raiders.
The entire defense lined up quickly and played with high energy and emotion. These events can only happen when the players are confident and well-drilled in what they are doing.
The ability to adjust quickly and accurately is still a concern. That will be a major area of concern going forward; the ability to be multiple yet fundamentally sound is a difficult task. Checks not only have to be quick but accurate. Otherwise, busted coverages will occur. That happened in the first series of the game when a tight end was left uncovered on third and one.
For the first time we saw Malcolm Jenkins coming down and playing the Nickel or Slot Corner in five and six DB personnel groupings. Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush played some in the deep Safety positions where their athletic ability allows them to cover more ground than the Jenkins-Roman Harper tandem.
In his first season with New Orleans, Ryan is still determining player ability while he is teaching position versatility.
Even when in position, Roman Harper has trouble playing the ball. For the second week in succession, Harper was targeted on the opposition's first third down play. Harper will be at his best in the future when he can occupy a blocker in pass protection. He did this in the second quarter for a sack of Matt Flynn.
The Saints have been preparing David Hawthorne all training camp to eventually take over for Jonathan Vilma at the weakside inside linebacker (Will). Vilma was on the roster because of his experience and the ability to learn, call and adjust Rob Ryan's complex defense. There was a concern that physically Vilma could not hold up through the entire season. Hawthorne had to be ready to step in at a moment's notice.
That time may be now. Vilma's knee issues may have created a "future is now" situation.
Hawthorne paired admirably with Ramon Humber, who took the place of Curtis Loftin at the Sam inside linebacker. Humber has been a standout all training camp, always showing up in whatever phase he is involved. He plays with a lot of energy and appears to have a solid grasp of
Even if Loftin and Vilma are both healthy to start the season, Humber and Hawthorne's development will be critical to the success of this defense. Payton stated such when he said, "With the snaps that they're receiving and the reps that they're receiving, going into the start of the season we just have to develop and train and be ready to play. Knowing how the season unfolds, all of these guys will end up in roles that are significant. We just don't know which game (it will be), and hopefully you stay as healthy as possible. But with the roster size that it is and the length of the season, that's pretty normal."
While the first defense registered five sacks, three occurred when the Raiders pass protection left a pass rusher completely unblocked. Still, Defensive Ends Glenn Foster (two sacks) and Tyrunn Walker made strong statements in flying around the field pressuring the Raiders. Their high energy style of play is infectious.
While most of their damage was against the Raiders second team offense, the question remains whether they can do the same thing against first team offenses. If they can, a roster spot may be theirs. Maybe we will find out this week against the Texans.
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