Two of the main reasons why the New Orleans Saints defense has undergone such a resurgence this year: they’re hitting the quarterback, and they’re not missing the other guys.
The Saints lead the NFL in two key defensive categories through 12 weeks: most sacks per dropback and fewest missed tackles.
The Saints entered this week in a five-way tie for the most sacks in the NFL with 37. That’s already more than they’ve had in any season since 2006. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 9.0 percent of dropbacks this season -- the highest rate in the NFL.
The breakout play of young pass rushers like Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks has a lot to do with it. But the Saints and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have had success bringing pressure from all levels of the defense at times.
Fourteen different players have at least a half-sack for the Saints this year.
“Our d-line is playing phenomenal and it feels good,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “The DBs, when we are playing man coverage, and after about two and a half seconds you see the quarterback go down, it makes our life a lot easier on the back end. It allows us to do a lot more as well.
“This defense goes as far as the defensive line takes us because if they do well, when they play well against the run we make teams one dimensional. Then they get to do what they want to do, and that is pass rush. They can always get to the quarterback, and you can see that because they are all getting pressure.”
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who’s preparing for the Saints’ visit on “Monday Night Football” this week, has been impressed by what he’s seen on film. Carroll said he remembered seeing the potential in Jordan when he was coming out of Cal in 2011.
“He was a very deft pass rusher in college. He had great style and moves and things. I think it just took him a little while to really blossom,” Carroll said of Jordan, who leads the Saints with 9.5 sacks. “I think he’s a key component. Akiem Hicks is making problems for everybody. He has had a great start to the early part of his career. Those guys, the whole group attacks. Rob (Ryan) has got those guys on the move all the time, so it’s difficult to nail down where they are. But they have generated a bunch of problems, and that has added to why they’re such a good pass defense and why it’s such a big challenge trying move the ball when you’re throwing it in the air against them.”
Meanwhile, the entire Saints defense has done an excellent job of finishing off tackles this year -- something that was a major part of their struggles in 2012.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints have missed the fewest tackles in the NFL this year -- 57, including special teams. Last year, the Saints ranked 31st in the NFL with 128 missed tackles on defense (not including special teams).