METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints awarded defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the game ball after Monday night’s 38-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins, which followed an emotional weekend for Ryan and his family. Ryan’s stepmother, Joanie, the longtime wife of legendary coach Buddy Ryan, passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.
“I think that’s just Sean [Payton] being Sean,” said Ryan, who spoke for the first time this week on Friday. “You know, everybody goes through those things, they experience those things. And it’s a class act by Sean and the organization. And they’re a class act all the way, from me getting down there for the funeral [on Tuesday morning] and everything else, from Mr. [Tom] Benson and Mickey [Loomis] and Sean and Joe [Vitt]. That’s the way it is.
“Certainly not that I deserved [the game ball] in that one. But it’s an awfully nice gesture, for sure.”
Ryan was being modest, of course. His defense has been off to a torrid start this year -- including Monday’s performance, in which it produced four turnovers and four sacks. The Saints’ remarkable defensive resurgence has been one of the greatest reasons for their 4-0 start.
Bearing down: The Saints defense will face one of its stiffest tests yet on Sunday when they travel to face the Chicago Bears (3-1). Although the Bears aren’t quite as dynamic on offense as the Saints, they’re similar in that they present some uniquely difficult matchups.
Running back Matt Forte is tied with the Saints’ Darren Sproles and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles for the most receptions by a running back in the NFL this season (23). Forte has 320 rushing yards, 160 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season.
Meanwhile, physical Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is always one of the league’s most difficult players to defend. He has 27 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns this season. Last year, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder had 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 TDs.
“That Forte is really a class act. He’s a hell of a football player,” Ryan said as he scanned through the Bears’ array of offensive weapons. “[Tight end Martellus] Bennett has always been a problem in the red zone. He’s an underrated guy. And I think they might have the tallest group of receivers with Bennett, [Alshon] Jeffery and, of course, Marshall. These guys are gigantic. So we have our work cut out for us.
“And, of course, [quarterback Jay] Cutler is going to throw the ball as hard as he can. So we’ve got to be ready for it. Because I don’t think anybody’s got a fastball like he does.”
The Bears’ biggest offensive weakness used to be pass protection over the years. But so far Chicago has done a great job of protecting Cutler, allowing only six sacks in a revamped offense now led by head coach Marc Trestman and two former Saints -- offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
“I think Aaron Kromer’s doing a great job out there. You know, protecting him, doing the things to allow Cutler to use his big arm instead of running for his life like it’s been in the past there,” Ryan said. “So, you know, I think they do a great job. I know Trestman’s been around a long time, and now he’s back in the league. And they have some fine coaches. [Running backs coach] Skip Peete does a great job of teaching protection. So, hey, we have our work cut out to get to this quarterback.
“They’ve protected Cutler, which he’s probably never had in his lifetime. He’s playing pretty well, too.”
Same, but different: Ryan said a couple weeks ago that he had been putting more on versatile rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro’s plate than he’s ever done with a rookie. He was asked Friday if that’s been similar with rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins, who was thrust into a more prominent starting role when nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley went down with a calf injury in Week 1.
“Well, he’s playing nose tackle so he doesn’t have to do quite as much thinking,” Ryan cracked. “But he’s gotta do a lot of fighting.”