Sharper, Saints Pass Defense Ranks 1st
I don’t want anyone to get me wrong on this. Statistically, the Saints defense has been playing extremely well this entire season. Currently, it is ranked 3rd overall. It’s 1st in pass defense, 3rd in yards allowed, 5th in points allowed, and 17th against the rush. I don’t think anyone would deny that those stats are a lot better than they were this time last year.
However, the two key areas where defensive production has been down when compared to last year is in takeaways and points scored off takeaways. Most of that is due to the more conservative style that Gregg Williams has opted to go with for the most part this season. Rather than the blitz-happy defense of 2009, Williams has been dropping players back into to coverage more, taking away the big plays down the field and forcing offenses to try to beat their speed and skill underneath.
Still and all, theirs has been a relatively quiet success. It hasn’t been more evident than when it came time to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have historically been defined as the premiere defensive powerhouse of the NFL. Nobody even considered just how good and consistent the Saints defense has been all year, even though they were ranked one spot higher in overall defense than the Steelers were going into that game. All we heard about was how the Saints offense was going to be tested by the swarming Pittsburgh defense. I guess the analysts didn’t consider how battle-tested that Steeler offense was going to be trying to matchup against the new-and-improved Saints defense.
Defensive general, Jonathan Vilma is having a Pro Bowl calibre year, having recorded 58 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. A slimmer, healthier Sedrick Ellis is also doing his part with 23 tackles and 4 sacks. Remi Ayodele has also been very impressive when you consider his 21 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 sack. Will Smith has recorded 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Alex Brown has 18 tackles (14 of which were solo) and 1 sack. Jeff Charleston has 13 tackles and 1 sack. Anthony Hargrove has 11 solo tackles and 1 sack. Marvin Mitchell has recorded 28 tackles (21 of which are solo) and 2 critical forced fumbles. Jimmy Wilkerson has 10 tackles and 1 sack. Jabari Greer has recorded 32 tackles (29 solo) and 2 interceptions, 1 of which he returned for a touchdown. Tracy Porter has 21 tackles and 1 interception. Malcolm Jenkins has a very impressive 45 tackles (38 solo) and 1 sack. Leigh Torrence has 17 tackles and 1 critical interception. Usama Young has 16 tackles and 1 sack. And rookie Patrick Robinson has played like a seasoned veteran at times.
Even so, the return of Darren Sharper to the Saints defense has been a noticeable one. His confidence and energy have brought a spark back to the unit as a whole–one that was missing up until he returned. In his first game back which was the loss to Cleveland, I can remember thinking that he didn’t look like a man coming off a serious knee injury at all. In one play, he leapt over the backs of two defensive linemen to put pressure on Colt McCoy. It was awesome! As always, Sharper has been all over the field making his presence known. From plucking the forced fumble of Heath Miller out of the air against the Steelers to delivering the jarring blow to Jonathan Stewart in the win against Carolina, Sharper has singlehandedly set the tone for what is necessary and expected of the entire team. That’s what makes him such an effective player and such a valuable leader. You know that wherever the ball is on the field, #42 won’t be far away.
It goes without saying that the rest of the players are feeding off of Sharper’s energy and that’s a very good thing. Even though they were playing well before he came back, the Saints defense seems to be playing more inspired football since his return–they seem to have their swagger back. As a complete unit, they’re playing like they’re more confident and more purpose-driven with him in; they’re certainly more energetic, getting back to their turnover-causing prowess of last year. Long story short, he makes that good defense even better. I for one am very glad that Sharper is back in the lineup. Hopefully, his infectious energy will be the final piece that the Saints have needed to get back on track.