The New Orleans Saints are on pace to:
• allow the most touchdowns in NFL history.
• allow more points than any other team this season and become the fourth team ever to allow 500 points.
• allow opposing quarterbacks to post a record-breaking 116.6 passer rating.
• allow more than 6,800 yards, which would be the second-most ever (the 2012 Saints hold the record, which is 7,042 yards).
They've done this.
Here's your intelligent analysis: That defense STINKS.
So when the Saints visit Tampa on Sunday, Jameis Winston and Mike Evans will light up the scoreboard, and the Buccaneers will win easily, right?
Well, as Sunday's Panthers-Saints game (as well as the Eagles-Patriots game) showed, things don't always go according to script. That the Saints have allowed a quarterback to throw at least four touchdown passes in four of their past five games doesn't guarantee the Bucs anything.
"I know what the stats say, but the stats are about what has happened in the past," coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday. "Now, everybody is in this stretch run. I think you see peak performances by everybody about this time of year. We assume we are going to get their best defensively."
One bright spot on the Saints defense has been defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, who has been among the best edge rushers in the NFL this season. He has been right there with the Oakland's Khalil Mack, Kansas City's Justin Houston, Denver's Von Miller and Seattle's Cliff Avril.
Jordan's dominant play keyed Week 6 and Week 7 wins against the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts. In those games, he pressured the quarterback 20 times and recorded five sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. To put that in perspective, William Gholston, the Bucs' best edge rusher this season, has pressured the quarterback 27 times and recorded three sacks in 13 games.
Overall, Jordan has eight sacks, one-third of the Saints' total. But sacks don't tell the whole story. Sometimes, a player is disruptive — he rushes the quarterback's throws or forces him out of the pocket — but his contributions don't show up in the box score.
Conversely, sacks can inflate a player's value. Maybe a blocker blows an assignment, maybe the quarterback holds the ball for too long or maybe the quarterback never sees the defender and runs right into him.
I was curious about Jordan's emergence as one of the elite defenders in the NFL and the quality of his sacks, so I reached out to former Bucs defensive end Stephen White and asked for his evaluation. White, who played seven seasons in the NFL — six of them (1996-2001) with Tampa Bay, breaks down All-22 coaches film for SB Nation and is a must-follow on Twitter for any Bucs fan craving candid football analysis.
The first play we looked at was Jordan's first sack of Andrew Luck in the Saints' 27-21 win over the Colts in October. One of Jordan's strengths is his versatility, and the Saints used that to their advantage in this game as they played Jordan at every position along the defensive line. Here, he lines up at left defensive end across from right tackle Joe Reitz.
It's third-and-1 for the Colts at their own 28-yard line with 12:06 left in the first quarter. The Colts try to spread out the defense by lining up in 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends, four receivers). The Saints' defense is in Cover 2 Man, a coverage in which the two safeties each cover a deep zone and the underneath defenders play man-to-man.
After the snap, Luck looks to the receivers on his left, who run slant routes. He begins to wind up but then holds on to the ball before looking right. Phillip Dorsett is open on a crossing route, but it's too late. Like the bogeyman jumping out of the closet, Jordan is there and ready to pounce.
One of the reasons the Saints shut down this play is that the defensive backs play to the inside of the receivers.
"They're trying to stay inside of the routes," White says. "It's not like Cover 3 or anything where you bail out. They're trying to force everything outside, kind of like the exact opposite of what (the Bucs) do with the Tampa 2, trying to force everything inside, so you're not going to get your slants on this."
Meanwhile, the offensive line's protection is set up for Luck to throw the ball to the slants. White explains that most of the offensive linemen "short set," which means that they try to quickly engage their defender and control him at the line of scrimmage so that he can't get his hands up to block the pass.
When the ball doesn't come out, Luck is in trouble.
"Now what (Jordan) is going to do is he's going to take his outside hand and knock off Reitz's outside arm," White says. "Once he does that, it's over because (Reitz) is going forward. If Reitz is still going back, then he can reset and set his hands again."
If the play call is a longer developing pass, an offensive lineman wouldn't come out aggressively on a player like Jordan, White explains.
"A guy like Jordan, with all that room to the outside, all you have to do is knock the hands down and rip and go and get the quarterback," he says. "That's 100 percent on Andrew Luck right there. He needs to throw the ball to somebody or throw it away."
Even so, Jordan uses good technique to beat Reitz.
"You can't devalue what Cam did, either," White says. "You see plenty of guys around the league get stuck on that block, so credit to him for transitioning to a pass rush move, but it's mostly on Andrew Luck."
• • •
Jordan sacks Luck again late in the second quarter, but this one isn't on the quarterback.
The Colts are expecting the Saints to blitz, so they slide the pass protection to the right. Running back Frank Gore is responsible for blocking pressure off the left edge.
When left tackle Anthony Castonzo steps to the outside and the left guard steps inside, Jordan has a straight path to Luck.
"You'll see every other guy go hard inside except for him," White says, "and I have no idea why he would do that. That's kind of a gimme."
"(Castonzo) is thinking, 'If I go inside looking for (Jordan), no one's going to block him (if he goes outside),' which might be true, but you still have to follow your rules," White says. "So the fact that it's Cam Jordan right there probably does make a difference because he's worried, 'This guy actually makes plays, so if I go inside, he's going to go come right off my hip, and (Gore) is only going to be able to block (either Jordan or the blitzing linebacker).' What he doesn't realize is if you get the inside threat, that still gives the quarterback time to release the ball."
• • •
While Jordan doesn't receive official credit for the Saints' third sack of Luck, his pressure certainly contributes to the 5-yard loss.
On the third-quarter sack, Jordan pushes Castonzo into Luck and grabs his jersey, and as Luck tries to escape, defensive tackle John Jenkins reaches out and wrestles him to the ground.
Early in the play, Jordan gains a crucial advantage by flashing inside, which baits Castonzo into stepping right.
"Why that's important is because if he just tries to run a bull rush on him, (Jordan) is going to have to go (wider around the edge)," White says. "By getting (Castonzo) to step inside, it shortens the corner just enough so he can reach out and grab Luck."
Notice the position of Castonzo's hands.
"You almost never see an offensive lineman do that, where they're trying to block a guy with his hands by his waist," White says. "They want to be ready to punch, but he doesn't want Cam Jordan to knock his hands down."
"And then he gets run over. He got done up right there."
The rest of the offensive line does a solid job of keeping the other rushers at bay. But they can only hold them off for so long.
Even with pressure from Jordan, this should have been a big completion for the Colts. Luck actually has an open Andre Johnson run right in front of him, but he either doesn't see him somehow or he gets greedy.
Against the Saints' Cover 3 defense, it should be an easy read, White says. When the outside cornerbacks bail to protect against the deep pass and the nickelback (he's called the "nickelback" because he's the fifth defensive back) covers the slot receiver on his curl route, there's no one left to cover Johnson as he runs a crossing route to the left side of the field.
If Luck continues to look left, he would see Johnson. Instead, he looks right, decides not to throw the ball to tight end Coby Fleener and by then the pocket collapses.
• • •
When the Bucs visited New Orleans in Week 2, you didn't hear Jordan's name much until Tampa Bay started melting down in the fourth quarter. He recovered a fumble midway through the period and then on the next Bucs' possession sacked Winston to force a third-and-20.
On the second-and-10 play, Jordan lines up across from rookie left tackle Donovan Smith. The Bucs use play-action, so Smith initially tries to sell the appearance of a run block, but in doing so, he can't get depth against Jordan, White says.
When Smith tries to punch Jordan, he slaps his hands down, essentially taking him out of the play.
"Donovan's getting width," White says, "and he can't recover because he's not getting any depth. He's just going sideways basically."
Smith's pro career got off to a rocky start, but in White's eyes, the second-round pick has shown progress.
"Donovan Smith has absolutely gotten better," he says. "He's learned, and he's playing a little bit harder, too, quite honestly. He didn't really know how to finish plays early in the season. But that guy's come a long way."
• • •
My record: 7-4
Thomas Bassinger can be reached at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.