Cameron Jordan doubling down after career-best season

This season, Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has 10 sacks, four pass defenses, 15 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hits. Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

METAIRIE, La. -- There is a big banner hanging outside of the New Orleans Saints' practice facility that says, "Prove Them Right." It was coach Sean Payton's message to a team that entered this season surrounded by lofty expectations.

Cameron Jordan is taking those words to heart.

The Saints' 29-year-old defensive end had a breakthrough season in 2017 when it came to getting love, recognition and attention. He was named a first-team All-Pro for the first time after recording a career-high 13 sacks. He made his third trip to the Pro Bowl. He started flying up those top-100 player rankings from various media outlets (No. 31 on ESPN's list). He started making more national TV appearances, etc., etc.

So what has Jordan done for an encore in his eighth NFL season?

Well, he is on pace for another 13 sacks, and he is playing a key role for the NFL's No. 1 run defense -- even though he also is getting more attention than ever from opposing offenses who regularly double-team him.

Jordan has four sacks over the past two games and 10 this season.

"Until the fire goes out, I'll be trying to play the best I can for as long as I can," said Jordan, who said he has always looked up to fellow defensive ends such as Cameron Wake, Michael Bennett and former Saints teammate/mentor Will Smith, who each thrived later in their careers.

"I always said to myself, 'Yo, years 7 through 11 is like the prime for defensive ends," Jordan said. "It wasn't their first couple years that defined them. It was at mid-ground when they were playing at their best. And for me, it's like, 'If I'm playing at my best last year, can I be better?' And I'm trying to push that."

Jordan also wants something that his "big homie" Smith got in his sixth season -- a Super Bowl championship.

The Saints won their only Super Bowl after the 2009 season. Jordan didn't arrive until 2011 as a first-round draft pick out of Cal.

"I've always wanted to win. I've always dreamed of winning at the highest stages," said Jordan, who said his desire has always been there, but now it's mixed with things like experience and wisdom. "If you talk about just the ability to process what's in the backfield, the ability to actually break down film. I mean that first year or two I'm watching film, but it's more like absorption just through the mass of film. Now you can check game clips, game reels, and feel the essence of what a team wants to do.

"As I'm going through my career, you feel more and more what defensive coordinators want you to fit into their system, how exactly offensive linemen are going to attack you."

Jordan credited teammates such as defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata for helping him by wreaking havoc of their own next to him.

Jordan paid tribute Thursday night in Dallas to Smith, who was shot and killed in a road rage incident in New Orleans two years ago. After Jordan passed Smith for fourth place in the Saints record books with career sack No. 68.5, he celebrated by kissing his bicep like Smith used to do.

Later in the game, Jordan followed up with another sack and a forced fumble in the final minutes. It could have become the defining moment of Jordan's season, but the offense failed to convert it into points, and the Saints fell 13-10 to the Dallas Cowboys to end their 10-game win streak.

Nevertheless, Rankins said he told Jordan after the game that he was proud of him for reaching double-digit sacks in back-to-back years for the first time in his career.

"He joked that it's usually every other year. But I told him not anymore, not as long as I'm here," Rankins said. "You're not gonna find a better defensive end in the league than he is. He's 6-4, 285 to 290, runs like a linebacker, rushes as good as anybody in this league and plays hard every time he's out there.

"So I'm just happy he plays next to me -- sometimes, because we draw too much attention sometimes. But I'm definitely happy to have him on my team, and happy to call him a brother, as well."

Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen agreed this season that Jordan is the "best all-around defensive end" in the NFL. Both Allen and Payton also stressed something that always has been true with Jordan: He shouldn't be defined by sacks alone.

Jordan's versatility has been his greatest strength. He spent some time rotating as an end and tackle earlier in his career. He has always been a terrific run defender -- not just plugging holes, but chasing guys down across the field. He plays about 90 percent of the Saints' defensive snaps. And he ranks third in the NFL with 31 batted passes since 2012.

Last season, Jordan completed what he referred to as a "triple-double" with double-digit sacks (13), pass defenses (11) and tackles for loss (17). According to ESPN Stats & Information research, J.J. Watt in 2012 was the only other player to accomplish that feat since at least 2001.

This season, Jordan has 10 sacks, four pass defenses, 15 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hits.

"At the same time, there's still pressure to be better," said Jordan, who said one more turnover -- or maybe scooping up that last fumble and returning it for a touchdown himself -- could have made the difference in that loss at Dallas. "I'm always looking to do better. Especially after a game like that. I just feel like there's still so much I could get better from."