Saints position spotlight: Defensive line

The last installment in a seven-part series looking at the New Orleans Saints' roster position-by-position through the Week 6 bye:

Snaps played: DE Cameron Jordan 297, DE Akiem Hicks 248, DE Tyrunn Walker 82, DE Glenn Foster 61.

NT Brodrick Bunkley 151, NT/DE Brandon Deaderick 95, NT John Jenkins 45.

Key stats: Jordan 12 tackles, 1 sack, 3 batted passes; Hicks 14 tackles, 1 batted pass; Bunkley 10 tackles; Walker 5 tackles, 1 sack; Foster 1 tackle; Deaderick 1 tackle; Jenkins 0 tackles.

My take: This group has probably underachieved more than any other on the Saints’ roster this year, but it also offers the greatest hope for improvement going forward. As Jordan said, “We haven’t played our best football yet. That’s scary and exciting at the same time.”

Jordan has just one sack this season and Hicks has none. I expected a lot more from both as pass-rushers after they were so dominant at times last year. I wish I could pinpoint the reason. Part of it is probably that offenses have done a better job of game-planning against them. We’re seeing quarterbacks get rid of the ball quickly rather than standing in the pocket and looking deep down the field. It also seems like Jordan might be seeing a few more double teams and chip blocks. But it also has been a case of Jordan and Hicks simply not winning the battles up front as often as they did last year.

For his part, Jordan hasn’t tried to sugarcoat it. Though he said the pressure has been coming close sometimes, he insisted that sacks matter.

“Overall pressure is always important. But at the end of the day, sacks truly affect a quarterback’s mindset,” Jordan said. “You put pressure on him, he’s uncomfortable. You sack him, you change games.”

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan hasn’t altered his scheme much, but he is trying to mix and match to find things that work. The Saints are averaging more blitzes per game this year, though it doesn’t feel like it since the pressure isn’t getting home. They’ve experimented more with Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette rushing from the same side (to mixed results). And they used an alignment a lot last week with four ends on the field at once, with Foster and Walker inside at tackle (to mixed results).

“Obviously you want more. You want more production, more sack numbers, more pressure,” Ryan said. “We have to get our best group out there to rush the passer, to execute a plan. And people constantly change their protections, especially I think with our success last season. … But at the end of the day, we need to get on this passer and we need to do it better.”

The Saints’ overall run defense has been up and down – but it’s been pretty solid up front, with most of the big runs coming around the edges. Jordan has actually been more solid as a run defender than a pass-rusher. Bunkley and Hicks have been decent against the run. And Jenkins showed signs of finally coming around last week after a slow start.

This is a deep, talented group, including Foster and Walker in cameo appearances. So there is plenty of reason to believe they’ll show more improvement than any other unit coming out of the bye week.

ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “I think Jordan’s been good, but he’s capable of being great and he’s flashed being great. So in that way, he’s somewhat disappointing. But he’s still a good player, and my hunch is he’ll be back, I’m not real worried about him. I thought this defensive line would be borderline dominant. I really liked Jenkins, Hicks. Those guys have been too nondescript so far this year. But if you asked me about their line before the season, I would say that it’s very, very good. Now I would say that it’s very good, but I’m certainly more worried.”

(On why he thinks the production has dipped): “I don’t really get it. I don’t think Ryan’s using them a lot differently. I probably would have to study it more in-depth and really study every snap from both seasons. But there’s nothing that’s standing out immediately as drastically different. They just haven’t produced as well.”

Previous position breakdowns:


Receiver/tight end

Running back

Offensive line