METAIRIE, La. -- Rob Ryan was confident, defiant and self-deprecating Tuesday while discussing a New Orleans Saints defense that has plummeted to last in the NFL in yards allowed.
"I know we're on the verge of breaking through," Ryan insisted of a young defense that had its worst day in last Sunday’s 39-17 loss at Philadelphia.
The Saints gave up 519 yards, which was the highest total from any game in the NFL this season at the time, before the San Francisco 49ers topped them later in the night. The Saints have allowed a league-high 409 yards per game, and they’re tied for 29th in the NFL in points allowed at 28.6 per game.
But Ryan continued to express his belief in a defense that had its best performance in a 26-20 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 and finally snagged its first two interceptions of the season in the first half at Philadelphia before the wheels came off in the second half.
"I thought (the breakthrough) was gonna be for Dallas week because we were getting our players back," Ryan said of healing veterans Keenan Lewis, Jairus Byrd and Dannell Ellerbe. "And I thought we were heading that way in Philadelphia. I think for whatever reason we didn't finish the task at hand. Stats don't mean anything to us. I know what it looks like. And you can feel it, it's coming. I know it is. And just keep blaming me ... And that'll be great because I know this thing's gonna be great, too.
"Our guys are working enough that I know it's getting turned around, and it will. It will be fixed. It's not great yet obviously. Hell, we're probably last in the league in every single category. ... We plan on getting better, we know who we're playing this week. And it's gonna be a hell of a challenge and our guys will be up for it."
That challenge will come against a 5-0 Atlanta Falcons team that ranks fourth in the NFL in total offense this season at 406.2 yards per game.
The Saints’ defensive woes are particularly frustrating considering how many changes they made this offseason trying to fix that side of the ball.
Ryan’s playbook was stripped down in an effort to cut down on assignment and alignment errors. Senior assistant Dennis Allen was brought in to help bring stability to the secondary. The Saints brought in new veteran starters like cornerback Brandon Browner, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and linebacker Ellerbe.
The Saints are also relying on rookies, with three in the starting lineup and eight in the defensive rotation. But along with that has come growing pains.
Among several other areas where the Saints must improve is the pass rush. They had zero sacks at Philadelphia and barely pressured quarterback Sam Bradford all afternoon. The Saints’ total of seven sacks is tied for 26th in the NFL this season.
Ryan said the Saints’ top pass-rusher Cameron Jordan has continued to play well this season, though it hasn’t manifested itself in sacks. Jordan has only one this year. He had another nullified by a penalty this past week.
"Here’s a guy that’s having an individual great year, and yet people don’t realize," Ryan said of Jordan, who has also been strong against the run. "He’s constantly putting pressure on the quarterback. He’s had two or three sacks taken away by penalty. So I’m sure there is some frustration with him.
"But the biggest thing is that on all aspects we’ve got guys working hard and they’re giving everything we’ve got. We have to play better. We just can’t let down. Especially on defense, if you have a single letdown or any kind of technique issue or whatever, they get exposed. And right now, we have to play more consistently."
"We see this Delvin Breaux, he’s playing his heart out," Ryan said. "We give him some tough matchups and he’s done a great job. ... A lot of time he's on a receiver with no help.
"You’ve gotta be real encouraged by the way he’s playing. We’re excited about him."