Last year, when the Saints and Falcons both had openings at the Defensive Coordinator spot, there were many Falcons fans who cringed when the Saints landed highly lauded coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He was a highly respected coordinator who many felt would improve the Saints D dramatically. Obviously, that didn't go so well.
Fast forward to this year: the Saints fired Spags and after some searching, hired Rob Ryan - who had been recently let go by the Dallas Cowboys. The Saints also made the decision to switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 going into the 2013 season.
But what about Rob Ryan? He has a mostly positive reputation for being a savvy defensive coordinator but does his history in the NFL tell us? And should the Falcons be worried going into the first game of 2013?
To be honest, I didn't know much about Rob Ryan's history in the NFL, nor how he had actually fared until I decided to put this article together. What I found surprised me somewhat. Here's a look at Rob Ryans defensive rankings with each team he's been D Coordinator for:
|Year||Team||Yards Ranking||Points Ranking||Sacks Ranking|
Here's a reality check about Rob Ryan: he's only coached one team (2006 Raiders) that was top 10 in yards. None of his teams have ever been top 10 in points and only twice has he had a team that was top 10 in sacks. On average, his career shows he coaches teams that are rougly 21st to 22nd in defense - in other words, in the bottom third of defenses.
To be fair, the Raiders and Browns organizations were a bit of a mess - so his struggles with those teams can partly be placed on the shoulders of those woeful franchises. His time in Dallas was a bit less chaotic, but Jerry Jones won't soon be confused with the better GMs in the league either.
But, the numbers are the numbers. At the very least, we can say that Rob Ryan doesn't necessarily make a defense rise above its talent level. At the worst, Saints fans may wonder if Ryan truly is an upgrade over Spagnuolo.
Last Years Cowboys Game
For Falcons fans, though, we need only look back to our game last year against the Cowboys to see how we've fared against a Rob Ryan defense recently. Here are some numbers to chew on:
Matt Ryan: 70.6% completion pct, 342 yards, 0TD, 0INT, 3 sacks, 102.8 passer rating
Michael Turner: 20 rushes, 102 yards, 1TD, 5.1 Avg
While the Falcons ultimately won the game 19-13, they did only score one touchdown and Ryan was under pressure for most of the game. Keep in mind that Dallas has one of the premier edge rushers in the game - Demarcus Ware, so he was definitely a factor in that game.
While Rob Ryans defense gave up a good chunk of yards, it did a good job of limiting actual points - and in the GA Dome, no less. It was a solid performance, even if it did end up as a loss.
The Saints This Year
So taking into account the history of Ryan's defenses, and how the Falcons fared against him last year, what can we say about the Saints D this year?
Well, for starters, they have been decimated by injuries so far. They've lost key guys like Victor Butler and Will Smith before the first snap has even been made. On top of that, Jonathan Vilma will miss at least the first game leaving a thin linebacker corps even thinner. On the positive side, Cameron Jordan looks to be benefiting greatly from the switch to the 3-4. He's had an impressive preseason and is one person to keep an eye on. As for their secondary, the hope is that Kenny Vaccaro can contribute immediately in the secondary - but as a rookie, you can be certain the Falcons will look to target him whenever he's in the game.
But will this be an improved defense? It might be optimistic to expect that. Without a full slate of draft picks last year and making the transition to the 3-4 scheme, on top of a defense that was already older in some key positions - the Saints have a lot of ground to make up. Many have said that their defense couldn't possibly be worse, but when looking at the injuries they've suffered and the current talent they have - you have to wonder if they'll be even slightly better. Given Ryan's history of producing defenses that were in the bottom third of the league, it's not unfair to wonder if the Saints may field one of the worst defenses for a second year in a row.
Looking at what Rob Ryan has done in his career and the talent he currently has to work with in New Orleans, the Falcons may not have much to fear - on paper, at least. But the question marks on the offensive line should temper any expectations of an easy win - not to mention the fact that this rivalry throws all statistics and records out the window. But the Falcons can win this game, and by all accounts, Rob Ryan is not the savior to defenses that many in the media would portray him as. I'm not expecting an easy game or a blow out, but this Rob Ryan defense doesn't have this Falcons fan particularly worried either.