Shaun Rogers: Following up in the Big Easy

| March 4, 2011

It wasn’t so long ago I found myself extolling the virtues of Shaun Rogers.

Recently released by the Cleveland Browns, I suggested a couple of teams I felt would be perfect fits for Rogers, and why he would upgrade pretty much any defensive interior.

Well he didn’t go to Indianapolis, and he won’t be wearing the Bengals colors. Instead he’s signed on with New Orleans for 2011.

And that’s bad news for the rest of the NFC South.

Smoke and mirrors will get you so far

Even during their 2009 that eventually saw them win the Super Bowl, you worried about the Saints defense. A creative plan hid their inability to get consistent pressure without blitzing, but it couldn’t keep their vulnerability to the run from being exploited. And that was with an offense that put them in front early and often, allowing their defense to be more aggressive.

A year later, New Orleans was unable to repeat their Super Bowl success. Their offense made more mistakes and their defense was left far more exposed.

Why? Well on an individual basis they just were not winning their matchups.

Tackling A Problem

This was particularly evident in the middle of the line. For a space-eating defensive tackle, Remi Ayodele doesn’t feast on opposition like a Sione Pouha. For a high round pick who was meant to do it all, far too often Sedrick Ellis would do nothing. For a converted defensive end who should have the burst to beat interior linemen, Tony Hargrove just couldn’t get up the field.

It was a big problem for the Saints that nobody encapsulates more than Sedrick Ellis.

Sedrick Ellis: He Should Be The One Stepping Up

Back in 2008, Glenn Dorsey was the judged the top defensive tackle and was the first to come off the board. But his initial struggles, and his move to end in the Chiefs 3-4 look, seem to have absolved Ellis from criticism after two years of sub standard play.

As a rookie Ellis was extremely effective. He was one of the ten most productive pass rushing tackles in the league, generating a quarterback pressure for every 11.05 snaps he took. Fast forward a year and injury had brought that number up to a pressure for every 19.76 pass rushing snaps. Surely, without injury as an excuse, his 2010 numbers would get back to that impressive rookie year? Well, no, they actually got worse. Ellis got a sack, hit or hurry on just one of every 20.17 pass rushes.

The other defensive tackles in the Saints rotation were not much better. You expect Remi Ayodele to do little, but Tony Hargrove should be getting more than a pressure for every 24.09 pass rushes. The end result is the Saints were a team that asked their tackles to step up in 2010, but instead, they allowed quarterbacks to step up and make plays. It’s a big reason why they only finished second in the NFC South, and it’s a big reason the Seahawks knocked them off in the Wildcard round.

A Big Move in the Big Easy

You have to applaud the Saints for moving quickly, and in the face of stiff competition, to rectify this. Our previous look at Rogers highlighted that he’s in elite company when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Now, back in a 4-3, you like ‘Big Baby’ to continue applying the kind of pressure that saw him force a QB disruption for every 9.07 pass rushing snaps (numbers that were 9.27 in 2009 and 11.56 in 2008).

Sure it’s not going to suddenly help Jonathan Vilma become proficient at shedding blocks or make Scott Shanle a better player. But it will take some of the pressure off the other defensive linemen and help out a secondary that were getting beat far too often last year.

And it’s not just the pass defense that can expect a boost: Rogers’ freaky blend of speed and power makes him incredibly difficult to stop from exploding through the line and blowing up running plays. We just haven’t got a chance to see it since the Browns began using him as a situational player. You only need to go back to 2008 to see how disruptive he was, and there’s nothing to suggest can’t do this again.

With all the uncertainty in the air that stems from the lack of a CBA, I can only take my hat off to those teams that are doing what they can now. That means well done to Oakland Raiders for tying down so many starters, and that means well done to the Denver Broncos for not allowing their shut down corner to hit the open market (eventually).

And now it means well done to the New Orleans Saints, a whole new defensive proposition.

  • yaopau

    From the looks of these free agent reports, a team with a good QB could sign its way to contender status. So many stud PFF players are available, many who are unheralded and could likely be had for a bargain. I’m not sure what the point of this comment was, except that I’m surprised that there’s this much available talent. Even more surprised that the free agent market is developing this slowly, even with the CBA talks.

    • Rick Drummond

      It really is going to be an interesting flurry once things get going, especially with a compacted timeline.

  • rodneyhartjr

    Though scarier as a Colt, I think the Saints will definitely bring Rodgers the opportunity to play on a team that might drag out the best of his talents. I can already imagine a Sportscenter highlight piece on Rodgers’ “improved” play…where it really might be less about improved play as improved situation as Khaled has pointed out.

    I’ll be keeping a keen eye on Rodgers this season.