How Cameron Jordan is lifting Saints' defense
The Saints’ defense is still far from a good unit overall, but it is getting healthier, and many of the problems caused by inexperienced and sub-par players are disappearing with that.
Its best player—DE Cameron Jordan—has also kicked things into high gear over the past few weeks, and is coming off the best game of his season—and one of the best single-game performances of the year by any defender.
Against Denver this week, Jordan posted a sack, a QB hit, seven QB hurries, eight tackles, and eight defensive stops. All of those marks are league-leading among edge defenders, and his performance was good enough to get Denver’s starting right tackle, Donald Stephenson, benched before Jordan set about taking Stephenson’s backup to pieces.
At his best, Cameron Jordan is one of the league’s most destructive players, capable of generating a significant volume of pressure and also making a major impact in the run game in a way many edge rushers can’t or don’t. He now has strong pass-rush grades in five of the past six weeks, and each of those games also brings with it solid grades against the run.
After earning just the 61st highest grade (50.7) among NFL edge defenders after three weeks of the season, Jordan has now ascended to fourth overall, behind only Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Brandon Graham, with a new mark of 89.1.
Cameron Jordan’s career grades
Jordan’s dominant run has been reflected in the improved performance by the Saints’ defense as a whole. The Broncos’ offense isn’t the best unit in the world, but this now represents the fourth week in a row that the Saints have surrendered fewer than 30 points, having coughed up at least 34 in four of their first five games of the year.
Strangely, the uptick in defensive performance has been mirrored by a corresponding downturn in offensive production, at least when it comes to points. Over the same span, the New Orleans offense has scored 30 points just once—against the hapless 49ers—having racked up at least 32 in four of their first five games.
Much of that has to do with quality of opposition, with this offense scoring at will against average or below-average defenses this year, but struggling to have the same kind of success against legitimate units, or ones that play to that level. The Seahawks, Broncos, and Chiefs all have quality defenses, and the Giants have flashed the ability to hit that level for periods this season.
Some of the offensive struggles this week were self-inflicted, but the important thing to note is that the defense played well enough to keep New Orleans in this game when the offense couldn’t put the win out of sight. The result ultimately hinged on a freak blocked kick returned for two points late in the game, but as a unit, the majority of the Saints’ defense graded well.
Sheldon Rankins is just working his way back from injury, and the first-round rookie has yet to really show what he can do. He notched a sack and three hurries against Denver, but was controlled in the run game, and has plenty more untapped potential to reach over the remainder of the season. With Cameron Jordan firing on all cylinders, this defense has the potential to be a far better unit than we saw over the first month of the season, and looks far more like the side that has been on the field over the past few games.
New Orleans currently stands below .500, with a 4-5 record, but isn’t out of contention, either, within the division or in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the NFC, where the New York Giants and Washington Redskins currently both reside with 5-3 records. With improved play from the defense and an offense that can score on all but the most elite defenses at will, this is a dangerous team over the second half of the season, and one that will be chasing a playoff berth.
The play of Cameron Jordan could help take them there if he maintains his current form.