Sitting at his locker a few weeks ago, Cam Jordan did not want to talk about pressures.
He knew his pressure numbers were down this season, but the only thing he wanted to talk about was sacks. Despite knowing pressures help create mistakes, make quarterbacks uncomfortable, and often lead to bigger and better things, he seemed to view them as missed opportunities.
“Pressure is important,” Jordan said. “But at the end of the day, sacks truly reflect the quarterback’s mindset.”
The defensive end was able to enjoy the best of both world’s during Sunday’s 44-23 win over the Green Bay Packers. After a slow start that saw him record one sack and about 17 pressures during through the first six games of the season, Jordan broke loose and recorded two sacks and five hurries against the Packers. It was, without a doubt, the best game of his season.
Green Bay was kind enough to provide Jordan with a push out of the gates. His first sack came with 6:43 remaining in the first quarter on third-and-goal. The Packers appeared to be attempting a quick pass to the left side of the field, and the offensive line shifted that direction immediately after the snap.
Jordan, who was lined up at left defensive end, was left unblocked and given a clear path to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The play, which came after a failed second-down pass attempt to linebacker Julius Peppers, forced the Packers to settle for a field goal.
Jordan had to wait until the fourth quarter to record his next sack, but this one was created through his own accord. Rushing from the left, Jordan was able to get leverage on tackle Bryan Bulaga, bull him back, then shed him to bring down Rodgers.
The next play, thanks to inside pressure from defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who also showed signs of life against the Packers after a slow start to the season, Rodgers threw an interception to cornerback Corey White.
Jordan was also active in other ways. On third-and-17 with 13:12 remaining in the second quarter, he was able to grab Rodger’s collar and force him to step up in the pocket and throw an incompletion. Jordan also often drew double teams, which helped create opportunities for other players on the line.
In short, this was the Jordan the Saints have been waiting to see all season. To this point, Junior Galette has been New Orleans’ most effective — and sometimes only active — pass rusher. If Jordan can keep this up and regain the form that allowed him to record 12.5 sacks last season, the Saints defense will improve all across the board, and creating turnovers will become an easier task.
Perhaps one of the more encouraging aspects of Jordan’s performance is that it came on a night when there were no smoke and mirrors.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been leaning on more simplified game plans in recent weeks in an effort to minimize miscommunications, but he dug into his bag of tricks against the Detroit Lions and rolled out some of his more complicated blitz packages, including his Amoeba defense. There appeared to be few wrinkles this week.
Aware of Rodgers’ prowess against the blitz, the Saints dialed things back and sent five or more pass rushers no more than four times. Instead, the defensive line was asked to create pressure by winning their individual assignments.
Considering how quickly Rodgers routinely gets rid of the ball, the fact that the defense combined for 15 pressures, a pair of quarterback hits, and four sacks (the other two were by Kasim Edebali), the night could be considered a success.
Overall, there were still issues. Rodgers was able to move the ball with relative ease, and there were tackling issues and breakdowns in the secondary. Some of those things continue to be a work in progress. But against a high-powered opponent, New Orleans was forced to bend a few times, but it did not break after a few early hiccups made things far too easy for Green Bay.
That’s something this team can grasp and use a building block moving forward. If the Saints can survive against a team like this, with a quarterback like that, suddenly some of the opponents on the upcoming schedule no longer appear as daunting.
Now New Orleans just needs to prove it can win games like this one the road. But as Sean Payton says, good football travels well. And for the most part, Sunday’s performance qualifies as good football.
Here’s a look at how the rest of the position groups graded out against Green Bay out of a possible four fleurs-de-lis:
3.5 out of 4
Drew Brees would receive a perfect mark if not for some questionable clock management at the end of the second quarter.
3.5 out of 4
Mark Ingram would have led the running backs to the first perfect score of the season if Erik Lorig had not fumbled in the waning moments of this game.
3 out of 4
Brandin Cooks might be on the verge of breaking out, and Marques Colston continues to play well with tight end Jimmy Graham limited.
3 out of 4
There were a few minor issues, but not enough to get worked up over. This group helped Ingram run for 174 yards and kept Brees’ pocket relatively clean.
2.5 out of 4
Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks showed up and were ready to play. Would have liked to see Junior Galette more involved.
2.5 out of 4
David Hawthorne was the star of the linebackers this week. He intercepted a pass and was in on several run stuffs. Curtis Lofton had a rare quiet game.
2.5 out of 4
This group gave up 400 yards, but also generated a pair of interceptions and minimized the damage after a rough start. Rodgers is supposed to move the ball. While it would have been nice to see some more resistance, they did a good enough job.
3 out of 4
Shayne Graham made all of his kicks, and Thomas Morstead never punted. Not much to grade here.