With the hiring of Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator on Saturday, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton sent a subtle message to restless fans of the team and the rest of the NFL.
After watching from afar while his defense was pushed around week after week and wound up allowing an NFL single-season record of 7,042 total yards, one of many categories the Saints finished near the bottom of the league in, Payton sprang into action.
Firing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on his second official day back at work after his reinstatement from a season-long bounty suspension was just the start for Payton.
When the team announced Ryan’s hiring Saturday, Payton let it be known that he wanted to do more than have Ryan change his team’s defensive scheme from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 alignment.
That’s just part of it.
While scheme is important, it appears that Payton wants to bring back the swagger his Super Bowl-winning defense had when it made big, impactful plays that created turnovers and gave the ball back to their prolific offense.
Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like this time four years ago, when Payton sent good friend Gary Gibbs on his way and brought in Gregg Williams?
Williams said early and often that he wouldn’t apologize for his unit’s aggressiveness and take-no-prisoners attitude, which helped them pile up 47 takeaways in their 19-game run to the Super Bowl XLIV title.
But as we all know, things went terribly wrong from there, and Payton certainly doesn’t want a repeat of the pay-for-performance system that was deemed to be a bounty system by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who imposed unprecedented sanctions against the team.
With that behind them, Payton decided to make sure there is no repeat of last year’s defensive performance by making the switch to the 3-4 and bringing in Ryan, who’s as brash and confident as his dad Buddy and twin brother Rex, to make it work.
Playing hard and with an attitude is OK — if it’s done within the rules.
In addition to implementing the 3-4 scheme and making the necessary personnel decisions to go with it, along with Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis, Ryan has to find a way to stop the run, generate a pass rush and slow down high-powered passing attacks.
Whether that means tearing the whole defense apart and starting over, or just bringing in a few new parts remains to be seen with free agency starting a month from today and the draft coming up in late April.
That means a lot of decisions have to be made in a short amount of time.
When he was fired Jan. 8 by the Dallas Cowboys, it was widely speculated that Ryan was made the scapegoat for their 8-8 season that kept them out of the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
In a Saints news release, Ryan said he was excited to get started right away.
That’s good, because there’s a lot of work to do.