During Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the New Orleans Saints’ Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette stood in the huddle and had a conversation about how they were going to get to the quarterback.
The play that was just called had a “fox funnel” built into it, so Jordan and Galette decided that, if the quarterback dropped back to pass, Galette (who lined up outside of Jordan on the right side of the line) was going to stunt behind Jordan and try to get to the Bucs’ Mike Glennon. Jordan’s job was to take on the guard and tackle, which would help funnel Galette into the backfield.
It worked. Jordan absorbed the blockers, Galette stunted behind him and Glennon was dropped for a safety. The play set the Saints, who were struggling to get back into the game, on their way to a 37-31 overtime victory.
“You have to know the protection that you’re getting to execute something like that,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “That has to be built in to your system. If you want to rush one way, eventually teams block that. Like I always say, ‘Smart players make good systems.’ That’s just a great call on Junior’s part.”
After recording 49 sacks last season, 24.5 of which were accumulated by Galette and Jordan, the Saints have found that teams are blocking them differently this year. The duo has seen extra blockers and chipping at a higher frequency this season, which has made it difficult for them to get after the quarterback.
Through five games, New Orleans has just six sacks. Galette has three, and Jordan has one.
It has been a disappointing start for a pair of players who proclaimed in the offseason that they each wanted to record at least 16 sacks. But it hasn’t been a complete loss. The team is starting to generate more pressure as it continues to diagnose the issues the defensive front seven is having with getting after the quarterback.
Still, the lack of sacks has been frustrating.
“Maybe (sacks are) put on a pedestal by players. I certainly love them,” Jordan said. “Pressure is important, but at the end of the day sacks truly reflect the quarterback’s mindset. If you put pressure on him, he’s uncomfortable. If you sack him, it changes games.”
In an effort to create different looks and keep the offensive line guessing, in recent weeks the Saints have started lining up Galette and Jordan on the same side of the line with greater frequency — the same alignment that allowed Galette to post Sunday’s safety.
During the first three weeks, the two lined up alongside each other on 23 occasions, 17 of which were passing plays. The Saints recorded six pressures and three quarterback hits on those plays.
Likely noticing the success, the team used the same look 33 times over the next two weeks. Jordan and Galette went after the quarterback on 13 of those plays, with New Orleans recording five pressures and the safety.
For the most part, the Saints were shut out at Dallas on the plays with Jordan and Galette on the same side, recording only one pressure, but the success in the other contests shows this is often an effective alignment.
“I think they do work together. In a 3-4 defense, it’s going to set Cam in a certain spot, set Junior in a certain spot,” defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. “They’ve been together a couple years. That’s interesting you say that. Maybe it’s something I need to look at. When they are together, they do work together and communicate well together.”
The question is whether the Saints will use it more often. One reason that this look might be so successful is that it shows up as an unexpected wrinkle. If New Orleans were to start using it more often, it’s likely that offenses would look for it and find ways to better combat the two players coming off the same side of the line.
Still, when they aren’t looking for it, it’s often effective.
“It creates mismatches somewhere in there,” Jordan said. “Between me and Junior, someone is out of comfort. I don’t know if there’s drawbacks. You can’t do it every play because that can be game-planned. Nice to throw a little spice in there.”
Coming out of the open date, the Saints will be looking to find ways to create pressure more consistently and on every down. They need more of anything and everything, and they will spend the week looking for ways to generate it.
“Obviously you want more,” Ryan said. “You want more production, more sack numbers, more pressure. We have to get our best group out there to rush the passer, execute a plan. People constantly change their protections and with our success last season, with the two edge guys dominating like they did and the push up the middle, I think people have more plans to try and slow that down. At the end of the day, we need to get on the passer and do it better.”
In other words, they need to throw more spice on it.