A Quarter-Season Update on Rob Ryan’s Saints Defense

A Quarter-Season Update on Rob Ryan’s Saints Defense
The Saints aren’t a 3-4 defense.

Back in June, we explained the 3-4 Under front we expected the Saints to use as their base defense. It turns out we spent a lot of time and used a lot of words to tell you about a defensive front Rob Ryan would employ just every now and then.

Here, through four games, are the defensive fronts the Saints defense are actually using.

The Standard 4-2-5 Nickel

4-2-5 Miami

If the Saints do have a “base” defense, it’s probably this, and there’s absolutely nothing exotic about it. This isn’t a 2011 Southern Miss-style 4-2-5, the anti-spread defense that seamlessly morphs between a nickel, a 4-3, and a 3-4. This is pretty much just your everyday nickel.

Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan are wide defensive ends. David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton are your linebackers. And the assortment of safeties and cornerbacks in the secondary–not visible in this closeup of the defensive front–are all tasked with coverage assignments.

Against Miami’s shotgun attack, the Saints played this defense a lot, but, through 2013 so far, that’s not a thing specific to this game.


NFL teams pass a lot now. The Saints have been able to effectively rush the quarterback with four linemen, so they only really need the four of them rushing the quarterback. By having only two linebackers and five safeties and cornerbacks on the field most of the time, the Saints are making it clear that, on defense, they want to stop the pass first.

The Pete Carroll 4-3 Under

43 Over Miami

In my article on Rob Ryan’s 3-4 Under , I referred to Seattle’s base defense as a kind of 4-3 with 3-4 personnel. That’s what the Saints are doing here. In fact, this defense is straight from the Seattle playbook.

Don’t believe me?

4-3_Under Seattle

You can turn this front into a 3-4 by simply having Junior Galette stand up, so it’s a versatile alignment. But it’s still a 4-3, and the gap techniques along the line are subtly different from those we’d use in a true 3-4.

Of special note: Cam Jordan is playing 3 technique defensive tackle, and Akiem Hicks is playing 5 technique defensive end–on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle rather than directly over him, as in the Seattle example above.


Again, it’s versatile. This defense probably best fits the team’s talent. Junior Galette gets to play in the same physical location as the  3-4 outside linebacker he’s supposed to be now, but he gets to play the same role as the defensive end he’s been for most of his career. This formation also puts Cam Jordan in a position to cause chaos closer to the quarterback.

The Kinda-Sorta 2-4-5 Dime Thing

Dime Miami

This one’s fun. It’s a dime defense with a lot of defensive backs. Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks are playing 2 technique and 3 technique defensive tackle, respectively. There are only actually three linebackers, but Malcolm Jenkins may as well be a fourth.


Everybody on the field is here to stop the pass. Junior Galette at defensive tackle? Come on: This formation is all speed everywhere.

The Messed Up 3-3-5

Messed Up 3-3-5

This formation is sort of a 3-3-5, but not really, but also it totally is.

The linebackers are Curtis Lofton, far left, and Martez Wilson, in man coverage on a receiver, not in the image, but near Lofton. The other “linebacker” is Kenny Vaccaro.

Chris Carr had his tip drill interception on this play.


Honestly, this one just makes me go WTF.

The One We’ll Call a 46 Bear Even Though It Probably Isn’t

Kinda 46

This one is sort of the 46 defense.

It’s probably, actually, more of a result of the heavy alignment Arizona is using, but still. In an old-school 46 Bear, Kenny Vaccaro and David Hawthorne would switch positions, and the gap alignments would be a little different.

But. Hey. It’s close enough.


It’s an anti-run formation with a lot of guys close to the ball. The Saints are expecting the Cardinals to run and have prepared accordingly.

Finally, the Mysterious and Rarely-Used 3-4

Finally 3-4

It takes a while to find the Saints in a bona-fide 3-4. They haven’t actually run it much so far.

But here it is. Kind of, anyway. Sure, it’s Parys Haralson at the so-called “Jack” spot, and it’s Kevin Reddick at strongside linebacker, and the line techniques don’t fit what we thought the Saints’ 3-4 would be (this looks like an anti-run set), but dammit, it’s a 3-4.

Don’t you dare ask me to explain that one with the four deep safeties and no down linemen.


I guess they have to sometimes, right?


Bradley Warshauer
The fact that Bradley Warshauer published his first novel when he was 17 long ago became a sort of good-natured joke, primarily because of a Facebook group he himself may or may not have made during his freshman year of college, which answered an unstated rhetorical question with: "Yes, I wrote a book."