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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints defense wants to keep applying pressure

Posted Sep 28, 2013

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more than any QB in league

New Orleans Saints coaches, players and fans have expressed concern over the amount of contact quarterback Drew Brees has absorbed this season. Ten sacks and 14 hurries of Brees are numbers that they want, and hope, to see shrink to a miniscule level.

But the flip side is, it could be worse. Brees hasn’t quite been the piñata that has been Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The Dolphins, like the Saints, are unbeaten through three weeks. But they enter Monday’s game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the most often sacked quarterback in the league, one who has been down 14 times and hasn’t been sacked less than four times in a game this season.

And the Saints' defense, with eight sacks and 14 hurries thus far, has been pretty proficient when it comes to discomforting opposing passers. In the most recent victory, a 31-7 home win against Arizona, New Orleans sacked Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer four times and pressured him nine en route to forcing a pair of interceptions.

Tannehill, a former college receiver, is exponentially more agile than Palmer, and also is more nimble than Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, the other two quarterbacks New Orleans has faced.

saints-cardinals galleryBut that hasn’t stopped Cleveland (four sacks), Indianapolis (five) and Atlanta (five) from getting him off his feet. And while the sacks haven’t yet contributed to a Dolphins loss, the Saints understand that pressuring Tannehill still is a good place to start in the goal to beat Miami.

“That’s something that’s been noted,” said defensive end Cam Jordan, who leads the Saints with three sacks. “Of course, it’s our goal to always put pressure on the quarterback so we go into it with a gameplan of trying to do our best. They have elite talent trying to protect him and we just have to try to get through that.”

That hasn’t yet been a problem for the Saints’ front seven.

Five of the team’s eight sacks have been registered by defensive linemen. Two more belong to Junior Galette, who’s listed at outside linebacker and either can be that in a 3-4 alignment, or a defensive end in the 4-3.

“I think 3-4 or 4-3, it all adds up to seven,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “We’re just a multiple group.

“We’ve got some guys that can play end and outside linebacker so we kind of move them around. We pride ourselves on being multiple, giving them some different looks.”

So far, it’s working. New Orleans registered six sacks through the first three games last season but, more importantly, had allowed 40, 35 and 27 points to Washington, Carolina and Kansas City.

So far, the Saints have allowed 38 points (seven on an interception return for a touchdown) and though the Chiefs lead the league in sacks per pass play, New Orleans’ improved pressure has contributed to four interceptions, against just three touchdown passes allowed.

“I think (defensive line coach) Bill Johnson has worked really hard with these guys and they put a good rush plan together, and we’ve had a lot of good pressure on the quarterback and that obviously makes a huge difference,” Ryan said.

“And I think playing at home, with our crowd and as loud as it is, it’s awesome. I think that ramps everybody up and it’s harder to give you hard counts and different type of counts. I think we do a pretty good job of taking advantage of the home crowd and we rush the passer pretty well.”

The goal Monday is to do it again, against Tannehill. And forcing mistakes won’t be easy – Miami only has turned over the ball four times and Tannehill, despite being under pressure, has thrown two interceptions in 107 attempts.

“(Tannehill) is a little more mobile than what we’ve faced the past three weeks,” Jordan said. “He’s definitely got a little more speed when he chooses to run, not that he does that often. But when he does, he gets out. And that’s what you always have to be aware of, is his mobility.”

That’s been noted, as has the fact that Tannehill has been down more often than any NFL quarterback this season.

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