Coaching Carousel 2016: New Orleans Defense

A detailed look at the impact of Dennis Allen's transition from interim to full-time defensive coordinator.

Nowhere to Go But Up

Rob Ryan may be the most overrated coaches in NFL history. Living off the reputations of his infamous father and his talented twin brother, Ryan has managed to hold senior coaching positions in the NFL for the better part two decades. He has been a defensive coordinator for four NFL teams: Oakland (2004-08), Cleveland (2009-10), Dallas (2011-12) and New Orleans (2013-15). Yet, his teams have rarely been above average:

04-12 22 22 24 24 21 17 14 20
13 4 4 29 19 11 2 6 24
14-15 31 30 24 30 24 28 25 24
  • Ryan's team ranked 22nd in yards and points allowed, on average, prior to his joining new Orleans. He never finished better than 13th in points allowed (2010 Browns)
  • When Ryan joined in 2013, the honeymoon was glorious -- Ryan delivered a top 4 defense (by far the best unit of his career)
  • That proved to be the anomaly as Ryan's units fell to the bottom of the league in the next two seasons, leading to his ouster 10 games into the 2015 season

From Interim to permanent, With A Detour Through The AFC West

Allen took over as interim coordinator in Week 11 after Ryan was fired. Although his units didn't show much statistical improvement, his steady hand and mature, professional demeanor were enough to earn the full-time job. It helped that Sean Payton has a long history with Allen, having coached with Allen for five seasons before Allen departed to the Broncos (for a season as DC) and the Raiders (for three years as Head Coach).

Dennis Allen Coaching Tenure

1996 24 College Texas A&M Graduate Assistant
1997 25 College Texas A&M Graduate Assistant
1998 26 College Texas A&M Graduate Assistant
1999 27 College Texas A&M Graduate Assistant
2000 28 College Tulsa Secondary
2001 29 College Tulsa Secondary
2002 30 NFL Atlanta Falcons Defensive Assistant/Quality Control
2003 31 NFL Atlanta Falcons Defensive Assistant/Quality Control
2004 32 NFL Atlanta Falcons Defensive Assistant/Quality Control
2005 33 NFL Atlanta Falcons Defensive Assistant/Quality Control
2006 34 NFL New Orleans Saints Asst. Defensive Line
2007 35 NFL New Orleans Saints Asst. Defensive Line
2008 36 NFL New Orleans Saints Secondary
2009 37 NFL New Orleans Saints Secondary
2010 38 NFL New Orleans Saints Secondary
2011 39 NFL Denver Broncos Defensive Coordinator
2012 40 NFL Oakland Raiders Head Coach
2013 41 NFL Oakland Raiders Head Coach
2014 42 NFL Oakland Raiders Head Coach
2015 43 NFL New Orleans Saints Sr. Defensive Asst./Interim DC

Allen's Plan to Fix the Defense

Allen has coached under a host of coordinators and has experience within multiple systems. When he's been in charge (Denver, Oakland, New Orleans last year), he's preferred a 4-3 defensive front but likes to mix and match personnel as well as utilize aggressive pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage. As a former secondary coach, Allen is aggressive with his defensive backs. He has historically run more zone coverages (Zone-2 and Zone-3 usually) but will play man-to-man to exploit certain matchups and bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks with his defensive backs.

  • Instantiate Accountability -- Allen wants his players to be accountable for their actions and to each other; something that was implicitly lacking under Ryan
  • Foster Competition -- "The best 11 guys are going to play and everybody is going to have an opportunity to go out and prove what they do," said Allen. "Like we told the players, it's your job to define your role within this football team and what you can do to help us. We'll evaluate it, but you're going to tell us where need to be based on the way you practice and based on the way you play."
  • Increase the Pass Rush -- The Saints ranked 27th with 31 sacks last year, a number Allen would like to see jump meaningfully. The pass rush has to come from a combination of increased blitzing as well as more production schematically from the defensvie front. The additions of Sheldon Rankins (1st round) and David Onyemata (4th round) in the draft to go along with run stopped Nick Fairley in free agency should help Allen's cause
  • Find a place for Hau'oli Kikaha -- Kikaha showed flashes of dominance as an edge rusher in his rookie season and is the Saints best chance
  • Leverage Kenny Vaccaro -- Jairus Byrd may be the big name, high priced free agent (bust?) but it's fellow starting safety Kenny Vaccaro that appears to be the keyto reinvigorating the defense. In early OTAs, Vaccaro has played multiple roles and will be counted on to make big plays as both a run stopper and in coverage

A Little Improvement Will Go A Long Way

No one expects Allen to turn the Saints into a Top 5 defense; but New Orleans can return to title contention if the defense can find a way to finish in the middle of the league standings. The offense remains elite, and the team needs to give Drew Brees an opportunity to win in the last two or three years remaining of his prime. With the new personnel combined with a coach that is trusted by Sean Payton and liked/trusted by the players, expect improvement. Not miracles, but improvement.

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