COLUMNS

Rock bottom

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

When Rob Ryan first rolled into New Orleans with his flowing white hair and his brash and robust personality, he instantly became a fan favorite, a rock star. But like so many episodes of "Behind the Music," things didn't end well.

Like most rock stars that capture the hearts of fans with their vivacious styles and their ability to march to the beat of their own drums, they all inevitably hit rock bottom. Ryan hit his this season.

I'm usually not one to call for a coach's head midway through the season, but this was a move that had to be made.

Under Ryan, the Saints' defense hadn't just hit rock bottom. It wasn't in rehab. It was dead at the scene.

After last season, I was one of Ryan's biggest supporters. A lot of people were calling for his job after a drastic descent into the underbelly of NFL defense, but I yelled from the mountain tops that they should give him one last chance.

Well, he had that chance, and to quote Robert De Niro from "Cop Land," Rob, "You blew it!"

When Ryan first took the reigns for a fired Steve Spagnulo, the New Orleans defense was not just bad; they were historically bad. They were God awful.

Ryan came in and had that defense looking like Lazarus. He gave them new life. He had them rising from the shroud of death.

He turned them into the fourth-ranked defense in the league. In 18 games, they only gave up 20 or more points four times.

This defensive effectiveness helped lead the Saints to an 11-5 season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs--where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle.

Just a year later, the honeymoon was over. The defense that had been so lively before began to flat-line.

In 2014-15, New Orleans plummeted to 29th in stopping the run and 26th against the pass. They ranked 31st in total defense as they gave up 20 or more points in 15 of 16 games.

Those deficiencies haunted the Saints as they finished the year with a losing record.

The heat intensified on Ryan, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I thought that the defense's performance the year before was good enough to keep him safe.

Ryan also had his hands tied with the personnel the defense was stuck with--especially in the secondary.

Jabari Greer retired before the season, forcing the Saints to have to depend on Corey White and Patrick Robinson to be their second and third cornerbacks. That was a recipe for disaster.

To add to it, offseason acquisition Jairus Byrd was injured for almost the entire season. Rafael Bush was also banged up for much of the year.

Things changed over the offseason. The Saints brought in some big names.

Cornerback Brandon Browner--fresh off of winning the Super Bowl with the Patriots--came in, along with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

They shuffled in impressive rookies in corner Delvin Breaux, pass rusher Hau'ol Kikaha and linebacker Stephone Anthony.

Ryan had the personnel. Yes, they've had to fight through injuries, but injuries or not, there is no reason the Saints' defense should be this hapless.

They have not given up less than 20 points all season. They have given up at least 31 points on five separate occasions.

They rank dead last in total defense as they give up a whopping 424 yards per game, along with 32 points.

But what gave Ryan the pink slip was the defense's performance in New Orleans' last three games. In those three contests, they gave up a combined 130 points (43 a game).

Two of those dreadful outings came against the league's worst offenses in Tennessee and Washington.

Before the overtime win over the Saints, the Titans were averaging just 18 points a game. They put up 34 on New Orleans.

Before the Saints' embarrassing loss to the Redskins, Washington was only scoring 20 points per game. They gashed New Orleans for a ridiculous 47.

It doesn't matter if you have Drew Brees at quarterback, you can't expect the offense to score 35 points every week to win--especially when that offense no longer has Jimmy Graham.

Even with the offense as dangerous as it was in 2009, it was the Saints' defense that was the catalyst in that Super Bowl run.

In 2015, that defense has only been the catalyst to defeat and futility. Whether it was midseason or not, a change needed to be made.

We'll see if it yields better results.