Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan must go — and he must go now: Larry Holder
By The Times-Picayune
on November 15, 2015 at 6:25 PM, updated November 15, 2015 at 8:06 PMLANDOVER, Md. — The New Orleans Saints have never fired an assistant coach during the season under Sean Payton. That has to change during the bye week.
It’s time to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. It’s time for senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen to take over for the final six games this season.
The Saints made Kirk Cousins look like Tom Brady on his best day as Washington utterly whipped New Orleans, 47-14, at FedEx Field in one of the most embarrassing losses in the Payton era. The Saints displayed one of the worst defensive performances I’ve ever witnessed in Payton’s 10 seasons.
It was worse than any game I can recall — even taking into account former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s lone historically bad season in 2012.
Cousins went 20-of-25 passing for 324 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The Saints entered the game yielding a 112.0 rating to opposing QBs for the season. Brady led the league entering this week with 113.5.
The Saints are allowing opposing quarterbacks to play better than the former two-time league MVP and four-time Super Bowl champion every week. How’s that for perspective?
The Saints’ tackling Sunday was horrendous. The players looked lost even covering rudimentary screen passes. New Orleans had no plan for stopping tight ends in pass coverage — as usual. Washington’s ground game pounded the Saints for 213 yards on 31 carries. The Saints sacked Cousins three times, but nothing truly affected him.
Washington piled up nearly 400 yards of offense in the first half. The last time the Redskins produced this kind of output in one half was when Doug Williams and Timmy Smith torched Denver in record-setting fashion in Super Bowl 22.
In fact, Williams, now a Redskins front-office executive, took a stroll into the Saints’ locker room after the game. No joke. Maybe the 60-year-old former quarterback wanted a shot at his native state’s NFL franchise. I’m only half kidding.
“Listen, it’s (the defense) is obviously a concern,” Payton said of a unit ranked near the bottom of every major statistical category this season. “It’s hard to win.”
Defensive end Cam Jordan didn’t speak to the media afterward. His body language said everything, though. Jordan sat at his locker, staring down at his fingers, seemingly searching for answers. Then he slammed his equipment bag on the floor.
I have no idea if Allen can make the Saints’ poor excuse for a defense any better this season. But having the Saints continuously riddled by mediocre offenses and mediocre quarterbacks every week isn’t the answer. That’s all we’ve seen from Ryan’s charges this season.
It’s evident Ryan is coaching his last season as Saints defensive coordinator. The Saints need some sort of change, a spark — anything. If they remain status quo, the Saints might as well pack it in this season.
Let’s talk truth. There’s no chance this defense will get any worse by replacing Ryan with Allen right now. How can it?
Payton avoided the topic of making coaching or personnel changes after the loss to the Redskins. That was to be expected.
“Again, we’re sitting here after a game … and we’re not going to discuss any of those types of changes, certainly not right now,” Payton said.
But I have to imagine pondering such a move is at the forefront of Payton’s mind heading into the bye week with his team 4-6 and the defense badly regressing week by week.
Payton already wrestled with retaining Ryan after the 2014 season when the defense dipped from fourth overall in 2013 to 31st in the league last season. Payton decided in early January that Ryan could be part of the solution. But the caveat was bringing in Allen, who served on Payton’s original staff and helped win Super Bowl 44 before moving on to become Denver’s defensive coordinator then Raiders head coach before being fired by Oakland. Payton brought Allen back into the fold to “change in dynamic.” Allen officially was given the title of senior defensive assistant. Unofficially, it was to serve as Ryan’s shadow.
The Saints embedded their potential Ryan replacement long before this season began.
Ryan is not solely at fault for the defense’s underwhelming performances the past couple of years. We can go through the litany of the scouting department’s poor talent evaluations on that side of the ball for days and days. That’s also a major reason the Saints’ defense seemingly is in rebuilding mode annually.
No, Ryan’s not solely to blame. But he’s in charge of Sundays, the most glaring times when this defense displays its ineptitude.
The Saints can’t fix the personnel problems right now. That can’t occur until the offseason. They’re stuck with the pieces in place and will have to ride with them the rest of the season. And even a substantial offseason overhaul is not a given considering the team’s cash-strapped situation.
Do the players anticipate any changes in coaching during the bye week?
“I don’t know necessarily what’s going to happen,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “But we’ve got to get better and we’ve got to win these games. We can’t allow this to keep happening. …
“I just want to win. Whatever Coach Payton and (GM Mickey Loomis) decide to do. I just want to be in a position to win and have fun.”
Veteran offensive tackle Zach Strief added: “No. I wouldn’t. Look, good organizations don’t make knee-jerk reactions to things. I don’t see that. But if it does, then it does. That’s OK, too. When you’re 4-6, you open yourselves up for that.
“Blame gets spread everywhere equally. But if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. That’s not something I think the players in this locker room need to sit around and think and worry about. That’s not our decision.”
Ryan’s departure wouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction, though. The proof is in the past two seasons. The most recent proof is in the past few games as the Saints surrendered 49 points to the Giants, 34 to Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota and most recently 47 to a Redskins offense that had been pedestrian at best.
Firing Ryan wouldn’t paint Payton in the best light, either. This would be the fourth defensive coordinator either fired or to not have a contract renewed in Payton’s tenure. This is on Payton, too, but some alteration needs to occur in the bye week.
The Saints showed no fear in adding Allen this offseason as well as making significant adjustments to both sides of the roster.
Ryan exited the locker room rather quickly after Sunday’s loss. Allen remained much longer, sitting in a folding chair in the corner of the defensive players locker room. Allen wore a look of bewilderment as he flipped through the pages of the final stat sheet. The numbers obviously weren’t pretty.
I doubt Allen sat there pondering how in the world was he going to breathe new life into the defense if handed the job this week.
But if the Saints are still playing to salvage a season that’s increasingly looking like a lost cause because of the underperforming defense, Ryan has to go.
And he has to go now.