Saints defense eyes Pro Bowl credentials

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan sacks Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on Dec. 8 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan sacks Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on Dec. 8 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What a difference a defense makes.

What a difference Cameron Jordan has made.

A season ago, the Saints’ best chance to get a defensive player to the Pro Bowl was for him to buy tickets.

And now, as the Saints (10-4) prepare to play Sunday at Carolina (10-4), at least six players could join Jordan on Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, part of one of the more impressive defensive turnarounds in recent NFL history.

Jordan, a third-year pro, tops the list of potential Pro Bowlers. His team-high 11.5 sacks are tied for fourth in the league and tied for third among defensive ends.

“That’s what I really enjoyed about playing with him,” outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “You might think after all the success he had last year, there’d be a drop-off. But he worked just as hard, even harder this year in the (defensive meeting) room to get where he is.”

Along with his 41 tackles and two forced fumbles, Jordan’s continued improvement has helped the Saints rebound from last season’s infamous performance to be the league’s fifth-ranked unit heading into Sunday’s games.

“Every game is a battle,” Jordan said. “Every game has its different ebbs and flows. We have to find that rhythm, and we have to play great complementary football from start to finish and not just finish strong.”

This season’s Pro Bowl, which would mark Jordan’s first appearance, will be a new-look game.

Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will select players over a two-day, fantasy-style draft, a departure from the AFC vs. NFC format.

Rule changes include no kickoffs, two-minute warnings added to the first and third quarters (an attempt to generate two-minute drills) and a faster play clock.

Jordan could be joined by Galette, who has compiled nine sacks in his first season as a starter. During three previous seasons as a reserve, Galette finished with a combined 9.5 sacks.

Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Keenan Lewis, a New Orleans native who signed last offseason from Pittsburgh, could also be considered.

On offense, quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham rank in the top 10 in fan balloting, which ends Dec. 26. Players and coaches also vote for the Pro Bowl squads.

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning led Pro Bowl voting with 1,277,068 as of Wednesday.

Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles (825,345), Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch (821,487) and Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson (817,934) rounded out the top five.

Brees enters Sunday’s game with the second-most passing yards in the league (4,500). Only Manning (4,811) has thrown more.

Graham has recovered from a lingering foot injury to continue to post one of the best offensive outputs ever by a tight end: He has a team-leading 76 catches for 1,071 yards and an NFL-best 14 receiving touchdowns.

Advocate reporter Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.