Sep 22, 2013 09:13 Early defensive success makes Ryan toast of New Orleans Early defensive success makes Ryan toast of New Orleans Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan watches the clock during the Sept. 8 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Ryan was the Patriots' linebackers coach from 2000-03. It’s only two games — but based on the ealry evidence, the Saints defense has a good fit with coordinator Rob Ryan, who is suddenly the most popular guy in New Orleans BY GARY ESTWICK| Special to The Advocate Sept. 22, 2013 Comments Rob Ryan for mayor? It seems silly to suggest — until you take a closer look at Ryan’s budding local résumé. After all, he’s accomplished more in two games as Saints defensive coordinator than the previous tackling guru. He’s got a candid, brazen attitude that matches this city, a penchant for good food. He picks up random bar tabs and has charisma in front of media microphones, all of which we often enjoy in our politicians. Don’t forget the hair. “I don’t know what people see; all I know is Rob makes football fun,” middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “He says it’s our job, but at the same time, you have to love your job and enjoy the process. He is just a great guy, great personality, and I love having him as a defensive coordinator.” Put that testimony on a pamphlet. Maybe a billboard. Ryan’s defense played a central role in wins against Atlanta and Tampa Bay, as Drew Brees’ offense continues to address early season issues in protecting its $100 million quarterback, as well as developing a running attack and scoring in the red zone. Isn’t this a change in roles? Think back to rookie Kenny Vaccaro’s play on Matt Ryan’s intended pass to Tony Gonzalez in the end zone. Or the defense’s ability to recover from Doug Martin’s many rushes Sunday to stop him inside the two-minute warning, when it mattered most. Entering Sunday’s game against Arizona (1-1), Ryan’s defense has vaulted to 11th in the NFL, a tribute to Ryan’s infectious attitude and ability to transform a once-maligned unit. Best defense in the league? Not even close. The Saints (2-0) surrendered 50-yard gains to Atlanta’s Harry Douglas and Steven Jackson and against Tampa Bay, Martin finished with 144 rushing yards. But that’s not the point. They are, suddenly, all that Saints fans ever asked for them to be: respectable. Playing with a passion and purpose that was missing in 2012. Bend, don’t break — please! Get after that quarterback! Get Brees the ball! At this point last season, Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III looked like a perennial Pro Bowler after his first NFL game, and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles a Hall of Fame running back. Now, it looks like Dallas’ loss in the Saints’ gain (Ryan was fired by the Cowboys after the 2012 season, one of his many motivations). Even more amazing, Ryan has accomplished this with many of the same guys that played on last season’s infamous defense, now noted in NFL record books as one of the worst ever, if not the worst. Lofton said Ryan’s defensive meetings use different voices, funny pictures, videos. Even songs. Sounds like fun, except for the opposing offenses. “I think one of the things that Rob brings is that contagious spirit,” coach Sean Payton said. “From the very beginning in the spring, when we were installing the defense and coming together as a team and getting ready for what was the offseason, the OTAs, the minicamps, that was important — especially coming off of last season.” Save for new Saints Vaccaro and cornerback Keenan Lewis, the only major changes are Payton’s return from his season-long Bountygate suspension and Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, which players say is a better fit for their skill set, allowing them to be more aggressive. As much as some fans gave strong safety Roman Harper grief for last season’s miscues in the secondary, he’s now a Saint of another kind, with a game-winning interception and fumble recovery to his credit. The Saints sacked Ryan three times, and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman once. Perhaps the best statistic: The defense has allowed an average of 12 points per game. (Seven of the 31 points the Saints have allowed came via an interception return.) This has occurred on a unit that lost potential starters before the season (outside linebackers Victor Butler and Will Smith, and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma); and another starter during the season (nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley). The defense also has a growing list of contributors out for varying amounts of time: defensive ends Kenyon Coleman, rookie Glenn Foster, Tyrunn Walker and Tom Johnson; and cornerback Patrick Robinson. “We just want to try to get better each week and work hard,” Ryan said before the Saints faced Tampa Bay. “We are working hard to get better and to be a little tiny part of our success.” All that’s left is a season full defensive heroics — and Ryan trading his Saints gear for a navy blue suit, red tie and Fleur De Lis lapel pin.