Nov 3, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Josh Cribbs (16) runs past New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (50) in the first half during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
First things first – Curtis Lofton is orders of magnitude better than Miles Burris. Poor Miles Burris was forced into an unfamiliar position as an undersized player when Nick Roach was knocked out of the season unexpectedly. Curtis Lofton looks, feels, and plays like a true middle linebacker.
One could look at Lofton’s performance in 2014 two different ways. On one side, he could have been the only decent shred of talent who was held back by an otherwise abysmal Saints defense. Or, he was a subpar player on an equally subpar defense and did nothing to better them. As with many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
The 2014 New Orleans Saints ranked 31st overall in defensive DVOA (per Football Outsiders). They were 27th ranked in pass defense DVOA and 32 in rush defense DVOA. The rush part is where some of the blame points at Lofton.
Lofton was not a particularly good rush defender. Pro Football Focus ranked him 59th in rush defense among middle linebackers. For comparison, Miles Burris was ranked 57th. Surely part of that can be explained by the complete lack of help around him, but not the majority of it.
The game tape shows Lofton often took poor angles and was undisciplined in his breakdowns, resulting in missed tackles. In fact, he led all middle linebackers with 22 missed tackles in 2014. This severely hurt the Saints defense as his poor angles often led to 2-3 extra yards for the opposing offense even when he made the tackle. The same angle issue plagued his pass coverage game as he allowed more yards after catch than all other middle linebackers in the league.
Surely, having a legend like Ken Norton, Jr. as his defensive coordinator will beat some of those poor habits out of his head. Additional help should come from being lined up behind 650 lbs of presumed D-line starters Justin Ellis and Dan Williams. Still, these tackling and angle woes are something to watch over the course of the season. He may quickly lose the respect of the defense if he comes in as a leader and ends up being one of the weak spots on the team.