For many fans of the New Orleans Saints older than the age of 35 that either grew up or was alive during the early to mid 1990's, they likely will recall the old home / arcade video game that was originally made by gaming manufacturer Sega Genesis called "NBA Jam"; where players competed against each other in a contest of 2-on-2 basketball but which contained a special feature that would appear whenever one of the players shooting the ball "got hot".
Essentially, if you hit a minimum of two shots in a row with the same player (without your opponent making a shot in between) you were considered to be ‘heating up’.
If you were actually fortunate enough to hit three in a row, the announcer calling the action would suddenly yell out: “HE’S ON FIRE!”
In that particular instance, once you were "on fire", the basketball itself literally was "blazing" flames and you could make a shot from pretty much anywhere on the court.
You knew without any hesitation whatsoever that your player would be able to score every time he touched the ball, until he finally "cooled off" and missed a shot. And If you were playing with another person as your teammate, that person knew to keep passing the ball to you until you did eventually miss.
Much like a player would be "on fire" in that manner depicted up above, it's an appropriate analogy to accurately describe the recent overall performance in the past few weeks for 3rd year Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
As noted by Pro Football Focus analyst Austin Gayle: Rankins is blossoming into one of the league’s top pass-rushing interior D-Linemen, and the team's top pick (12th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft currently has a career-high 72.9 pass-rush grade through the first 9 games that ranks him 8th among the 32 players at his position with 225-plus pass-rush snaps.
Rankins already has 5 sacks this season, which ranks ninth among interior defensive linemen, after he only had 2 all of last year.
Last Sunday at Cincinnati, Rankins totaled four QB pressures, including his sack of Andy Dalton that occurred when Rankins "blew up" Bengals offensive guard Clint Boling and pushed him completely backwards deep into the offensive backfield with relative ease.
In 9 games, Rankins now has had at least three or more pressures in a contest a total of 5 different times.
Gayle adds that Rankins’ ability to "bull-rush" his opposition into submission is becoming an ongoing theme for the 6-foot-2, 305-pound former University of Louisville All-American.
It's the very same thing that he notably did once before a few weeks ago at Minnesota against Vikings center Pat Elflein, on his way to sacking quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“The bull (rush) has become my thing because a lot of guys have seen me win in a lot of way with speed, a lot of hand moves, quickness,” Rankins said to New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill in an one-on-one interview yesterday.
“I think a lot of guys back up and try to play the space game and hold on for dear life. But the stutter makes them move their feet, and once I unleash on the bull, I feel like I can win any battle.”
As noted by Underhill: Rankins has been able to be much more successful this season by moving around the defensive line and rushing from different positions.
Underhill says that Rankins will often times bounce back and forth from the left side and the right, and also has taken some snaps over the center.
As a rookie in 2016, Rankins missed the first half of his rookie season with a leg injury. Last season, he was solid, but highlights were few.
Last year, he was almost exclusively lined up right next to All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan; except for a stretch at the end of the season when he had to play defensive end due to injuries. His play was solid, but the highlights were very few and far between.
But this year (and sticking with the theme of this article), Rankins has been practically unstoppable, especially in these past several weeks.
And it's a trend that the (8-1) Saints are hoping can continue this Sunday when the (4-5) defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles come to town for a visit.
Rankins is likely to face off against starting Eagles left guard Isaac Seumalo and center Jason Kelce, depending on exactly where he lines up,
It will be one just one of the match-ups out of several that Saints fans will want to keep a c;lose eye on once kickoff arrives in less than 72 more hours from now.
Given that Rankins has been "jamming" opposing linemen with his patented bull-rush moves with frequent regularity in the past few weeks, should we expect more of the same when Rankins lines up across from the Philly O-Line at the Superdome this weekend?
For now, that remains to be seen.
But with Rankins still "hot", you'd have to imagine that both Seumalo and Kelce will have their proverbial hands full come this Sunday evening,