The 2012 New Orleans Saints season was dominated by bounty gate. Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season, and the team was never able to bounce back following a brutal 0-4 start to finish 7-9.
Entering this season, Payton is back after signing a 5-year $38 million dollar contract and the always boisterous Rob Ryan is the new defensive coordinator replacing Steve Spagnuolo. Last season, the Saints had far and away the worst defense in the NFL.
OFFENSE: The Saints didn’t do much to the league’s top rated passing attack in 2012. Drew Brees is a consensus top 5 quarterback and poised for another big time season. With Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, and Darren Sproles as his targets, the Saints passing attack will be its usual self. However, the rushing attack is the major key. With Chris Ivory going to the Jets in the off-season, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas have to step up big time to take some of the pressure off of Brees. Even if they don’t, Brees will still carry the offense throwing for over 5,000 yards once again.
Either way, the offense is the least of the Saints concerns.
DEFENSE: Last season’s Saints defense was atrocious. The team’s 7,042 yards allowed was 908 yards more than any other team. The Saints were the only team to allow over 400 yards per game, 440 to be exact, 57 more than any other team per game. The rush defense wasn’t any better, the Saints allowed the most rushing yards, 147.6 per game in the league. New Orleans wasn’t at the bottom of every defensive category, they allowed the 2nd most points, and 2nd most passing yards per game.
But at least it’s not all bad. After seeing those stats, there’s only one direction this defense can go in 2013.
The addition of cornerback Keenan Lewis from Pittsburgh, and the selection of safety Kenny Vaccaro in the 1st round of the draft should pay major dividends for the Saints pass defense.
A good pass rush can make any secondary look great, and the Saints ranked 25th in the league with 30 sacks last season. That also has to improve. With the team moving to a 3-4 scheme, look for the pass rush led by Cameron Jordan and Will Smith moving to outside linebacker to make a difference.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams looks like a strength for the Saints going into 2013. Punter Thomas Morstead is coming off a Pro Bowl season, and if he can continue to change field position, that will be a huge bonus for the Saints. Garrett Hartley is a solid kicker, and Darren Sproles should be healthier than he was last season and his home run potential returning kick-offs and punts is a major weapon.The kickoff coverage struggled at points last season, but is poised to be better this season.
COACHING: Sean Payton’s presence in the locker room can’t be over estimated, especially considering that the Saints went from a 13-3 team, to 7-9 with the same group of players. The biggest addition is Rob Ryan, who although as loud as anyone in the game, can help turn around this defense.
X-FACTOR: The Saints offense will score points, and the secondary can’t be much worse than it was last season. But if the Saints want to get back to making deep playoff runs, the pass rush must get better, and that’s where former first round pick Cameron Jordan comes in. Jordan is entering his 3rd season out of California with the Saints and his production improved tremendously from year 1 to year 2. In his first season, he had just 1 sack, but in 2012 he had 8 sacks. If Jordan can continue to get better, he will be a force on the Saints defensive line. Taking into effect the other quarterbacks in the NFC South like Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and if I must Josh Freeman, it is crucial the Saints give those quarterbacks as little time as possible. That’s where Jordan comes in.
PREDICTION: The Saints have a brutal road schedule with stops in Chicago, New England, and Seattle, but the D can’t be as bad as it was last season. The Saints won’t get off to an 0-4 start and Drew Brees will lead New Orleans back to the playoffs.
10-6 (tied for 2nd in NFC South)