NFL Season Preview: New Orleans Saints Look to Return to Professional-Level Defense
The Saints may have had issues offensively at times (QB Drew Brees continued to be near the top of the NFL in interceptions, as he has for the past three seasons), but the galling issue was the damage that the 2012 Bounty punishments did to their defense. Players like Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma missed extensive time, while others were injured for long periods of time. The result? The worst-ranked team in total defense in the history of the NFL. The remedy? Fire defensive coordinator (and architect of the stingy defense that helped lead the 2007 New York Football Giants to a Super Bowl win, ironically) Steve Spagnuolo, and hire Rob Ryan, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, to the same role. Under Ryan, the Cowboys played some of the stingiest defense in the NFL in 2012, before injuries ravaged his unit.
There aren’t many changes to the Saints’ offense. They lost WR Devery Henderson, but were prepared to do so entering his free agency after 2012. The Saints restocked by drafting Kenny Stills (Oklahoma), and acquired Chris Givens formerly of the St. Louis Rams. The Saints also expect players like RB Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles to assume their previous roles, and expanded roles for WR Joe Morgan, opposite Marques Colston. Expect more Courtney Roby at the WR position at times, as well, while he continues his special teams duties.
The real question centers on what the Saints’ defense will look like. No one really knows. The only remaining holdovers who contributed regularly prior to this season are DT Brodrick Bunkley and DE Cameron Jordan. Longtime DE Will Smith is gone, and the LB corps – which was a weak point for the team – is largely returning the same core of Jonathan Vilma, David Hawthorne and Junior Galette. The secondary could easily go from being a weakness to a strength. S Isa Abdul-Quddus came on strongly for the Saints late in the season, and FS Malcolm Jenkins has become the leader of the secondary. New Orleans also smartly drafted Kenny Vaccaro, who will eventually replace longtime SS Roman Harper. Keenan Lewis, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, should push Patrick Robinson at the CB position, along with Jabari Greer. The Saints defense will make or break them in 2013, regardless of the productivity of their offense, as was evidenced in 2012. One major return, and possibly the most important, is head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his involvement in the Bounty Scandal. It was evident that the Saints missed their head coach last season.
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