The New Orleans Saints started the 2012 season in the midst of the bounty gate scandal, and finished the year with a disappointing, 7-9 record.
Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, and the Saints clearly missed him. His return to the sidelines in 2013 will be a tremendous boost to this team.
As far as signings go, the Saints had a relatively quiet offseason. The biggest names they brought in during free agency were corner back Keenan Allen, offensive tackle Jason Smith, and outside linebacker Victor Butler.
On the other hand, the Saints lost some key pieces from last year’s team in free agency. Starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod signed with Chicago, running back Chris Ivory was traded to the Jets, and the Saints cut their ties with receiver Devery Henderson and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.
With Payton back at the helm, the Saints are expecting another great season in 2013. Here is their season preview.
Drew Brees is an absolute beast, and even without Payton running the offense last year, he had a terrific season. The Saints finished first in the league in passing yards per game and third overall in points per game. Even though Brees will be entering his 13th NFL season, his ability and production don’t appear to be dropping off at all.
Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas are currently in a battle for the starting running back position, and neither has separated themselves as the front runner yet. The Saints finished 25th last year in rushing yards per game – partly due to the fact that they were always playing from behind – and the team has said that they need to improve in that area in 2013 if they want to return to the playoffs. Look for New Orleans to try to pound the ball a lot more in 2013 than they did in 2012.
Between Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Lance Moore, it is safe to say that the Saints have a plethora of offensive weapons. The Saints have brought in veteran receiver Steve Breaston to compete with Joe Morgan for the number-3 receiver spot. As long as Brees is the Saints QB, the Saints are going to put up huge passing numbers, regardless of who is playing receiver.
Losing Jermon Bushrod on the offensive line definitely hurts, but the rest of the Saints offensive line is pretty talented. Jahari Evans is one of the best guards in the league, Ben Grubbs did a pretty good job subbing in for Carl Evans last season, and center Brain De La Puente surprising played pretty well last season. The two tackle spots are the two question marks for the Saints, but Brees does as good a job as anyone getting rid of the ball quickly so it isn’t as big of an issue in New Orleans as it would be for other teams. Either Charles Brown or rookie Terron Armsted will start at left tackle, and either Zach Strief or Jason Smith will start at right tackle.
The Saints defense was historically bad last year, finishing at the bottom of nearly every important defensive category.
New Orleans hired Rob Ryan to be their defensive coordinator this season, and his scheme is predicated on getting to the passer. That means the back-end of the defense has to hold up in coverage.
As far as the defensive line goes, the Saints will be counting on third year player Cameron Jordan to step up and contribute. Either Greg Romeus or Kenyon Coleman will
start at the other end position. Second year player Akiem Hicks and rookie John Jenkins will play the nose tackle position in Ryan’s 3-4 scheme.
In a 3-4 pressure scheme like the one Rob Ryan runs, the linebacking core is the most important unit because they’re the ones usually performing the blitzes and pressuring the quarterback. The Saints linebacking crew is decent, not great. Victor Butler has potential but hasn’t proven much yet, David Hawthrone and Curtis Lofton are both pretty solid middle linebackers, and Will Smith will try to transition from defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker/pass rusher. We know Smith can get to the QB, but can he play in coverage? We’ll find out soon enough.
The Saints secondary was atrocious last year, and it was the area the team made the most improvements on this offseason. The Saints drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro with the 15th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, and signed CB Keenan Lewis away from the Steelers. These two should really help improve the Saints secondary, but then again, it can’t be much worse than it was last year.
2013 Prediction: 9-7
The Saints will once again be very good offensively, and their defense will be much improved in 2013. Playing in the NFC South is extremely difficult though, as the other three teams in the division are all pretty tough. The Saints success will be determined by the play of their secondary. If the secondary can hold up in coverage, Rob Ryan will look like a defensive genius. If it can’t, he’ll look like a fool.
Wins: Atlanta, @Tampa Bay, Miami, @New England, Buffalo, @New York (Jets), @St. Louis, Carolina, Tampa Bay
Losses: Arizona, @Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, @Atlanta, @Seattle, @Carolina