Last year the New Orleans Saints were with contenders dragged down by controversy. With so much of the coaching staff missing for some or all of the season, we watched the offense struggle to find consistency, while the defense was mired in the worst and most embarrassing season in NFL history.
Sean Payton is back and he’s hungrier than a junk yard dog staring at a steak. I think this season is a statement making year for the Saints and Sean Payton’s legacy in the game. There is no mincing words: Sean Peyton is the brains behind this offense. Simply standing on the sidelines feeling the pulse of the game and reacting to it has time and time again proven he is a game day play calling maestro.
The first three weeks of the preseason tell us the most about the character of the first string of any team as the fourth preseason game is more about cut downs and picking the practice squad. Through three preseason games the Saints have a 3-0 record. Currently they are ranked 3rd in total offense, 11th in defense, 3rd in passing yards and 23rd in rushing.
On paper the Saints have the 3rd toughest schedule in the league, playing against the high powered offenses of the NFC South with out of conference games against the AFC East and NFC East. On paper it looks like a tall mountain to climb.
However, this is a team that returns with all of the strongest pieces of the puzzle intact on offense, and the pieces that made the defense so poor last year have been replaced. Out goes Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnolo and in comes Rob Ryan who brings with him a complex 3-4 scheme that didn’t fit the personnel package at his old job with the Dallas Cowboys as it does the Saints players.
A lot of NFL offenses these days are designed to exploit matchups against the defense. Ryan’s complex scheme that mutates the 3-4 with the 46 disguises the defense by using personnel groupings that mix man coverage outside with zone coverage inside. It is a scheme that is a perfect foil against offenses that use pass catching tight ends to create matchups. Many of the Saints’ 2013 opponents employ a pass catching tight end in this way.
The place for concern on the defense is that Ryan’s scheme often takes time for players to learn and execute as second nature. Four of first six games of the season are against top ranked offenses which will test the Saints’ defense.
I think the Saints can take down the wounded Atlanta Falcons and too young Tampa Bay Buccaneers right out of the gate. They should stomp on the throats of the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins on their way to 4-0. I think they struggle to win back to back games against high powered offenses of the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots before the bye.
The bye week gives them time to regroup and retool. Games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets should be easily winnable before going up against a tough slate of four games. In that stretch they will host the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, before visiting the Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. While the Saints on paper are capable of winning any one of those games, I think playing that many big games in a row they can only win three.
The end of the season gives a breather game at the St. Louis Rams before finishing strong against the Panthers and Buccaneers.
The Saints are poised to be aggressive and exciting this year with every reason to believe they will finish with record around 13-3 as probably one of the top 3 seeds going into the NFL Playoffs.
Eric Beuning is a Football writer for RantSports.com.