2012 Season Recap
Consistency never materialized for the Saints as they dealt with the fallout from Bountygate. They didn't win a game in September, starting 0-4 for the first time since 2007. By Week 11, however, this team seemed poised to avoid missing the playoffs. Despite their poor start, the Saints won five of their next six, improving to 5-5 with six games left to play.
At times New Orleans seemed like a playoff team; it had one of the league's best offenses, ranking third in points and second in yards. Other times, not so much. It also had one of the worst defenses, ranking 31st in points and 32nd in yards (their 7,042 yards allowed was the worst all time mark) allowed under Spagnuolo, who was fired in late January. The first two games of December were a microcosm of the season. The Saints were blown out by the Giants, 52-27, in Week 14 but thumped the Buccaneers, 41-0, the following Sunday. New Orleans ultimately lost four of its last six, finishing 7-9 and in a three-way tie with the Bucs and Panthers for second in the NFC South.
Stat To Feel Good About
If It Ain't Broke ...
Drew Brees led the league in passing yards (5,177) and touchdowns (43) for the second straight season, and with Sean Payton returning to the sideline in 2013, he should only get better. The quarterback threw 19 interceptions last year, tied for most in the NFL with Tony Romo. According to Pro Football Focus, seven of Brees' picks came on deep pass attempts, the most in the league. He gambled too often and forced too many throws into tight coverage, but Payton and Brees having a working relationship like no other head coach and QB in the NFL. Payton would have constantly told Brees to check down and take what the defense was giving him, something he'll doubtless do next season. Even if the Saints' defense remains horrible, this alone could make New Orleans a playoff team again.
Must Fix It
The NFL might be a passing league, but defenses still need to be kept guessing. Mark Ingram led the Saints with a paltry 602 rushing yards last season, followed by Pierre Thomas (473), Darren Sproles (244) and Chris Ivory (217). This wasn't merely a result of the Saints falling behind and needing to throw the ball to overcome large deficits. In the first half of games last season, they ran the ball a lower percentage of time than any other team.
More On The To-Do List
What We'll Be Saying In July
Can the defense make this team whole again? If Rob Ryan can turn the unit into one of the league's best, the Saints won't simply be a playoff team again, they'll be a legit Super Bowl contender -- assuming the offense also addresses the areas mentioned above. As the team struggled last season, Drew Brees often compared the Saints' plight to climbing a mountain. Returning to the top of the league still won't be easy. The Saints will play the league's third toughest schedule in 2013, but there's a chance they'll also be flying under the radar a bit after last year's down season. Ultimately, the answer to one question will define success in 2013: Can the defense make this team whole again?