Distracted by a controversial bounty scandal and without their primary head coach, the New Orleans Saints struggled through the 2012 season, posting a 7-9 overall record. With coach Sean Payton back this year, quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints hope to make their way back to the playoffs under their combined leadership. However, many questions still remain for the Saints in the 2013 season. Here are five questions heading into training camp:
1. Can the Saints Keep Up With Their Division?
The 2013 offseason was a busy one for the NFC South, especially for the Saint’s primary rivals. Most notably, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bolstered their abysmal defense with star defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, while the Atlanta Falcons improved huge holes on both sides of the ball with the acquisition of running back Stephen Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora. With other teams in the division landing high-profile players, the Saints may struggle to keep up with these improvements. First round draft pick safety Kenny Vaccaro, along with defensive acquisitions Keenan Lewis and Victor Butler need to blossom and become playmakers this season in order to help the saints on defense, where most of their needs occur.
2. What Kind of Impact will Rob Ryan Make?
The Saints made a drastic move this offseason by hiring fiery defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was fired by the Cowboys last season. The organization hopes that Ryan will motivate and improve a defensive that was ranked last in team defense and rushing defense last year. Hiring Ryan is a risky move, however. Most players react either highly negatively or positively towards him and his motivational style. It remains to be seen if Ryan will be able to improve this struggling defense.
3. Can the Saints Adjust to a Two Tight End Set?
With the acquisition of tight end Ben Watson this offseason, the Saints have arguably one of the best tight end combos, along with superstar Jimmy Graham. Watson, known for his great blocking along with an ability to catch short-to-medium passes, represents a player who can complement Graham, considering the two are almost polar opposites. Look for the Saints to use Graham and Watson in interesting ways as they attempt to capitalize on the strengths of each one of them. A more versatile receiving core opens up numerous opportunities for Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees.
4. How Will the Loss of Chris Ivory Impact the Saints?
The Saints had a diverse and deep backfield last year – using running backs Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory according to their specific skills and strengths. This rotation also allowed the Saints to constantly have a fresh running back, minimizing fatigue and always keeping the defensive on its toes. With Ivory gone to the Jets from free agency, the Saints will need to update and reassess their running game. The team has already addressed this loss with the acquisition of Darren Sproles, a small, speedy running back acquired from San Diego, but it is unclear how much he will be implemented into the offensive game plan.
5. Can the Saints Gain Consistency this Year?
The Saints were perhaps the most inconsistent team in 2012. After losing their first four games, the Saints won 7 of their next 12 games to finish with a lackluster 7-9 record. However, the strangest part of the Saints season were their winning and losing streaks. Throughout the course of the season, the Saints had the aforementioned four-game losing streak, another three-game losing streak, a three-game winning streak, and two different two-game winning streaks.
Essentially, those who bought New Orleans Saints tickets saw two different teams in 2012. When they began to lose, they struggled severely, but they were a formidable opponent in other instances. This problem may be rooted in coaching problems and the absence of Sean Payton, but tendencies of the Saints in 2012 may still carry over to the current season. If the Saints really want to succeed, they need to be able to be consistent on both sides of the ball every game.