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Preseason Power Rankings No. 9: New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton AP

You wouldn’t think a team that’s won 37 games the last three years, a team that just signed its franchise quarterback to a record-setting deal, a team that set so many records would be this low.

But this has been no ordinary offseason for the New Orleans Saints.

They might have kept quarterback Drew Brees and retained most of the key parts that have made them successful, but there were losses.

Coach Sean Payton will miss the season for his bounty suspension, and we’ll find out in a hurry, as it were, that if you kill the head, the body in fact dies.

Strengths.

Well, the biggest one was settled when quarterback Drew Brees signed that five-year, $100 million contract.

Getting Brees taken care of was simply the key to the Saints’ attempts to hold this thing together in the absence of head coach Sean Payton.

All he did last year was throw for a league-record 5,476 yards, completing a record 71.2 percent of his passes, while throwing 46 touchdowns. This year, the job will be harder without Payton, and while it would be foolish to say they won’t miss their head coach, in Brees’ hands the Saints are better covered than most would be.

Not many teams can lose a deep-threat wide receiver such as Robert Meachem (who signed a four-year, $25.9 million contract with the Chargers) and not miss a beat, but that’s how deep the Saints are.

They were able to keep Marques Colston, and with Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Adrian Arrington and rookie Nick Toon, they have plenty of parts to choose from.

Throw in matchup-nightmare tight end Jimmy Graham, and Brees has plenty of places to throw the ball, which is the thing they’re going to lean on.

Weaknesses.

Through attrition or suspension, the defense took a lot of hits.

Gone through traditional means are cornerback Tracy Porter (Denver) and underrated linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (St. Louis). Suspended for all or part of the year are linebacker Jonathan Vilma (all season) and defensive end Will Smith (four games).

Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Turk McBride will have to elevate their game, as the Saints line accounted for a mere 16.5 sacks last year, a number that will have to go up if they’re going to play the way they want to play.

The arrival of free agents such as linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain will help solidify the position, but it’s hard to know how long it will take them to fit in.

The Saints safeties aren’t as good as their reputations, and the entire secondary may benefit from being asked to play more zone this year. Roman Harper’s a guy who plays for the big hit, but has been exposed in coverage.

Changes.

Well, aside from missing their head coach for the year, their General Manager for eight games, their interim coach for six games and several key defensive players?

Oh, not much.

Actually, bringing Steve Spagnuolo to replace Greg Williams at defensive coordinator will be a fundamental shift for the Saints.

Spagnuolo isn’t going to run the same kind of blitz-happy scheme Williams called, and that could be to the benefit of the personnel on hand. He’s going to rely on his front four to get his pass rush, same as he did when he was coordinator with the New York Giants. He doesn’t have nearly the personnel he did there, especially without Will Smith for the first month, and will be tasked to be more creative to make up for it.

The Saints also have to make up for the loss of left guard Carl Nicks, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract to skip to division rival Tampa Bay. They did sign Ben Grubbs from Baltimore to replace him, and Grubbs isn’t a bad player. But Nicks was dominant, and the kind of player who leaves a void. The Saints’ line as a whole is still very good, but will take time to gel.

Camp battles.

On most teams, an unsettled running back position would be a bigger deal. But the Saints ran the ball just 431 times against 662 pass attempts.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see how former first-round trade-up Mark Ingram responds, and if he makes the job his own. They’re still going to use Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, but Ingram’s a different kind of back, who could lend some degree of balance to the game plan if he can hold off the competition.

They also have to make a decision at kicker. Garrett Hartley would seem to be the guy, but veteran John Kasay stepped in and set a franchise record for points scored, giving the Saints a trustworthy option. Unlike the Panthers, who stupidly cut him, the Saints don’t care if the 42-year-old Kasay can kick off since they have a punter in Thomas Morstead who can do that.

Prospects.

This will be a fascinating study in the power of leadership.

Without Sean Payton, the Saints will be different, no matter how good Brees is at what he does. It’s the oversight, the collaboration that made the two work so well together.

Payton wouldn’t have won a Super Bowl with Aaron Brooks, and Brees probably wouldn’t have won one with Jim Haslett.

Together, they work.

They get to open at home against Washington, and the Who-Dats will doubtless be lathered up and emotional at the perceived persecution.

But what happens after the hurt feelings heal? Can they keep that edge and use their martyr status as motivation for an entire season.

Make no mistake, the Saints aren’t much less talented than they were a year ago.

But they are very different at the top, and that matters.

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18 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 9: New Orleans Saints”
  1. mp42245 says: Jul 20, 2012 3:25 PM

    We’ll see about Dat!

  2. ilovefoolsball says: Jul 20, 2012 3:35 PM

    To expect anything more than a playoff appearance for the Saints this year would be overly optimistic.
    They have the weapons on offense and the defense might actually be improved from last year but the NFL is just so hyper competitive that any weakness can be your downfall and not having a coach that does so much coaching and brilliant gameday decisions on the sideline will end up hurting no matter who takes over.

    Still, I have faith.

  3. euphoni says: Jul 20, 2012 3:45 PM

    Laughable! Hopefully every other team will give the Saints the same disrespect, because I love watching blowouts!

  4. Buttsnake says: Jul 20, 2012 3:48 PM

    hahahaha…more fuel baby. WHO DAT!!

  5. jbcommonsense says: Jul 20, 2012 4:08 PM

    I believe the defensive players lost and the suspensions will hurt much more than the loss of Payton. Whether their defense evolves and gels will determine the Saints potential in 2012.

  6. sfsaintsfan says: Jul 20, 2012 4:11 PM

    I think #9 is about right given that we really don’t know how the team will respond. The Defense should be better, possibly much better. The Offense should be just about as good, figure at least 90% of last year.

    The loss of the head coach, only time will tell.

    The Saints should win the NFC South without much of a problem. If they can get to 12-4 and win a couple of key match-ups, especially the Niners and maybe the Packers, they will have a good shot at one of the top two seeds in the Conference.

    All in all, they are probably the best shot in NFL history for a team playing in a “home” Super Bowl.

  7. war27 says: Jul 20, 2012 4:17 PM

    Without a coach and Vilma this team is way better then 9th if the Broncos are 10th.

  8. skinsfan91 says: Jul 20, 2012 4:21 PM

    Come Sept. 9. They’re gonna get beat by I believe the 24th ranked team. RGIII in the house.

  9. SeenThisB4 says: Jul 20, 2012 4:21 PM

    Be defiant Saints! Just Win!

  10. patriots123456 says: Jul 20, 2012 4:44 PM

    Did Vilma file a lawsuit for being ranked 9th yet?

  11. buccaneer4ever says: Jul 20, 2012 4:48 PM

    Drew Brees needs an explanation.

  12. chazzmon says: Jul 20, 2012 5:44 PM

    This team has to be the hardest to grade after all that happened this off season. They could go us against the world and be great who dat knows?

  13. justintuckrule says: Jul 20, 2012 5:55 PM

    Please. I can coach this team as is and win 11 games standing on my head. Brees is a beast and the offense is good for 30 no matter what. This coming from a Saints hater. Sean Payton better hope they stink or he may be out of a job.

  14. radrntn says: Jul 20, 2012 9:06 PM

    well so much of this game is mental, focus, and preparation. no other team in the NFL has more adversity to deal with. it will be interesting to see if saints can.

  15. larryjames836 says: Jul 20, 2012 11:20 PM

    The New Orleans Saints will be alright this is what the NFL wants to see the Saints go down and want the fanbase to give up on our own team. Kill the head; the whole body will die, this is what the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did to the New Orleans Saints suspended Sean Payton because he is a coach that knows how to win. I hear some Saints fans saying fire Sean Payton this will be one of the Saints biggest mistake he makes a team. There is a lot of teams out there that would love to have Sean Payton as they coach so be careful what you say Sean Payton is the coach that train Drew Brees made him who he is. So now the Saints must show the NFL and others who think they are a dirty team that we has the best coach in the NFL and he trained the Saints well and yes they can play at they best with and without they head coach. This is what going to make this season so important for the New Orleans Saints fanbase to see what kind of coach we has that put everything he had in the New Orleans Saints. We can do it because Sean Payton spirit are going to be there just hang a picture of him close to the team and the team follow the plans.

  16. discosucs2005 says: Jul 21, 2012 9:30 PM

    I honestly think this is too high, and I have nothing against the Saints. I just think it will be too hard for players to resign themselves to the fact that this is a lost season, in a self fulfilling prophecy type of way.

    If they start out hot, win their first couple of games, maybe they can over come that. But if they lost two or three of the first quarter of games, they might throw in the towel.

    I could be totally wrong. I wonder if Sean Payton is hoping they don’t do too good.

  17. foreverlsu says: Jul 25, 2012 10:17 AM

    @buccaneer4ever

    That’s a cute little phrase that’s become quite stale now but Drew Brees will be delivering explanations in a few weeks so just be patient.

    Maybe you should start working on a response to explain how the lil buccaneers (with no quarterback) could possibly get crushed by a Saints team with no coach – twice!

  18. kamakiriad says: Aug 1, 2012 10:42 PM

    Remember that the year after Videogate the Patriots made it back to the Super Bowl and almost went undefeated.

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