When people say they expect New Orleans to be a contender again, after one off year, I get it.
Coach Sean Payton is back on the Saints' sideline, and Drew Brees is one of the all-time great quarterbacks. That part makes sense. But it ignores that the defense was miserable last season, easily the worst in the league. And now it has taken on a pretty significant injury.
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Will Smith, a longtime defensive end who was transitioning to be an outside linebacker in a new 3-4 scheme, is done for the season with a knee injury. Pro Football Talk was the first to report the news.
That's 67.5 career sacks subtracted from an already-bad defense.
Last year, New Orleans allowed 6.5 yards per play, worst in the league. Nobody else gave up more than 6 yards per play. That means even if the Saints shaved a half-yard off that average, they would have still been tied for last.
Maybe a new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan helps (seriously, what happened to Steve Spagnuolo, last year's coordinator? Did he just forget how to coach?). Perhaps the new scheme is a good fit and 2012 can just be chalked up to a weird year with the bounty scandal. But there's a long, long way to go just to be a slightly below average defense, and now they don't have their most reliable pass rusher.
The Times-Picayune said Martez Wilson and Junior Galette will be asked to do more with Smith out, but they've also been banged up in the preseason. But they are both young players who have had some promising NFL moments.
Maybe the Saints won't miss Smith much, and the defense will take a huge leap with a new coach and scheme. If that's not the case, Brees and Payton might not even be enough to save them.