Last year, the New Orleans Saints were one of the best teams in football no one ever talked about. Finishing the year ranked fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Saints were one of the few teams that fielded a top-ten offense and defense by nearly any measure: DVOA, points, opponent-adjusted points, yards per play, and so on.
Though it was a down year (for them) offensively, they were still a dangerous team—one that normally rode the tails of a masterful offense driven by Drew Brees and designed by Sean Payton—now with the support of a Rob Ryan defense and all that entails.
Unfortunately as the Saints’ season has unfolded, they’ve seemingly fallen apart on defense while their offense has dragged the team forward, a surprising development given their free agency profile; they added more than they lost.
The defense lost Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, which sounds worse than it was: Roman Harper played just over 350 snaps for them and Jenkins was the most underperforming member of the unit… unless you count Tom Johnson, who they also got rid of. Though it would have been interesting to see how the defense would fare with Will Smith, his departure also couldn’t really be considered a loss given the fact that he didn’t play in 2013.
To make up for those minimal losses, they added a top-tier safety in Jairus Byrd, and in Smith’s absence Junior Galette was promoted to a full-time starter last year, gaining a nice four-year contract from the Saints this year for his troubles.
Adding three draft picks and two undrafted free agents to the defense should help with its depth, too.
But for all the benefit the New Orleans Saints got on paper for their defense, it still has yet to pay dividends. They’ve given up the second-most points in the NFL, and though one of those teams are the high-flying Falcons, the other are the offensively anemic Cleveland Browns.
All that said, that doesn’t make it an easy matchup for the Vikings.
In order to have a chance against a team that is far better than their record, Minnesota will have to put together a game plan that takes the defense seriously and has answers for their potent offense.