Saints vs. Panthers: Defense to Blame for 0-2 Start in New Orleans

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterSeptember 16, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 16:  Corey White #24 of the New Orleans Saints defends a pass to Brandon LaFell #11 of the Carolina Panthers during play at Bank of America Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If you count the Hall of Fame game, the New Orleans Saints have played seven games in 2012—five preseason contests and two regular season games. In the only wins and losses that count (the Saints' two regular season games), New Orleans is 0-2. But the real atrocity has been the Saints' miserably bad defense.

This is obviously not what new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo expected.

Only once in seven games has the Saints defense kept opposing teams from gaining 100 yards on the ground. The Redskins put up 153 rushing yards, while the Carolina Panthers added 219 to the Saints' tally sheet on Sunday.

New Orleans has also had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone.

Washington put up 40 points in Week 1, while the Panthers scored 35 on Sunday. It’s been 27 years since the Saints started this poorly on defense, according to WVUE reporter Garland Gillen.

That 1985 Saints team finished 5-11, and head coach Bum Phillips ran out of town with his tail between his legs before the season ended.

Sean Payton won’t have that luxury.

Payton will be watching from home as Spagnuolo tries to get the Saints defense turned around. This is a project that’s not new to Spagnuolo. Other than in 2010 when the defense ranked seventh in points allowed, New Orleans hasn’t had a top-10 defense since 1992.

The top 10 shouldn't even be on the radar right now. New Orleans needs to just start improving, especially since Sunday's 35-27 loss to Carolina will bring out tons of critics.

No one expected Spagnuolo to get things turned around immediately, but to flail around ineptly as New Orleans has done—even with the tumultuous offseason down on the Bayou—is grounds for "the sky is falling" conversations.

And it’s not just missed tackles and a measly pass rush that’s to blame. The New Orleans defense gave up 320 yards to a rookie quarterback last week, and 253 yards on Sunday to second-year passer Cam Newton.

Sure, Newton was All-World in 2011, and there’s no telling how good Robert Griffin III can be, but with Newton’s 129.2 quarterback rating the lower of the two performances against the Saints, something has to be done in the secondary.

In each game, the Saints defensive backs have allowed a 100-yard receiver. First it was Pierre Garcon, who went for 109 yards and a touchdown for Washington. Then it was Steve Smith with 104 for the Panthers. Even Carolina’s Brandon LaFell grabbed six passes for 90 yards on Sunday.

With the level of skill in the NFC South on offense, what team doesn’t look like it will give the Saints fits?

Shouldn’t Matt Ryan be able to throw all over the New Orleans secondary with targets like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta?

Won’t Josh Freeman link up with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams a bunch, especially since Doug Martin is such a threat to run the ball?

New Orleans still has four games against Atlanta and Tampa Bay, plus one additional matchup with Carolina. If something isn’t done by Spagnuolo quickly, this won’t be the last time the Saints lose multiple games in a row in 2012.