While the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are preparing to play the biggest game of their lives this Sunday, the New Orleans Saints are at home and will be mere spectators to a Super Bowl that was supposed to be for them. Their own city will be hosting strangers. Ouch.
The return of the much-missed Sean Payton is a huge step in the right direction, not that Joe Vitt did a terrible job, but let's be honest, he's no Payton. The Saints missed Payton's leadership, fearlessness and offensive genius. But with his return, it doesn't mean the Saints are ready to conquer. No, they still have some fixing to do.
Let's look at some questions surrounding the Saints this offseason that they need to work on.
Steve Spagnuolo was brought in to save an already struggling defense get away from Gregg Williams' scheme and often heavy-blitz attack. With the resume Spagnuolo has, and the 4-3 defense he runs, it was a breath of fresh air.
But it did not work out that way in 2012. The Saints ended up becoming the worst defense in NFL history, breaking the record for most yards allowed in a season. The players failed to learn Spagnuolo's zone-blitz concepts, and they were burned for big plays.
Once Sean Payton returned, he wanted to change the defense to a 3-4 scheme, so he had to part ways with Spagnuolo. Question is, who will take over and be in charge of the struggling defensive unit.
Can it be Eric Mangini? The former Jets and Browns head coach, turned ESPN analyst, worked under Patriots coach Bill Belichick for nine seasons. So, he had plenty of time to learn from one of the best coaches in the league.
No, his head coaching stints didn't work out, but the situations he was left with weren't exactly the best. He is a tough coach who can whip the defense back into shape.
Can it be Romeo Crennel? Crennel would be of great help to the Saints. Crennel is known as one of the best defensive minds in the league. His 3-4 defenses helped the Patriots dominate and boosted them to a few championships.
The reason why the 4-3 alignment did not work for the Saints is due to the personnel the Saints have. The switch to 3-4 will be a better fit for the young, smaller, speedy front seven the Saints currently have. It can be an advantage for the Saints and their speedy pass-rushers—and the Saints pass rush is in serious need of some help.
Yes, switching to the 3-4 will use the current Saints personnel to their advantage and will more than likely improve the defense, but that does not cure all. There is still a need for some more talent on the defensive side of the ball. Generating a pass rush will take some pressure of the secondary, but they still need to improve that unit.
Aging linebacker Jonathan Vilma is set to make a lot of money this offseason. He is set to make over $8 million if he's on the roster for 2013. So, do the Saints keep him?
With the switch to the 3-4 scheme, it's more than likely that Vilma will no longer be productive under the new system; he's a year older, slower and plagued by injuries.
Vilma has been a warrior and leader for the Saints, and he played a key role in the Saints' Super Bowl season. He has given his heart to the organization, but he won't be able to contribute to the team like he once used to. And now that the Saints have Curtis Lofton, who had a productive first season with the Saints, Vilma really has no role on defense.