New Orleans Saints Must Fix Secondary to Cement Super Bowl Contender Status

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystNovember 22, 2013

Nov 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Corey White (24) tackles Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Darius Johnson (13) after a catch in the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints downed the Atlanta Falcons 17-13 on Thursday to move to 9-2 on the season, setting up a huge Week 13 showdown with the Seattle Seahawks for the top overall spot in the NFC.

There's room for concern among the celebration of the win, as a recent injury on defense may be a bigger obstacle to the Saints' Super Bowl aspirations than was originally believed.

With cornerback Jabari Greer lost for the season after tearing ligaments in his knee last week, the Saints turned to second-year pro Corey White as a starter against the Falcons.

The results were not good.

White was targeted relentlessly by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. That resulted in a career game for young wide receiver Darius Johnson, who caught six passes for 67 yards on eight targets. He also drew a long pass interference penalty on White and very nearly scored a touchdown.

This is an undrafted free agent we're talking about. Imagine if that had been Julio Jones starting for the Falcons.

White got marginally better in the second half, but this game exposed a big problem for the Saints. They weren't especially well off at the cornerback position to begin with. Now, they're threadbare heading into a very tough stretch on the schedule.

New Orleans Saints Schedule
13at Seattle Seahawks10-1
14Carolina Panthers7-3
15at St. Louis Rams4-6
16at Carolina Panthers7-3
17Tampa Bay Buccaneers2-8
Combined Record 30-21

Over the next month, the Saints play at Seattle and have a home-and-home with the white-hot Panthers. Granted, neither of those teams is especially deep at wide receiver, but players such as Seattle's Golden Tate and Brandon LaFell of Carolina are more than capable of doing what Johnson did to White Thursday night.

In a close game with a good team, that could be a dealbreaker.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot the Saints can do as things stand right now, as the depth chart behind White is even greener than he is.

They could experiment with a youngster like Rod Sweeting (as they did against Atlanta), but there's no guarantee they'll fare any better than White.

Pat White of Pat White Sports brought up another possibility:

A veteran signing may well come to pass, even if it isn't Asomugha. The Saints now have a long week to prepare for Seattle, which would give the team a chance to work out a free agent or two.

What's clear is that something needs to be done at cornerback. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes his blitzes, and those require man coverage.

Man coverage requires cornerbacks who can, um, cover. Sitting 12 yards off the ball and giving up one short completion after another does not qualify as covering the receiver.

To many Saints fans, this likely smacks of nitpicking. A young defensive back had a bad game, but the Saints are still 9-2. What's the problem?

The problem is that the 7-3 Panthers are right behind New Orleans. The NFC South, as well as the potential of playing every playoff game but the last one in the Superdome, is on the line over the next few weeks.

The Saints don't have a lot of margin for error at the moment, so any leak is cause for some concern.

On Thursday night, the Saints secondary sprung a leak.