…And we’re back! After taking a few days to focus on the 2013 NFL scouting combine, “Shutdown Corner” resumes our look back at each team’s 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We resume our trek in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints. 2012 record : 7-9 What went wrong : The Saints’ problems in 2012 began with the suspensions handed down by the NFL after their investigation into an illegal bounty program that was in place from 2009-11. The Saints lost head coach Sean Payton for the season, linebackers coach Joe Vitt for six games, GM Mickey Loomis for eight games. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the season and defensive end Will Smith for four games, which were vacated by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue upon appeal. The Saints opened the regular season with four straight losses, including a 27-24 overtime loss at home to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, but managed to claw back to .500 before Thanksgiving. A three-game losing streak – to the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants – ended any hope the Saints had of a miraculous run to the postseason. Quarterback Drew Brees, who missed the OTAs and minicamps while his agent and the team worked on turning his franchise tag into a five-year, $100 million contract, was intercepted nine times during that three-game losing streak that sunk the Saints’ playoff hopes. The Saints defense went very wrong in 2012, establishing an NFL single-season record for yards allowed. The Saints allowed nearly 60 yards more per game than the league’s 31st-ranked defense and were last in the NFL in rushing yards per game, rushing yards per play and passing yards per play. New Orleans finished 31st in passing yards allowed per game and in scoring defense, allowing 28.4 points per game. Perhaps it was due to playing without Sean Payton, but the Saints dipped from second in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) in 2011 to ninth in 2012 . The Saints still ranked second in the NFL in terms of total offense, and were the league’s No. 1-ranked pass defense, but having to throw the ball all the time led to the rushing offense to rank 25th in 2012, averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground. What went right : Four Saints would compete in the Pro Bowl, though only two were “Original Ballot” selections. Guard Jahri Evans was voted as a starter in his fourth straight Pro Bowl and the other selection was punter Thomas Morstead, who was tied for first in the NFL with a net punting average of 43.2 yards and had 45 touchbacks on 90 kickoffs. Evans and Morstead would be joined two injury replacements: left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who started at right tackle, and Brees, who started at quarterback for the NFC squad. Brees led the NFL with 5,177 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes, but 19 interceptions kept his passer rating at 96.3. Another byproduct of airing the ball out was big seasons from wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, who both had over 1,000 yards receiving and combined for 16 touchdowns. Moore and Colston ranked fifth and sixth among wide receivers in Football Outsiders’ DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric. Tight end Jimmy Graham led the team with 85 receptions, nine of which resulted in touchdowns, and was eighth among NFL tight ends in FO’s DYAR metric. Coaching/front office changes : One of the first things Payton did upon his return from a season-long suspension was to fire defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who replaced Gregg Williams for the 2012 season. The Saints’ search for a new defensive coordinator ended with the hiring of Rob Ryan, who had been fired after spending the previous two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. At the same time the Saints hired Ryan, they announced that they would be moving to a 3-4 defense on a full-time basis after dabbling with 3-4 looks the last few seasons, but remaining a base 4-3 team. Estimated 2013 cap space : $15 million over their projected 2013 adjusted cap number.
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