Pressure point: Saints

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the New Orleans Saints and why.

Long before the news of the bounty scandal broke, it was clear the Saints needed to do something dramatic on defense. Gregg Williams’ system worked nicely in the 2009 season as the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl. But defensive breakdowns were the main reason why the Saints lost a playoff game to Seattle in the 2010 season and to San Francisco last season.

That’s why the Saints quickly replaced Williams with Steve Spagnuolo as soon as the season ended. His chore is to build a more consistent defense and get away from Williams’ philosophy of taking big gambles in hopes of producing turnovers. Spagnuolo’s had success before by getting pressure almost exclusively from his front four and letting the back seven focus on pass coverage and run support. But middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the season and defensive end Will Smith will be suspended for the first four games.

The Saints added Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne and they should make up for the loss of Vilma. But while Smith is out and even after he returns, Spagnuolo has to find ways to get a strong pass rush from a group of guys (aside from Smith) that don’t have a strong history of putting pressure on the quarterback. Spagnuolo’s defense doesn’t have to be dominant.

If the Saints can just come up with some stops at key times, Drew Brees and the offense are good enough to outscore anyone.