The Saints defense is hurting — literally — with four impact players sidelined for most or all of the upcoming season and another two preparing for Sunday’s season opener against Atlanta after missing significant time at training camp.
Despite the injuries, on Tuesday general manager Mickey Loomis on debunked the notion that the Saints should be more patient under first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Loomis wants results this season, regards of the losses at outside linebacker and defensive end.
“I think our expectations are the same,” Loomis said after speaking to the Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club. “We need to improve defensively. No question about it.
“We can’t have another season playing as poorly as we did a year ago.”
After all, last season’s disappointing 7-9 campaign was blamed on the defense, which set an in NFL mark for ineptitude. The Saints allowed 440.1 yards per game, the result of their inability to stop the run, stop the pass, stop anything.
It also came as little surprise that coach Sean Payton’s first major decision after being reinstated following his Bountygate suspension was to fire then-coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Payton then hired Ryan, a former defensive guru with Oakland, Cleveland and most recently, Dallas. Ironically, Ryan often half-jokes about the reason he believes he was fired by the Cowboys: the defensive product suffered because of unexpected injuries.
On Tuesday, the Saints placed middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the injured reserve-designated to return list, while outside linebacker Victor Butler is on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he rehabs from knee surgery. Will Smith, who was scheduled to line up across from him, is on injured reserve after a preseason knee injury. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman is also out for the season.
To Loomis, though, it’s not about one player. Not even two. Creating a better product on defense is a shared task.
“That’s the responsibility of all of our defensive players, all of our coaches, all of our front office,” Loomis said. “It’s not just one person, or even a couple of people who are responsible for the end result. It’s everyone.
“We have to play complementary football. We have to run the ball better. We have to keep our defense out of short field situations by turnovers. So there’s a lot of things that are in to playing good defense or offense or special teams. You have to be mindful of that.”
Adding to his point, Loomis said Butler’s projected impact before his injury was not one that he thought would have transformed the defense by himself. Butler, a fifth-year pro, signed with the Saints after playing under Ryan in Dallas.
“I don’t know that we were thinking that he was going to be the focal point of our defense,” Loomis said. “Just a guy we felt was a good player that hadn’t had an opportunity yet...and that he could do well for us.”