I had the opportunity to ask Dave Cariello at Canal Street Chronicles five hard-hitting questions about the Saints. Unfortunately, post-restraining order they had to be less hard hitting. Here's the answers to those questions.
Dave Choate: The Saints are coming into this season with a banged-up D and a new coordinator. Are you expecting improvement, and if so, how significant?
Dave Cariello: I am expecting improvement. Significant improvement. Let's face it, there really isn't anywhere to go but up for this Saints defense after last season. And they aren't too banged up. The loss of Victor Butler definitely hurt, but Junior Galette and Martez Wilson should be ready to go this Sunday and I'd argue the loss of Will Smith might actually be a blessing in disguise for this defense in an addition-by-subtraction kinda way. As far as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is concerned, I think he's going to get more out of this new scheme and these players than we've seen. And I will just mention this: the last time the Saints brought in a fiery, aggressive defensive coordinator from the Buddy Ryan coaching tree, the Saints won the Super Bowl that year.
Dave Choate: Drew Brees seems ageless. Looking at the depth chart at receiver, do you think Brees will have his typical fantastic season, or will he begin to slow down in 2013?
Dave Cariello: Nah, he's going to keep on ticking at his current pace. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if 2013 is one of his better years. The young receivers, Nick Toon and Kenny Stills, have stepped right up and filled the voids left by Joe Morgan and Devery Henderson. And the Saints now have tight end Ben Watson to complement Jimmy Graham. Of course we can't forget about all the yards Drew racks up simply by throwing short passes to his shifty running backs, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. Nope, don't see any drop off this year.
Dave Choate: I've seen more than a few breakout predictions for Mark Ingram. Does he seize a leading role this year, or is the committee that slew a thousand fantasy teams still active?
Dave Cariello: The Saints will always mix it up with the running game, using Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. I don't think you'll ever seen Ingram get the amount of touches as, say, Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson. But head coach Sean Payton did say this off-season that he is committed to running the ball more this season, and my hunch is that means specifically Mark Ingram. He's got the talent, as long as he gets the touches, to have a "breakout" year.
Dave Choate: If you're the Falcons, how do you attack the Saints on offense? On defense?
Dave Cariello: On defense, it's always been and always will be about getting to Drew Brees, getting in his face, shaking his confidence and forcing him to make quick decisions. It all starts and ends there. On offense, it's tough to say because of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and their new scheme. The run defense definitely looked a little suspect this preseason. If the Falcons can establish the ground game, it's likely they'll find success.
Dave Choate: Name a couple of players we should keep an eye on for Sunday's game.
Dave Cariello: On the defense it's Kenny Vaccaro for sure, the team's first round draft pick. He's been just as good as advertised and I think you'll seem him out there a lot. Sticking with the defense, I would definitely keep an eye on DE/OLB Glenn Foster, an undrafted rookie free agent who seemingly came out of nowhere. On offense, I think it's gotta be rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills. He's a playmaker with a lot of raw talent. He stood out this preseason.
Dave Choate: Final score prediction?
Dave Cariello: I think I've got to go with the Saints at home. But it's gonna be close. I'll say 38-35 Saints.