Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
NEWORLEANS- The New Orleans Saints have answered almost all of the questions we had about them in August with a resounding yes.
We wondered if Rob Ryan could fix the defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history? After seven weeks the Saints have allowed over 20 points once, have 24 quarterback sacks, and created 15 turnovers.
The Rob Ryan show continues to get blockbuster ratings. The only thing that would make having Rob Ryan as the Saints defensive coordinator more fun is if he started naming defenses after great New Orleans foods.
For instance, he could say something like: I call this defense the 'Beignet' because I love dumping a pound of powdered sugar on my beignets just like I love dumping a safety on some confused quarterback.
On Halloween night Rob Ryan is going to be spotted in 3,400 different places because everyone will be dressed like him.
In August we wondered if the Saints could find a deep threat to replace Devery Henderson. It's as if Kenny Stills was the Devery Henderson 2.0 model the Saints ordered on Amazon. He's fully operational now and just like the original Devery you can expect him to follow up his three catch, two touchdown, and 129-yard performance with four catches over the next three weeks. That's ok because Devery Henderson wasn't about catching bombs every week; he was about reminding defenses that he might. You ignore Kenny Stills at your own risk NFL defenses.
There was one question we didn't ask in August that is now critical too if the Saints are going to play deep into January. That question is can the Saints protect Drew Brees?
Brees got sacked four more times again Sunday against the Buffalo Bills and is on pace to be sacked over 60 times in 2013. If Brees wasn't the athletic freak he is at feeling and avoiding pressure he'd have been sacked even more. Brees going 26 of 34 for 332 yards and five touchdowns while at times getting battered was remarkable. It really was the shining example of how Brees never gets thought of as an athletic quarterback but should.
The Saints can get by and probably even win a Super Bowl if they aren't good at some things. In the 2013 NFL you don't have to run the ball very well to win a Super Bowl, you don't have to play elite defense, and you might even win a Lombardi trophy without an elite quarterback (see Flacco, Joe) but you aren't winning a Super Bowl with Luke McCown at quarterback.
If Brees gets sacked 60 times I believe that's where we are headed. People on Twitter call me Saint Ralph of DOOM because they say I'm so negative and this will just confirm it.
Buffalo has an elite pass rush and Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and Jerry Hughes showed it by sacking Brees four times. The Saints have shown no reason to make us believe when they play Top 10 defenses they will be able to protect Brees consistently.
The bad news is they still have to face the Jets, 49ers, Seahawks, and Panthers twice. All of those teams have nasty front sevens on defense.
The good news is Sean Payton is really good at making adjustments on offense and if anybody can figure it out it's him. I'm not a coach and don't make $8 million a year so I'm not going to say the Saints should leave in more blockers or run shorter routes. I just know the hits on Brees have to get reduced and they can't run 20 screens a game to slow down the pass rush.
If the Saints can't handle an elite pass rush at home how are they going to protect Brees in an ear splitting road game like Seattle? I don't have answers I just know they better find them.
In Sean Payton's time as head coach we've never seen this. Since 2006 Brees has been one of the least sacked quarterbacks. If the Saints want another Super Bowl they'll have to fix a problem they've never had before.
If they get it fixed they are the favorite to bring home another Lombardi trophy. I'm not even going to discuss in detail what happens if they don't because the thought of it gives me the shakes. The 2013 season hinges on the answer.