Jim Henderson gives his Black and Gold breakdown - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Jim Henderson gives his Black and Gold breakdown

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To me, the central question facing the Saints this season as they seek to regain their status of Super Bowl contender is this: Can the worst defense in the NFL improve quickly enough to complement the second-best offense in the NFL or improve so substantially that it can offset a potential decline in that offense's productivity?

When the saints open the regular season against the Falcons on September 8, four of their most integral playmakers on offense will be at least 30 years old. Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, and Lance Moore will be 30. Drew Brees - 34.

The primetime of a player's career usually reflects a convergence of physical youth and mental experience. Can what you know out-pace what your body will let you do once you cross that 30-year threshold and allow you to maintain your productivity or even enhance it?

Can we expect an improvement in the running game to take some of the pressure off those players to generate virtually all the offense through the air? Throughout most of the Sean Payton era, the Saints have sought offensive balance but have lacked either the talent or the patience to achieve it. It's perhaps unfair to criticize a team for doing what they do best, particularly when the offense has to generate enough points to overcome a defense that a year ago did nothing even well.

The Saints' offense couldn't generate enough big plays to overcome the defense's propensity to allow them. The 2012 Saints allowed an NFL high of 12 plays covering 40 yards or more. That defense allowed the two longest pass plays of the season and the second-longest running play, while suffering the ignominy of allowing 7,000 yards of offense - worst in the league's history.

The Herculean task of improving it rests with the Falstaffian countenance of Rob Ryan. In nine seasons with three teams, he's had one defense in the top 10 and seven of his nine have finished in the bottom 10.

Transforming the Saints defense into a top-10 unit in a single season would be nothing short of miraculous.

It would seem that the Saints' hopes this season rest with the offense's ability to provide those miracles again and the defense's ability to prevent them anew.

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