Just how bad is Saints defense coming to Tampa?
"I know what the stats say," coach Lovie Smith said about the Saints defense Wednesday. "But the stats are about what has happened in the past. Now, everybody is in this stretch run. I think you see peak performances by everybody about this time of year. We assume we are going to get their best defensively."
Now that we have that caveat out of the way, we can try to illustrate just how bad the Saints defense has been, especially in the past month. You can start by pointing out that the Saints rank last in three of the four major statistical categories -- last in scoring defense (31.7 points/game), last in total defense (425.2 yards/game) and last in rushing defense (137.8 yards/game). They're better in pass defense (287.3 yards/game), where they rank 31st out of 32 teams.
The Saints, who have battled numerous injuries and are using eight rookies, have what is statistically a historically bad defense -- challenging the NFL's all-time marks, some of which they know well. Points are always the truest measure of a defense, and New Orleans has allowed at least 20 points in every game this season. They've allowed opponents to score 10 or more points in nine of their last 12 quarters.
The Saints are on course to join the rare 500-point club -- only three teams in NFL history have allowed 500 points: the 1966 Giants (1-12-1, hitting the mark in only 14 games), the 1981 Ravens (2-14) and the 2008 Lions, who went 0-16. Toward that end, the Saints have done comparably well to salvage four wins this season, more than the other three 500-point defenses combined.
In terms of total yards allowed, they're worse, on pace for the second-most in NFL history, trailing only ... the 2012 Saints, who game up 440 yards per game: 7,042 yards, or more than four miles.
The season totals are rough, but the Saints have actually gotten worse in the past month, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in November. In two games since, they've allowed 32.5 points and 424 yards per game, so within a single point and a single yard of who they were under Ryan.
Suspect rushing defense? You could use allowing 150 rushing yards or more as a good measure of a bad rushing defense -- NFL teams allowing 150 rushing yards or more this year are 16-59, winning just 21 percent of the time. The Saints have allowed that to happen in each of the last three games and in five games total this year -- only the Browns (7) have allowed that more times. (The Bucs, by comparison, have allowed only one team to rush for 150-plus, in the early loss to the Texans).
Suspect passing defense? The Saints have allowed 35 passing touchdowns, on course to shatter the 52-year-old record of 40 set by the 1963 Denver Broncos. What's more, they've allowed 21 of those in the last five games -- four of the last five teams to play the Saints threw for at least four touchdowns. The combined numbers for opposing quarterbacks in those five games? They've thrown 21 touchdowns against just two interceptions, completing 73 percent of their passes for a nifty QB rating of 134.6.
The Bucs' Jameis Winston has had a very impressive rookie season, but one thing he hasn't done is throw for 300 yards in a game. The Saints might be able to help with that -- they've allowed eight opposing teams to throw for 300-plus yards, the most of any NFL team.
One thing the Saints defense does well is force fumbles -- they've recovered 10 opponent fumbles, tied with the Bucs for the second-most in the NFL this season. A team with 17 takeaways can be dangerous, but the Saints have only converted those 17 into 32 total points -- less than 2 points per takeaway.