Might I suggest "Bounty Gate" has affected the Saints defense in a way you have not thought of yet. For the last three years, this Saints defense has been motivated to "play hard" by a system that offers cash rewards for big plays. Let's throw out the bounty allegations for a minute and concentrate on what has been admitted: pay for performance. The Saints have focused on playing within a system that motivates based on financial perks and they have been led by an often profane and most intense leader. Now, they are presumably led by a leader in Spagunolo that is less profane, less intense (even if it's just a little bit), and they are surrounded by a staff mincing words because they know they are under a microscope.
The Saints got caught, and it's possibly turned them soft.
Don't believe me? Let's consider this: the entire starting backfield is a carry over from the Gregg Williams era. Malcolm Jenkins played his entire career prior to this season under Williams. Ditto Patrick Robinson. Roman Harper played 50% of his career under Williams going into this year, and blossomed under his tutelage. Jabari Greer came to New Orleans the same year as Williams.
While Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are new, Hawthorne has hardly played. The rest of the linebacking core - Shanle, Herring, Casillas, Humber, Vilma - are all Williams disciples.
On the defensive line, Brodrick Bunkley and Akiem Hicks are the only players that didn't play under Williams.
The coaching staff on defense, save Steve Spagnuolo, is largely the same. It's my belief that a larger turnover will have to occur before this defense can start playing at a high level again, simply because all of these players and coaches, collectively, are "damaged goods". And I don't mean that in the public perception way. That may be true to a certain extent, but I'm not talking about the black mark their involvement with Bounty Gate puts on their name. I'm talking about the shell of their former self that that publicity and the penalties that went along with it have turned them into. Defense is best played when mean, vicious, and skirting the rules. When RGIII complained a defense that stoned him in the Rams was "dirty" and called a team he poured 40 on "classy" in the Saints by comparison, that should tell you all you need to know.
So my belief is this defense is searching for a new identity and a new reason to play football. The fine line between "playing hard" and "playing like your life depends on it" is a massive dinstinction in a game of inches. For three years, they got excited about the cash reward of a certain system. It's not a greed thing as much as a way to brag amongst your peers and differentiate yourself as unique/special. That thing is gone, and the Saints have failed to replace it with something that gives them equal passion. Because of that, Steve Spagnuolo has so far failed at his job. Time to get more creative.
...I would like to think Joe Vitt being reunited w/ the team will pay dividends right away. I'm not so sure it will happen @ Denver though, unfortunately.
I do not agree it was the bounty system.. I think it is Williams going away. They indeed have no motivator. They now have a softy in Spagnuolo and no real head coach. Vitt is back and he will basically tell these guys: Play better of you are gone next season (Would be good to get out a lot of high payed defenders and get 2 or 3 stars in free agency and fill up the rest with drafts and cheap free agents). He will have said the same to Spagnuolo. So I think they now are motivated. I expect them to play hard tonight! maybe not good, but with some spark they have now.
Otherwise I am praying for a 3-4 defensive coach next year so we can have some nice playmakers on LB spot. (Wilson and Cassillas are actually better suited in a 3-4 system as OLBs)