The New Orleans Saints provide an explosive offense every year for the NFL fans. Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, literally speak their own language and have formulated their own terminology on offense which executes almost flawlessly, year after year. This season the Saints expect more of the same on offense and an improvement on an already improved defense. The sky is the limit for the Saints of New Orleans and it starts at the quarterback position.
Drew Brees had another remarkable season. Over 5000 passing yards on 650 attempts at a completion percentage rate of 68.6%. He was one shy of forty on the touchdown mark and knowing Brees, that probably really bothered him. Brees is a perfectionist on the field, much like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who can bring up any receiver in this system. The loss of running back Darren Sproles is more over-stated than it needs to be. Sproles is a good receiving back but the offense will not miss a beat with his absence. The running duo of Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram have been in this offense for years and understand all that needs to be known within it. Ingram can’t really be considered a first round bust because of how he is used on this team, but there is no doubt they will lean on him more this season and expect to see more of his 4.9 yards per attempt that he showed in 2013. Thomas is more of their all-around-back because he can catch and block – but his less than four yards a carry is bothersome.
The receivers on this team might be the best group in the NFL, pound for pound. It all starts with tight end Jimmy Graham who is setting the new standard for the receiving tight end in the league. Graham had 16 touchdowns last year with over 1200 passing yards which not only makes him the best receiving tight ends in the league – but also one of the best receivers, period in the NFL. Graham cannot be covered by any linebackers in the league, so it forces teams to place a corner back on the tight end at all times, which is a dangerous game to play considering the rest of the receivers on this squad. Marques Colston has recorded over 1000 yards in six of his eight seasons in the NFL. Last year he fell short of the 1000 yard mark by 57 yards and it’d be difficult to see him getting 1000 again this year. That’s not a knock on Colston either, but with Graham being the clear number one and an emergence of younger talent like Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks – it only seems reasonable to consider the ball being spread around effectively. Stills provided some pop during the season but due to the depth chart couldn’t get on the field enough. This season he will be given his chances as will the Oregon State rookie, Brandin Cooks. Cooks is a smaller receiver with 4.3 speed and amazing cutting ability. He found himself in a perfect situation where he can be utilized in drag routes and screens – getting him in open space and letting him create is an added punch for an already stacked defense.
The Saints saw first hand in two losses in Seattle last year how playing against a formidable safety duo can cause havoc on a defense. With this knowledge forced on them, they decided to go into free agency and team up their young safety Kenny Vacaro with free agent Jairus Byrd. Both will have an immediate impact on the play of the cornerbacks including second round rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Vacaro likes being the “enforcer” type and reacts quickly to an offenses running attack, while Byrd is great at over-seeing the backside of a defense and picking up on coverage. The Saints drafted safety Vinnie Sunseri out of Alabama, but expect him to be tried out at corner this year in certain situations. If the Saints end up going nickel – Sunseri can play the man well enough and be a force in blitz packages which can make this defense hard to read when pulling out the third linebacker.
The front seven of the Saints are the chess pieces for Rob Ryan’s attack. Rob falls in line with the rest of his Ryan Family blood and absolutely loves to blitz. Junior Gallette racked up 12.5 sacks last season and benefitted greatly with the Ryan scheme. John Jenkins isn’t flashy at nose tackle but most nose tackles aren’t. He can fill the holes and over power most centers which works out perfectly in a 3-4 blitz scheme because it forces the left or right guard on offensive to pinch in and leave a tackle defenseless against added pressure.
The Saints have a balance back to their offense and defense – add to the fact that Cooks will be used in special teams, they have all three facets of the game in check. The defense has to prove that last year was no aberration and with the addition of Byrd to the team they should only improve. Saints may have made all the right moves in the off-season to represent the NFC when it’s all said and done.
2014 Prediction: 11-5
Pro Bowl Selections: Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Jairus Byrd, Zach Strief, Cameron Jordan