The New Orleans Saints are coming off an extremely disappointing 2014 season in which they were a paltry 7-9. Even still, with a play or two going the other way, they could easily have won the NFC South. At 7-9 they only missed winning the South by a half game as the Panthers won it at 7-8-1. New Orleans lost several close contests, especially at home where they are normally close to unbeatable.
There was the San Francisco game when Jimmy Graham looked like he caught the game winning touchdown only to have it nullified on offensive pass interference. They lost in overtime. The Saints lost the first two games of the season by a total of five points, 37-34 (OT) to the Falcons in Week One and 26-24 to the Browns in Week Two. They also lost 24-23 to Detroit and 34-27 to Baltimore. So one can see how with a little bit of that “doing what it takes to win” magic that all playoff teams have, the Saints could have easily had double digit wins.
However, the Saints fans should be concerned that the Falcons swept them and both Atlanta and Carolina blew them out in the Superdome. They were also a play away from losing to the hapless Bucs twice, beating them both times by only three points. But even with all of this the Saints were still a team that put a good beat down on a very tough Green Bay Packers team and went to Carolina and won 28-10. So they had some talent there. Truth be told, they really should have won the NFC South easily.
What went wrong and how do they fix it?
Graphic via wkdq
One thing that went wrong really can’t be fixed and that is star quarterback Drew Brees is getting older. He is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but last season was the third in a row where he threw fewer touchdowns than the previous year. He also threw more picks than in 2013.
He has gone from 49 touchdowns to 43 to 39 and last year 33. At 36 years old it would be hard to see that going the other way. So what can they do? Apparently not throw the ball to Jimmy Graham anymore as he has been shipped off to the Seahawks along with a first round pick for Max Unger and a fourth round pick. This signals the Saints may be going to try to run the ball more. The Saints went out and signed experienced running back C.J. Spiller as a free agent from Buffalo.
Spiller has run for 1244 yards in 2012 and 933 in 2013 before he was slowed by injuries in 2014. If he can give the Saints a thousand yards and eight or nine touchdowns on the ground, that could take some of the pressure off of Brees, who will also be without Kenny Stills at receiver, who was traded to Miami for a linebacker.
So, will the Saints new “balanced offense” work? We will have to wait and see. Spiller is going into his sixth season which is a long time for a running back. The Saints will still have Mark Ingram who ran for 943 yards a year ago. If Ingram and Spiller can coexist and give the Saints a good one-two punch at running back, they could be very good on offense. Brandin Cooks is going to have to step it up in his second year. He had three touchdown catches and averaged 55 yards a game in his rookie season. This evidently was impressive enough for the Saints to ship Stills to the Dolphins and make him the starter opposite veteran Marques Colston, Brees go-to guy. Colston figures to see a lot of double teaming from opposing secondaries so Cooks needs to get open and make plays.
As previously stated, this division was the weakest in the league a year ago and does not figure to get a whole lot better this year. The Falcons are going with a new coach, the Bucs have a rookie starting at quarterback and two rookies figure to start on the offensive line. The Panthers will be the main completion for the Saints again and it is probably time to call Cam Newton what he is. He’s a good but not great NFL quarterback who figures to get worse as he ages and can no longer run the ball as effectively. If this is the year the Panthers decide he has to become a “pocket quarterback” they might be in trouble.
So looking at the big picture, one can see the Saints getting back to the playoffs very easily if they can run the ball. That will be the key.
Graphic via sportsjourney