Monday, August 10, 2009

Fleur-de-Brees: New Orleans Saints Season Preview

2008 Record: 8-8

Setting offensive records is great. Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots. But in the end, as we preach, defense wins championships.

That's the long and the story heading into this season for New Orleans. Can they field a defense that is capable of stopping anyone? While this has been an incredible resurgence for a team that was dead in the water a few years ago, they are almost an exact replica of the Kansas City Chiefs of the early 2000s. They have an incredibly explosive offense, but absolutely no defense.

For as good as some of their offensive stats were last year (1st in Points, Total Yds, Passing Yds, Passing TDs, and 5th in Rushing TDs) their defense was almost as bad (26th in Points Allowed, 23rd in Total Defense, 23rd in Passing Yds). They have spent first round draft picks the last two seasons on defenders, Sedrick Ellis (DT-USC) in 2008 and Malcolm Jenkins (CB-Ohio State) in 2009. Ellis had a decent rookie year with 20 tackles (10 asst) and 4 sacks. That being said, everyone knows the way to beat the Saints isn't on the ground. The secondary has been downright awful and they need to hope that Jenkins, along with free agent additions Jabari Greer (Buffalo) and Darren Sharper (Minnesota) can fill some of the holes back there or the Saints are going to get torn apart through the air again. They also added safety Chip Vaughn (Wake Forest) in the 4th round of the draft.

The Saints return one of the better 4-3 linebacking units in the league with Jonathan Vilma in the middle and Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle on the outside. The D-line needs some help, particularly in rushing the passer. The Saints were 22nd in the league with 28 sacks last year, but no player totaled more than 6 (backup DE Bobby McCray, who started 8 games for the injured Charles Grant). Their two starting ends, Will Smith and Charles Grant (who only played 8 games) each had 3 sacks last season. The Saints brought in Paul Spicer from Jacksonville to help improve in this department.

On offense, we all know what New Orleans brings to the table. Drew Brees is the real deal at quarterback, but the team suffered tremendously when they tried to force more workload on to the back of Reggie Bush after Deuce McAllister's injury. Pierre Thomas stepped forward to fill the void at running back and had a great season last year (625 yds, 9 td) in a limited capacity. Look for the Saints to use Thomas in tandem with Bush for a solid one-two punch.

Is it scary to think the passing game might be even better this year? It's quite possible, as Marques Colston should be back from injury after only starting 6 games last season. Beyond that, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore showed that they can be capable receivers. The Saints are still waiting on former first round pick Robert Meachem to develop into the prospect he was supposed to be coming out of Tennessee.

As amazing a season as Drew Brees had last year throwing the ball, the Saints did not have one receiver break the 1,000 yard mark. In fact, only Lance Moore broke the 800-yard plateau. For as good as Brees was at spreading the ball around, this was also a major problem for the Saints offense. The Saints were a mere 6-7 in games when Brees outpassed his counterpart. The Saints were 4-2 when, as a team, they outrushed their opponents. As we have seen time and time again with our season previews (and I suspect will continue to see) outrushing your opponent has more of a direct correlation to winning than outpassing them does.

Ian's Prediction: 11-5

Success for New Orleans will come through having an effective running attack and at least a mediocre defense. If they can get their defensive numbers up into the top half of the league, look out. This team will challenge for, if not win the NFC South this year (spoiler alert: I'm picking them to win it). Every season since the NFC South began, the team that finished last went on to win the division the next year (until last year, when the Falcons came one game short). Will New Orleans do it this year? I think so. The Saints have some tough opponents on the schedule, drawing (obviously their division opponents, from the best division in football last year) the NFC East and AFC East. Circle your calendars for November 30 when the Patriots come to town for an aerial display in the dome.

John's Prediction:

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