In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the 2014 New Orleans Saints are gearing up for another season. This year’s squad looks to make some huge noise when it comes to the postseason. For veterans like Jonathan Goodwin, Champ Bailey, Shayne Graham, Ben Watson, and Drew Brees, it could be one of their final shots to taste a sweet Lombardi Trophy.
When you look at the overall roster of this year’s team, it’s quite impressive, to say the least. I firmly believe that this is one of the most talented teams the Saints have had in quite some time. Furthermore, I also believe that this team, on paper, is better than the 2009 and 2011 team.
Take your blinders off for a second, Who Dat Nation. The New Orleans Saints aren’t perfect. In order for the Saints to have a chance to get into the postseason, and ultimately go deep into the playoffs, I believe there are several areas in which the Saints must put in a better effort than 2013.
I bring those to you, in no particular order.
#4 – Special Teams
In my opinion, this is a no-brainer. The Saints did boast one of the better kickoff return games in the NFL last year, finishing the season with a 25.3 yard kick return average. This was good for 7th overall in 2013. However, when it came to punt return average, their 7.5 yard average gave them a 26th overall ranking. In general, the NFL is seeing a rapid decline in kickoff returns for touchdowns, as there were only six teams to finish with a tally in that department (Eagles – 2; Bears, Broncos, Packers, Vikings, Falcons – 1). The Saints have not had a special teams return for a touchdown since Darren Sproles did so in the 2011 season opener against the Green Bay Packers. It seems like an eternity ago.
The answer is unclear at this point, but there’s a strong chance a combination of running back Travaris Cadet and rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks (if the Saints choose to use him) will make this a stronger presence in 2014.
Let’s also not ignore that the kicking position has also been an area for improvement, but if you’ve been reading my articles, you know my stance on that.
#3 – Execution
The Saints did not consistently perform in road games last season. In the majority of road game losses, it was a fairly horrible sight by halftime. Don’t remember? Take a look at these scores:
- New England (17-7)
- New York Jets (20-14)
- Seattle (27-7)
- St. Louis (24-3)
- Carolina (7-6)
- Seattle (16-0) *Divisional Round*
Drew Brees talked about the importance of not letting the crowd get into the game, but it always ended up being a factor. In road losses, Brees and company turned the ball over, which ended up being silent killers. In those losses, Brees had a 7-7 TD:INT ratio versus a 32-5 TD:INT ratio in wins.
The Saints will be battle tested out of the gate, as four of their first six games will be on the road: Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit. I always say it, but the team will need to start strong in each of those respective games.
#2 – Game/Clock Management
Fun fact: In 2013, Drew Brees was the most penalized player on the New Orleans Saints. Brees was flagged twelve times, eight of which were delay of game penalties, three were false start penalties (see Buffalo), and one intentional grounding penalty. We often saw these penalties on the road, but it’s the calls at home that were really killers. Some of that game management falls on Drew Brees, but it also falls on Sean Payton.
Brees has always been a great leader, and I’m certain this is an area the Saints are silently working on getting better in. The team has even gone as far as pumping in crowd noise during their minicamp drills.
#1 - The Offensive Line
Here’s something you didn’t know about the New Orleans Saints offense last year: they led the league in holding penalties with 31. As per NFL Penalties, here’s the breakdown of penalty distribution on holding calls alone for the offensive line:
We’re aware that a couple of these players, Brown and de la Puente, are no longer with the team, so hopefully this is a good sign for this season’s offensive line. With the addition of veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, the Saints should limit the amount of sacks on Brees, boast a better running game, and have less mental errors in the penalty department.
Arguably, there are more areas that the Saints need to improve in to be Super Bowl contenders. Don’t think that I didn’t already talk about turnovers, as that was a subject I touched on a couple of weeks ago. So, what’s the bottom line? The equation and formula all seem to favor the Saints this season, but ultimately, the team will make their own destiny.
I love their chances.
Do you agree with this list? Do you believe there are more areas you’d add? Let us know below!