Dec 29, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) stands next to head coach Sean Payton on the sideline during the fourth quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.The Saints defeated the Buccaneers 42-17. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Kevin Roberts. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more New Orleans Saints analysis, visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
I’d like to personally thank Kevin for his willingness to help us out! Networking is always outstanding! Thanks!
Saints Evolution of Their Pass Happy Offense
Don’t look now, but the New Orleans Saints you have grown to know and love just might be dying off. While the franchised Jimmy Graham is very unlikely to be playing elsewhere anytime soon, the trade of running back Darren Sproles and cutting of slot wide receiver Lance Moore just might be a sign of things to come.
Specifically, the pass-happy Saints might just scale it back a bit and leave all of those stat-stuffing numbers for someone else to chase after. That’s right, if all of these signs tell us what they seem to be telling us, New Orleans just might start to get a little boring in 2014.
That should be completely fine with Saints fans, though.
It’s a notion that isn’t immediately welcomed with praise and excitement, of course. After all, New Orleans reached and won it’s first Super Bowl on the coattails of Brees and an exciting passing attack – one that has produced eight consecutive 4,300+ passing yardage seasons (including four over 5,000). That’s what passing 630+ times six of the last eight years will do for you, especially when you have an array of explosive and versatile weapons to throw to.
However, that strategy has only gotten New Orleans to one Super Bowl, while the team has otherwise struggled to produce consistently in the playoffs beyond that one magical run. In fact, they found it particularly tough last year on the road in Seattle, against the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Ironically, the Saints actually leaned on their rushing attack in the playoffs and got some solid production out of former first round pick Mark Ingram and undrafted stud, Khiry Robinson.
Perhaps that got head coach Sean Payton to thinking this could be something the Saints do more often. Better yet, being more balanced could simply become their offensive strategy.
While the Saints have always ridden the arm of Brees to success over the last eight years, it’s absolutely worth noting that their best season – you know, the one where they won it all – was thanks to a – you guessed it – balanced attack.
In fact, that 2009 season is the only season in the Brees/Payton partnership where Brees didn’t top 600 passing attempts. It was Brees’ lowest yardage total as a Saint, as well, but also equated to his second highest completion percentage (70.6%) and lowest interception total in New Orleans (11).
Come to think of it, it’s actually somewhat annoying for Saints fans that Payton and co. hadn’t figured this out yet. It’s true that the Saints were among the league’s best on offense anyways and that falling in love with the pass is easy when you’re so good at it. But at some point they needed to realize they needed more balance, and they just didn’t.
That is, until last season. Payton publicly noted that the Saints were far too pass-happy in his season away from the league in 2012. He couldn’t have been more right, either, as Brees was under duress almost all of the time and the Saints’ one-dimensional attack led to a career high 670 pass attempts, as well as the second most interceptions he’d thrown as a Saint (19).
It also equated to a sub par season and a failure to make the playoffs. That wasn’t going to do for Payton, and Brees’ pass attempts dropped to 650 in 2013, as the Saints got somewhat more balanced.
However, with their recent moves, it seems that they’re headed in two directions at the same time: trying to get younger on offense, and even more balanced.
There’s no telling exactly what that will wind up meaning for Brees and his numbers or just how balanced the Saints get. After all, no matter how productive Ingram, Robinson or any other Saints back is in 2014, it’s rather unlikely New Orleans suddenly turns into some run-heavy team that rarely uses Brees.
With that said, Brees is no young pup. Having just turned 35 in January, it’s entirely possible Brees will begin regressing. While that shouldn’t affect his pocket presence or accuracy for another 2-3 years, it could very well already be taking a little something off of his deep ball. That’s just one more aspect Payton needs to be prepared for, and by changing his offense and weapons to suit a more balanced attack, it’s entirely possible he has that in mind.
One other aspect is Brees and the Saints’ inability to be overly effective outside of the Superdome on a consistent basis. They did managed to march into Philadelphia and get a win in the first round of the playoffs last year, but struggled mightily in Seattle both times on the road in 2013. Those two rough efforts may have once again exposed Brees as a better indoor passer, while perhaps showing the world that the Saints in general are more of a finesse team.
That can’t be an image Payton wants to project to the rest of the league. In addition to getting tougher, more balanced and less predictable, the quiet changes in New Orleans could also possibly positively impact an improving defense.
New Orleans had quite arguably the worst defense ever in 2012, but the addition of aggressive defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and a stellar draft class quickly changed that. During the first half of the year, the Saints were in the top half of the league as an overall defensive unit. However, they dropped off near the end of the year and will be looking to add new pieces and improve even more in 2014.
Establishing the run and keeping the offense on the field longer than normal should be a great way to try to accomplish that. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the aforementioned Seahawks have become experts in this method – using ball control offense to make their already elite defenses even better.
If the Saints can keep their improving defense well rested, they hypothetically should be even better when they end up taking the field.
It’s a case of many hypotheticals, though. Payton is such a complex NFL mind that it’s foolish to try to completely figure out what he’s planning. But if we take a close look at the pieces, it looks like we have a pretty good idea as to how everything will fall into place, and if everything fits the way it appears it will, Payton should evolve just as well as he’s dominated over the past eight years.