Four areas the New Orleans Saints must improve in
By John Hendrix
The New Orleans Saints are gearing up for another season. This year’s squad looks to completely wash their hands of the dismal 7-9 season from a year ago. During the offseason, there have been a lot of flashy additions and shocking subtractions in the Big Easy. You get a very bizarre feeling when you realize that the days of seeing Jimmy Graham take over a game on offense due to mismatches are over, at least in black and gold. On the other hand, it’s exciting to see what new players like Brandon Browner and Stephone Anthony will bring to the table on defense.
In order for the Saints to have a chance to get into the postseason, and ultimately go deep in the playoffs, I believe there are several areas in which Sean Payton’s squad must turn in a better effort than 2014. I’ve previously preached on tackling efficiency, which ranks as my absolute top area to fix. So, here’s my other four areas of improvement in no particular order.
This has been a very inconsistent category for the Saints over the past several years. Just see how it’s looked on defense in terms of takeaways:
- 2014 | Rob Ryan – 17 (28th)
- 2013 | Rob Ryan – 19 (29th)
- 2012 | Steve Spagnuolo – 26 (13th)
- 2011 | Gregg Williams – 16 (31st)
- 2010 | Gregg Williams – 25 (T-21st)
- 2009 | Gregg Williams – 39 (2nd)
It’s somewhat interesting that as bad as 2012 was for the New Orleans Saints, the defense was still able to generate turnovers. As for this season, the additions of new blood like Brandon Browner, Kyle Wilson, Dannell Ellerbe, Stephone Anthony, and Hau’oli Kikaha hopes to help the defense generate turnovers. Naturally, we’ve heard the same hype and promise before through practices, minicamp, and preseason, but it ultimately has to translate onto the field.
As far as the offensive side, it’s more of the same rollercoaster:
- 2014 – 30 (28th); Brees’ interceptions: 17
- 2013 – 19 (4th); Brees’ interceptions: 12
- 2012 – 24 (15th); Brees’ interceptions: 19
- 2011 – 19 (T-4th); Brees’ interceptions: 14
- 2010 – 31 (T-24th); Brees’ interceptions: 22
- 2009 – 28 (T-16th); Brees’ interceptions: 11
You can make a valid conclusion that when the New Orleans Saints take care of the ball, it makes all of the difference in the world. Generally speaking, the Saints took care of the ball in each of their playoff run seasons. A big emphasis shifts to how Drew Brees performs in games. While he had some respective opportunities, Brees was still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. However, compared to previous years, Brees was not nearly as dominant at home.
2014 Home: 16 TD, 9 INT
2014 Away: 17 TD, 8 INT
2013 Home: 27 TD, 3 INT
2013 Away: 12 TD, 9 INT
2012 Home: 26 TD, 8 INT
2012 Away: 17 TD, 11 INT
2011 Home: 29 TD, 6 INT
2011 Away: 17 TD, 8 INT
Trailing by halftime is a fairly common theme when you finish the season 7-9. Here are just some of the deficits the New Orleans Saints faced last year after two quarters of play:
- Week 4: Dallas (24-0)
- Week 10: San Francisco (21-10)
- Week 11: Cincinnati (13-3)
- Week 14: Carolina (24-3)
- Week 17: Tampa Bay (20-7)
On the other hand, look at some of the leads the Saints had in games, and still lost.
- Week 1: Atlanta (led 20-10)
- Week 7: Detroit (10-3)
- Week 12: Baltimore (led 17-14)
I know many people talk about the Saints being a second half team, and it clearly showed in games like San Francisco and Tampa Bay when the team rallied back, but when you can’t get off on the right foot, it only spells disaster.
The Saints will be battle tested out of the gate, as the team opens in the desert at Arizona, then faces two NFC South foes with Tampa Bay and Carolina, and then takes on two strong NFC East opponents in Dallas and Philadelphia. The New Orleans Saints can ill afford to start 2015 with a lopsided losing record.
Third Down Efficiency
Let’s start with the good. On offense, the Saints led the league in third down conversion percentage. The offense converted 48.3 percent of their third down attempts, gaining a first down 98 times out of 203 attempts.
On the flip side, when you turn in such a bad performance on defense, there are common themes that emerge. Third down efficiency on defense, or the lack thereof, was a sad sight last season. The Saints defense didn’t finish dead last, but wasn’t far off from being there.
New Orleans Saints (31st) – 99/215, 46.0%
Atlanta Falcons (32nd) – 95/203, 46.8%
For some perspective, the Saints were among the leaders in third down defense in 2013, turning in a 9th overall performance. That fourth ranked squad allowed only 34.7 percent conversion on 199 attempts. Ryan’s 2013 squad also saw the least amount of defensive snaps for any team with 943 total snaps. In 2014, the Saints defense saw a total of 1,022 total snaps, which was 15th least in the league.
The correlation goes hand in hand. When you can’t get your defense off the field, you’ll stay on longer. Sadly, that means when your offense stalls, you can’t have adequate rest. That all equals disaster, and that’s what we witnessed last season.
Protecting Drew Brees
This is one of the most important areas where the New Orleans Saints need to improve. In the past two seasons, Drew Brees has been sacked nearly as many times (66) as his first four combined (67). The team invested heavily in improving this area during the offseason by trading for center Max Unger, and adding some real beef with rookie Andrus Peat.
Brees led the league with 702 drop backs last season, and the next closest was Atlanta’s Matt Ryan with 683. Brees was hurried 159 times and hit 44 times last season.
Here’s where things get interesting for Drew Brees, as per Pro Football Focus:
There are multiple areas that a team can work to fix from one season to the next, and the New Orleans Saints have their respective hands full with multiple areas. In order for them to even have an opportunity to land in the playoffs, they’ll have to address these respective areas and more to be contenders.
Do you agree with this list? Do you believe there are more areas you’d add? Let us know below!