Why the New Orleans Saints will make the playoffs: No. 4, Revamped Offensive Line


New Orleans Saints training camp is right around the corner. There’s a host of positional battles and stories we’re looking forward to seeing, and one of those is around the offensive line.

The past two seasons have seen respective struggles and inconsistencies from the front line. Drew Brees’ 66 sacks over two seasons is a major cause for concern, especially for a quarterback that still has plenty to offer.

By the Numbers: Drew Brees pressure

2014: Sacks (29), Hits (44), Hurries (159)
2013: Sacks (37), Hits (34), Hurries (136)
2012: Sacks (26), Hits (37), Hurries (135)
2011: Sacks (24), Hits (17), Hurries (142)
2010: Sacks (25), Hits (33), Hurries (151)
2009: Sacks (20), Hits (31), Hurries (99)

Speaking of pressure, Drew Brees is one of the league’s most accurate quarterbacks when it comes down to it. By Pro Football Focus’ count, Brees had 702 dropbacks with a 32.9 pressure percentage. His 12.1 sack percentage (8.5 sacks) was second lowest among the top ten quarterbacks, and Brees finished with a 73.3 percent accuracy.

The interior part of the Saints offensive line had opportunity last season, and it was evident. Of the 29 sacks Brees suffered last year, 20 were credited to offensive players last season.

Jahri Evans – 6
Zach Strief, Jonathan Goodwin, Terron Armstead – 3
Ben Watson – 2
Khiry Robinson – 2
Ben Grubbs – 1

It wasn’t all bad, as both Saints starting tackles Strief and Armstead finished out with positive grades from Pro Football Focus.

Offensive line grading (2014)

Terron Armstead: +6.0 (850 snaps)
Ben Grubbs: -0.2 (1,152 snaps)
Jonathan Goodwin: -6.8 (865 snaps)
Jahri Evans: -6.5 (1,158 snaps)
Zach Strief: +10.9 (1,076 snaps)
Bryce Harris: -17.9 (393 snaps)
Tim Lelito: -0.5 (294 snaps)

The New Orleans Saints received a major upgrade at the center position by acquiring Max Unger in the Jimmy Graham deal. Unger is still in the prime of his career, and has a lot to offer the Saints. Last year’s injury history was a stroke of bad luck. He suffered a foot injury in Week 5 that sidelined him for four weeks, recovered, and returned only to have his leg rolled up on (high-ankle sprain and twisted knee) in Week 11. He’s still an all-pro center that will provide much-needed protection for Drew Brees, and he’ll be able to open to huge lanes for Mark Ingram.

For some more perspective on what Unger brings to the table and is impact, here’s an eye-opening stat. When he returned to action after his foot injury, the Seattle Seahawks rushed for 554 yards in two games when he returned to action in Week 10. Before that in the games he missed? The Seahawks struggled heavily to gain 100 yards collectively.

The curious case of who starts at left guard is subject to debate. On one hand, many originally thought that rookie Andrus Peat would move inside to take over that spot. Sean Payton squelched those rumors quickly. So, we’re faced with Tim Lelito as the likely starter. Lelito is a strong candidate to take over those duties. He has previous experience as a guard, and I looked at some of his tape back in March. If you doubt his abilities, then I implore you to look at the film.

The biggest concern for the New Orleans Saints offensive line is health. Like many positions on the Saints roster, the team did secure some fairly appealing depth behind respective starters. The only glaring issue we should be concerned with is Jahri Evans’ status. Evans should be fully recovered after having wrist surgery in February to fix a torn ligament that hampered him in the second half of the season.

Giving Brees time in the pocket to pick apart defenses is the ultimate weapon. If the offensive line can keep Drew Brees more upright the season and build upon the successes of last year’s rushing attack, then it becomes yet another reason why we could see the New Orleans Saints in the postseason in 2015.

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