Well folks that’s it, the New Orleans Saints 2015 preseason is over. Well, not literally, as one more game remains against the Green Bay Packers. However, for all intents and purposes, it is over. The final game will have a limited impact on the Saints’ season in the greater sense, but it will still have a major impact on the lives of a number of young men who will still be fighting for their dreams. I don’t want it to be misinterpreted that I am making light of their efforts in any way. I am not. However, I am saying that the Saints will very rapidly begin looking towards September 13th and the beginning of the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.
Before we can get to that point, there are a number of questions that need to be answered. After 3 preseason games, I believe we have some of those answers. Other unanswered questions we still have very little to go on, and to a degree that is expected. There is only so much credence that you can give to preseason performances. Remember when the New Orleans Saints blitzed the San Francisco 49ers into oblivion in 2011? It didn’t work so well in the postseason.
Perhaps the best example I can give of how misleading the preseason can be is the 2008 Detroit Lions. They went 4-0 in the preseason, and they were ‘world beaters’. Do you remember how many games they won that year? The same number that I have played in…zero.
The preseason is about development and evaluation, and it happens on multiple levels. Naturally, you have the development of young players, especially high draft picks who you expect to play fairly quickly. There is also the process of developing the scheme both offensively and defensively. The team may enter with its ‘scheme’ installed, but it isn’t until they have live game action that they are able to truly evaluate which aspects are effective with which personnel, and which ones need to be scrapped or recalibrated.
Both ends of the development cycle are part of a larger process: evaluation. The entire purpose of the preseason is to do your best to find out who the best 53 player are, where they fit, and how they fit together. In his post-game press conference, Sean Payton mentioned that they came into the game last night with the intention of getting in more than 20 blitzes. In a real game you are not going to script a number of blitzes or anything like that, you might game plan pressure, but you don’t come in saying ‘we want to see 25-30 tonight’.
That is part of the evaluation process though, and it’s very useful for coaches; however, it is also more than a little exasperating for fans and writers like myself who are trying to tell you what we “know” about the team. The problem is that many of those conclusions end up being erroneous because we lacked the proper context to draw the same conclusions as the coaching staff, and to properly predict production going into the season. But, with that being said, let me go over a short list of my own observations/predictions based on the teams first three preseason games.
- David Hawthorne has been mostly mediocre.
- The Saints are missing a number of ‘key’ pieces.
- The young ‘talent’ in the receiving corp is still a work in progress.
- The Saints have limited depth on the defensive line.
- Jairus Byrd might be in witness protection.
- They have yet to demonstrate any sort of ‘organic’ pass rush.
- The Saints have uncovered another hidden gem in Willie Snead. (For my thoughts on Snead prior to the game you can read this)
- Drew Brees is healthy, and has a monstrous chip on his shoulder which should terrify the opposition.
- The offensive line looks not just ‘okay’, but could be one of the biggest strengths of the team.
- When they have played the ‘starters’ on defense, all have looked good, especially the corners.
- Anthony and Kikaha have both shown growth and flashes of brilliance. There will be mistakes, but both show great promise.
- Brandin Cooks is showing all the signs of being the dynamic playmaker the team needs.
- They have finally found a quality return man in Marcus Murphy.
- So far they seem to be showing the kind of unity and ‘team identity’ that was missing last year…but we will see if its sustainable throughout the season.
You will notice that my list of positives is a little longer than the negatives, and that reflects my current view on the team. I am very cautiously optimistic about the team’s chances. Let’s be clear though, this team is walking a razor’s edge right now. I DO believe that they have the potential to be a good, maybe even a very good team, but it requires a lot of things to break their way. The 2015 Saints are going to be a team of ‘ifs’ and if they are able to develop their young players quickly, get a few breaks, and play New Orleans Saints football…they have a chance to make some noise. However, at this point in time, I am certain about pretty much nothing.
I ended up recording my weekly podcast that is featured on The Saints Nation right after the game and we had special guest in WWLTV contributor Ralph Malbrough (a highly entertaining Saints follow on twitter at @Saintsforecast by the way) who gave his opinions on the teams prospects and how the roster will shake out. I will cover the New Orleans Saints fourth preseason game, but expect me to being turning my attention to the regular season and the opening week game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 13th. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I can guarantee one thing for sure: this is going to be an exciting year…one way or another.