New Orleans Saints 2016 Preseason: Positives and Negatives
The New Orleans Saints are now only a few days away from the start of the regular season. The first match-up against the Oakland Raiders will be a good test for a team we really don’t know much about yet. But after the preseason, we do know a little bit. So therefore we will take a look at what we saw throughout the four preseason games and what we think about it.
For the second straight year, the New Orleans Saints went through the preseason without winning a single game. In fact, they have lost the last 9 games they have played in the preseason. It might not mean a lot, but it’s still not a good sign for a team who’s looking to have their first winning record since 2013.
So obviously there are some negatives involved when recapping this preseason. Many, actually. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t see some good things from the team. Several players showed out and solidified themselves as big contributors and some played well enough to take a roster spot.
We will now take a look at some of the positives and negatives we saw on offense and defense.
Brees looks like Brees
For the last 10 years, New Orleans Saints fans have had the pleasure of watching one of the greatest offences in NFL history. That is mainly due to Drew Brees and Sean Payton. The two have managed to perform on a high level every season, no matter the personnel.
And while the offense had some struggles throughout the preseason, Brees looked like the Brees we know and love. Against the Patriots, he completed his only pass to Brandin Cooks for 37 yards and finished with a rating of 118.8. Against the Steelers, he completed 75% of his 12 passes and also added a touchdown. The only drive he played against the Ravens lead to a field goal. He had 40 passing yards on the drive, and he finished the game with a rating of 71.5.
The only bad game Brees had was against the Texans. The pressure from the defensive line constantly got to him, and he had a hard time going through his reads. That eventually led to an interception, but one that should’ve been called back for defensive holding. Brees was targeting Michael Thomas, who clearly was held by a linebacker when Drew threw the ball.
WR corps looks good
We were all hoping the wide receiver position would be solidified when the Saints drafted Michael Thomas in the 2nd round. Thomas seemed like the perfect replacement for the Saints legend Marques Colston, and also the perfect compliment to the two smaller receivers Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead.
In the first game against New England, Thomas played amazingly. He caught 4 passes for a total of 67 yards. That in itself was impressive, but it’s was the way he did it that caught eyes. Two of the balls he caught where in extremely tight coverage, but he still managed to come down with the football.
It wasn’t only Thomas who played well. Snead had a great game against Pittsburgh in the third game. He made an amazing grab in the endzone and finished the game with 58 yards. A really solid number for a preseason game.
Then we have perhaps the surprise of the offseason: TommyLee Lewis. The quick receiver from Northern Illinois made his presence felt. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 3rd highest rated receiver in the preseason after the Steelers game. A very impressive stat, that clearly shows why the Saints decided to keep him and even why many thought he might push Brandon Coleman out of the rotation.
So all in all the receiving corps looks strong. Cooks didn’t get the ball much, but that should change when it’s Drew throwing him the ball all game. Outside of that Snead, Thomas and Lewis showed that we can count on them going into the regular season. A really good sign for the Saints going forward.
One of the big offseason priorities for the New Orleans Saints was to get bigger and stronger at the line of scrimmage. Last year they gave up a league high 4.9 yards per carry to opposition ball carriers. So the team went out and added two defensive tackles (Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins) to improve their interior pressure and dreadful run defense, and so far it looks like it’s working.
Because of the Rankins injury, Dennis Allen has been forced to play Nick Fairly and Tyeler Davison next to one another and it seems to be the perfect combination. Davison is taking on blockers and pushing them back and Fairley is shooting the gaps with force, trying to get into the backfield and catch the ballcarrier.
Not only are those two guys important. The new linebacking corps are showing their strength as well. Guys like James Laurinaitis, Dannell Ellerbe and Nate Stupar has shown up consistently around the ball carriers behind or near the line of scrimmage. That has lead to a solid 3.5 yards per carry–an above average number for the NFL, if you look at the 2015 season.
Hopefully this will carry over to the regular season.
Last season when Dennis Allen took over, after Rob Ryan was fired, he didn’t have the personnel or the time to make the changes he wanted. He came into a team that had been shifting between different schemes and a team that had a very complex playbook. It showed on the field as missed assignments became a regular sight throughout the regular season. Something that obviously hurt the defense.
So throughout the offseason, Dennis Allen has been trying to simplify the defense and it shows. The players seems to be in their place and they know where they have to be. This also means they can clear their minds and just play football.
Last season, there was often only one guy to tackle the ball carrier and if he missed, it would result in a big gain for the offense. Now we have players running to the ball much faster than earlier. When Delvin Breaux ripped the ball out of Le’veon Bell’s hands in the first quarter, there was six guys around to recover the fumble.
This is just a step in the right direction, but definitely something that should help the defense in 2016.
Signing Paul Kruger
The Saints desperately needed a pass rusher when Hau’oli Kikaha went down. They where hoping Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham could come in and help, but neither of the two seemed to be the answer. Enter Paul Kruger. The veteran pass rusher was released by the Cleveland Browns in the preseason and New Orleans reacted. They quickly set up a meeting and apparently it went well. The day after the meeting Kruger announced he would sign with the Saints, despite also visiting the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kruger might not be as good as he once was, but he is a big upgrade to the Saints roster. He only had 2.5 sacks in 2015, but he had 40+ pressure. Something the Saints really need, as they try to replace the injured Hau’oli Kikaha.
Signing Kruger might be the big splash New Orleans Saints fans where hoping for, but it should help the defense get to the passer in 2016.
The talk all preseason has been about the offensive line. This now seems to be the biggest problem with this New Orleans Saints roster. They do have Terron Armstead and Max Unger, but outside of that, the line looks weak and it showed in preseason. The team rotated guys like Senio Kelemete, Tim Lelito and Andrus Peat to see if any of them could secure a spot, but without success. The line struggled week after week and made life hard for the quarterbacks. But it wasn’t only the pass game who suffered. The Saints only got 3.6 yards per carry when they ran the ball. Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller both looked good, but most of the time they had to create the yards by themselves.
The play from Peat has been maybe the biggest problem. No matter where he has played he has struggled. This is not what you expect from a 13th overall pick. To be fair, the team hasn’t helped him either. He continues to move around the line and the coaches can’t seem to find a spot for him. For the o-line to get anywhere, the coaches need to decide on a position for Peat, so he can get some stability and only focus on getting better at one spot.
This is a fairly new situation for the Saints. For years they have had an above average o-line, but suddenly it’s become their biggest weakness. The Saints play a lot of good pass rushers throughout the year and they can’t afford to consistently let the pressure get to Brees. The newly extended quarterback is not getting any younger and for the Saints to win any games, they need number 9 under center.
For the Saints to be successful in 2016, they have to take care of the ball. In the preseason, they couldn’t manage that. 10 turnovers in 4 games and three of those were returned for touchdowns. That is nowhere near the standard Sean Payton and the offense is looking for.
While some of the blame should be on the offensive line, it’s also because of bad throws and lack of awareness with the football. Ingram fumbled on the third play of the preseason. Garrett Grayson threw four interceptions. Luke McCown threw an interceptions in the endzone and lost two fumbles.
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Most of these turnovers were just bad decisions. The Saints can’t have that. Especially when they have a defense that’s trying to get back from one of the worst seasons in league history. Getting Dennis Allen and his defense good field position will be key to having a successful season.
You could argue that the worst part of this preseason was losing Sheldon Rankins to injury. The Saints had high hopes for the newly acquired defensive tackle, but they will have to wait until midseason to see what he can do. In the first game against the Patriots, Rankins looked good in both the run game and the passing game and the partnership with Tyeler Davison looked amazing up front. Combine that with the rotation of the former first round pick Nick Fairley and you would think the Saints had one of the best defensive tackle rotations.
Now the team has different situation. Dennis Allen can definitely still play a solid rotation, but the loss of Rankins hurts a lot. The Saints finally had a guy they could keep on field on all 3 downs and then mix in Fairley and Davison. Now they will have to use guys like David Onyemata and John Jenkins. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but fans and coaches were really looking forward to seeing the first round pick in action.
Performance against Pittsburg
The Saints came into the week 3 game against the Steelers hoping to get their first win in 8 preseason games. Unfortunately the chances of victory fell quickly. The defense surrendered 14 points in the first quarter and looked overmatched. On the first drive, Big Ben had his way with the defense. He marched his team all the way down to the endzone and unfortunately is looked fairly easy. He had all day to get the ball away and he took advanced of it.
The next drive wasn’t much better. De’vante Harris didn’t turn his head quick enough in press coverage and surrendered a 50+ yard touchdown to Antonio Brown.
The bleeding didn’t stop when Big Ben left the game and Landry Jones entered. Jones also picked apart the defense and finished the game with 206 yards.
This game should serve as a remainder that the defense it still a work in progress. Dennis Allen and his defense has made strides towards improvement, but their is still some way to go.