Not long ago, the New Orleans Saints were Super Bowl contenders. Now they’re watching from home, having missed the playoffs for the third straight year.
Players and coaches in the New Orleans Saints locker room firmly believe that this team is close to a breakthrough. Even Lance Moore recently compared the 2016 Saints to the 2008 team that preceded the Super Bowl winners of 2009.
But it’ll take more than patience to take this team back to the championships. While the 2016 roster was generally much stronger than had been the 2014 or 2015 rosters, holes remain. The Saints need to put together another strong offseason if they want to compete in 2017.
So as we all sit down and watch Super Bowl LI, let’s take a moment to think about what the Saints can learn from these two teams, the Patriots and the Falcons.
Each team seems to have its own tale to tell. And each points in a different direction of focus for the Saints.
The Falcons have one of the most dangerous, versatile offenses in league history.
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The unit is arguably more difficult to stop than the Saints’ vaunted 2011 offense. And with such a dominant unit, the Falcons were able to coast easily to the Super Bowl with a less-than-mediocre defense.
I would even argue that the Saints, when healthy, have a better defensive roster than the Falcons. But that offense is just so good…
It’s astounding how well-rounded the unit is. At each position, at quarterback, receiver, running back, offensive line, the Falcons have one of the league’s top groups. With so many weapons they are virtually impossible to contain.
If there’s a lesson in this Falcons roster for the Saints, I’d say it lies somewhere between their running backs and their offensive line.
The Saints already elite talent at receiver. Their tight ends are arguably more competent than the Falcons, and MVP or not, Brees is a better QB than Ryan. But for all their acclaim, it’s hard to argue that the Saints O-Line can compete with the Falcons’. And Mark Ingram is a great back, but the Saints could use a more explosive receiving threat.
The Falcons making the Super Bowl so easily makes the point that a truly dominant offense can take a team anywhere.
But that’s a dangerous road for the Saints to travel. When an offense already performs at such a high level, you need to add top-tier talent to see improvement. And that same level of talent might pay more dividends for their struggling defense.
And while the composition of the Patriot’s roster is further away from the Saints’, I’d be happier to see them follow New England’s direction than Atlanta’s.
The Patriots have a much more balanced roster than the Falcons do. They have a top-tier offense and a top-tier defense. And while the Saints aren’t nearly at the Patriot’s defensive level, a little help in that department could bring them back into Super Bowl contention.
With Tom Brady under center, the Patriots are easily able to maintain a dangerous offense. They don’t need to spend big money on that side of the ball, and are able to turn under-the-radar players into game-changers just by the competency of Brady and Belichick.
The Saints have a very similar setup with Payton and Brees. And while Brees is entering the twilight of his career, he’s shown no sign that he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
I believe that gives the Saints some leeway to focus on their defense. Much like they did with the Jimmy Graham trade, they should be able to make concessions on offense that benefit the other side of the ball.
I’m not saying they should trade away any offensive talent. The only player worth considering in a trade is Brandin Cooks, and I’m not sure I’d like the move. (It is worth thinking about, though.)
But I’d be frustrated to see the Saints spend a high draft pick on offense. Unless it’s at O-Line or possibly at RB, any such pick would bring back less value than an equally talented player at DL or LB.
If the Saints want to compete, they need to take a page out of something in this Super Bowl. And if you ask me, it’s this: Trust your HoF coach and QB combo to keep the offense afloat. Put together a competent defense.