Reliance on Third Downs
The Saints had a lot of success on third downs- they converted 11 of their 17 third-down opportunities. On the surface, this may seem like a reason for optimism. Actually, it is not.
Third-down success is one of the most volatile areas of play, which is why it is often used to teams bound to regress. The fact that the Saints were on the right side of variance AND struggled offensively is concerning.
Mainly, though, the problem with New Orleans is that this is an offense that is going to rely a lot on third downs. For the season, they averaged the tenth-most third downs per game.
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Shouldn’t the best offense have the ball longer, which means more third downs. The opposite is true. Efficient offenses have success on early downs, which allows them to avoid third-down situations. Last season, the Saints had the fourth-fewest amount of third downs.
This season, the Packers, Chiefs, and Bills, arguably the three best offenses in the NFL, ranked in the bottom-ten in third downs per game.
At the top? The Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Football Team, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, and Denver Broncos.
That isn’t exactly the group of teams New Orleans wants to be associated with, but a pattern does match- these are all conservative teams, and a majority of them run the ball on early downs.
The Bears learned this the hard way by going 1-10 on third downs, but you don’t want to rely on volatile situations to have success offensively.
With Drew Brees struggling under pressure, the Saints’ offensive hopes rely often on them avoiding as many third downs as possible. Unfortunately, given the nature of their offense, I don’t know if that is possible.