2014 Season Preview
New Orleans Saints
The Saints live and breathe from Drew Brees, who had yet another stellar year, and taking me to first place in my fantasy league (again) he was again joined by Jimmy Graham, who continues to give all DC’s fits and some of the best wideouts in the NFL. Lance Moore coming back and having a good year definitely shows its more the Saints QB and system more than anything else that makes this engine go. The issue on offense was the dropoff of the running game, barely averaging over 92 yards a game. The Saints have used the running backs as targets in the passing game as well, but a lack of being able to push the ball forward cost them several games, and many eyes are still waiting on Mark Ingram to do anything.
Defensively, this team was amazing behind Rob Ryan, who is quickly becoming a cult hero in New Orleans. He’s deserved it all, chopping the yards allowed from 440 to 305 in a single year. Ryan did get some talent, notably Kenny Vaccaro, but he didn’t get THAT much help. The Saints start the season with some cap questions looming, a QB who is starting to slide, and a tough division in a tough conference that isn’t getting easier.
The offensive line is a good one, but not great. One on one, almost every player can hold up against everyone, but they do have a tendency to get used to the pass blocking and forget how to slam a defensive line back a few feet. This line is talented however, and should be a collection of maulers, the only problem is much like the line in Denver, when you pass block seemingly 90% of the time, then its hard to bite down and shove.
Next up, is the running backs. Darren Sproles is gone, off to get drafted too early in fantasy drafts in Philly, and Pierre Thomas is still here to be unappreciated until the season starts, Khiry Robinson might be a solid back, but he did only roll up 224 more yards than I did last year. Mark Ingram is also back for the final year of his rookie deal, and thankfully turned down a 5.2M dollar deal that would have made the cap-o-nomics even more fun. I have to think that either Ingram is an idiot, or the Saints have a secret deal to bring him back, as no team is going to pay him 5M a year- not even the Browns.
Finally we look at the guys on the outside, and sad to say, this also includes Jimmy Graham, possibly the best second round pick in Fantasy history. Jimmy was simply amazing- until Richard Sherman shut him down almost singlehandedly. Its going to be interesting to see how the league reacts to that effort and who gets designated to try and do that 16 times a year. If you stop Graham, then the Saints have trouble. Brees loves to spray the ball around, making it hard to figure out what 3rd string fullback is doing out there running a curl route. Colston is still working on his Hall-of-Fame resume, and since he isn’t stupid, he’s not going anywhere. Kenny Stills is looking to take over for Moore once and for all, and Robert Meecham is back. Oddly enough, the Saints drafted Brandin Cooks- for no other reason than to drive the rest of the NFC South crazy when the Saints get the rules changed to allow them to have 7-WR sets.
On the Defensive side of the ball, there is another year of good but not great players- or great players surrounded by players that need to do something.
The defensive line is solid, with Cameron Jordan finally breaking through to 5th in the NFL in sacks, but can he keep it up? You also have to look at Akiem Hicks who looked good after moving to Left Defensive End. The weak point is John Jenkins who is going to be fighting Broderick Bunkley- who did so well last year he got a pay cut in the offseason.
The next line back has some issues, Curtis Lofton had a solid year looking like he did as a Falcon, David Hawthorne had his best year as a pro, and Junior Galette also had his best year as a pro. See any connection there? Exactly. Rob Ryan did an amazing job, and this group is why. But when 75% of a unit has their best year EVER as Saints, then that may not bode well for a repeat, not like this trio are rookies (Galette is in year 6, the other two in year 8) the fourth member of the group is Victor Butler, who celebrated his signing from Dallas by blowing out his knee last year. The Saints do have some depth, however, but I wonder if Ryan can get a repeat here from all three guys.
The next level back is to me, the best part of the Saints Defense. Adding Kenny Vaccaro was everything I was afraid of, and he’s going to get better. Adding Byrd could give the Saints one of the best Safety combo in the NFL, and they are YOUNG to boot. Having Keenan Lewis and rookie Jean-Baptiste- who should take over for Champ Bailey by Halloween, allowing Champ to play spot duty and HoF Nickelback, adding in Rafael Bush as a third safety/dime package and Ryan just has a lot of toys back here. If Jean-Baptiste isn’t a bust- then this unit is going to give Cam and Matt Ryan nightmares for the rest of the decade.
Shane Graham is a solid kicker, and seems to have finally taken the role, Morestead is liked by the organization, but I think he could be better- but a punter on the Saints isn’t exactly a place you are worried about. The return game is going to have problems, with no Sproles and Cadet might not have the starting job nailed down. The depth at WR would make you think this isn’t an issue, but it is, and the coverage unit can be boom or bust late in games.
Again, my big issue is taking a WR when they have such riches already. I would have liked a developmental QB as well, unless you got your Logan Kilgore jersey on back-order.
When I look at the Saints, I see a LOT of holes, almost every unit has a major flaw that teams should be able to exploit- Need to get to the QB? Come off the edge, since the interior is so good, need to run the ball: Go at the right side, throw 5 DBs out there and make them hand the ball off- he;ll play Dime 80% of the time and see if they can get a push.
Next thing you know you are down 34-14 and the backup trainer had 134 yards and the 4th string tight end is trending on twitter after his third TD dance.
So how does that handle the rest of the league? Its a pick your poison team. Either slow the game down and try and keep that offense off the field- or shut down the big play and make them go on a 12 play drive and hope something happens or Lance Moore drops the ball or that guy that no one has heard of goes left instead of right when Brees looks at him. its not a fun choice to make. The good news is Rob Ryan is a genius- but he doesn’t exactly have the Super Bowl Ravens defense out there- or even his dad ’85 Bears. That Offense can be stopped, on occasion and the defense can be attacked. You just have to hope no one has their game of the year against you, and your guys guess right when it counts.
Probable losses: Good luck beating them at home- but I look at this Lineup: @Det, Green Bay, @Carolina, San Fran, Cincy and Baltimore. You have fun with that. If that secondary isn’t tired- even with the relative breaks of Carolina and Baltimore, that’s not a fun run for any team to try and form a playoff run. Also late in the year they have a Pitt/Chi/Carolina streak, I’m not that big on the Steelers (Spoiler Alert) but you’d go broke counting out the Steelers. This year could be interesting for the black and gold, I can see that defense regressing and a 8-8 season just off that offense, and I can see that defense going up another level and getting to the 12-win mark, It all depends on if they can hit that bye week at 5-0, and then start that murderers row, if they can, then 10-12 wins should be in reach, if they stay healthy when they hit the bye. The season is set up for a good run- 5-0 to build confidence, SF is coming to them, Heck everyone comes to them this year.
EJ: I’d have to agree with you David when I look at the Saints. There are holes and yes Rob’s defense could regress. Definitely in agreement with just about everything you’ve said here. However, the Saints have an instant 5,000 yards a year passer in Drew Brees and they have Jimmy Graham. Losing Darren Sproles will hurt, and the Saints may actually try to run Thomas and Ingram more but as long as they have Brees, I love their chances in the NFC South. As far as I see it the Saints are the best team in the division. The schedule is tough, but as you said it seems most teams come to them and it’s tough to come into the Superdome and beat the Saints. So, what do I say is the record? I’ll go with 11-5 and win the divison. I feel that good about this team.
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