Something is happening down in the bayou.
For years the New Orleans Saints were all offense, and specifically all passing. Sean Payton and Drew Brees created a juggernaut of an aerial attack that dominated the skies for years, but the rest of the team was wasting away.
In 2017 though, everything is coming together.
Running with a purpose
While the Adrian Peterson experiment didn’t work, the idea had a firm basis. Payton wanted a ground game that could chew clock and take some pressure off Brees’ arm, and while the former-MVP couldn’t do it for them, the duo of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara have become a dynamic partnership, with both able to run outside and between the tackles as well as a threat to catch the ball.
They don’t give anything away like Peterson did, and they allow Payton to run the entire offense regardless of who is in the backfield.
The Saints currently rank seventh in rushing yards per game (122.8), up from 24th (93.2) in 2015 and 16th (108.9) last season. While that difference doesn’t sound like much the consistency with which they have been able to move the ball on the ground has eased Brees’ workload considerably.
For the first time since 2009 Brees on pace to throw fewer than 600 passes in the regular season. He is putting up 276.8 yards per game which is his fewest since 2007. However, Brees’ completion percent (71.6%) is the highest mark of his career, his interception rate (1.5%) is the lowest of his career.
He has been able to pick and choose his spots far more often and been able to rely on play-action more as well.
There is another reason why Brees is throwing less too…
Dennis Allen is in his third year as the Saints defensive coordinator, and things are finally coalescing for him. Through Week 8 the pass defense ranked fourth in DVOA, and while they are some way off the Jacksonville Jaguars, against the pass the Saints have been very, very good.
The addition of rookie corner Marshon Lattimore has already paid off massively. The former-Buckeye has given the Saints a corner who can exist one-on-one against the best receivers in the NFL, and is ably assisted by the #2 corner Ken Crawley.
With better coverage the Saints have been able to get to the quarterback in more ways. Alex Okafor and Vonn Bell have been freed to rush more, Kau’oli Kikaha has been getting home, but the whole unit has been led by Cam Jordan in a way that we haven’t seen before.
Jordan has always been a useful player, and even reached into the realm of “very good” every now and then. The two-time Pro Bowler has been a somewhat forgotten member of an incredible 2011 class, but he is coming into his own this season. Jordan leads the team with seven sacks, eight tackles for loss, and 14 QB hits. He has man-handled blockers and owned his gap on every down.
Jordan’s spectacular play was clear on Sunday as he threw Demar Dotson into Jameis Winston’s lap before flooring the Bucs QB and effectively ending his day.
With the defense going from allowing 375.4 yards and 28.4 points per game last season to just 326.6 yards and 19.4 points in 2017, Brees doesn’t have to be constantly chasing another touchdown, and as a result can play sensible football.
There are several new powers emerging from the NFC this year, including the headline-grabbing 8-1 Eagles, but the Saints are every bit as well balanced as they are. These Saints don’t feel new because Sean Payton and Drew Brees are still there, but they are as fresh as the Los Angeles Rams are. These Saints have not been there before, they are new to success in the NFL, and how they handle expectations and pressure will be very interesting to watch moving forward.
So far the Saints have been a complete team, getting production and points from all three phases of the game and finding ways to dominate despite using cast-offs like AJ Klein and Manti Te’o in key roles.
The NFC South is an intriguing race right now, with the Saints on top and the Panthers continuing to find ways to win, but they do not look half the team that the Saints have been so far this season. If you are looking at the NFL and wondering who will emerge from the NFC it is easy to point to the flashy Eagles and ever-present Seahawks, but you overlook the Saints at your peril.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?