Without Sean Peyton the New Orleans were mediocre shells of their former selves. Between a shoddy defense and an unbalanced offensive philosophy, the Saints struggled to find any type of consistent identity with which to excel game in and game out. Although Drew Brees still had a monumental season passing the ball (Saints were 1st in the league), without a reputable defense and a relentless running game to back him up, the Saints were nothing more than an amusing one trick pony. Despite these transgressions, the Saints were still able to finish 7-9 in their division, only one game short of .500. If this team can fix its egregious shortcomings on the field, they have a chance to not only return to their desired prominence but to resurrect their team to become competitive in the NFC.
Amongst all the devastating ailments the Saints became known for last season, only one aspect of their team was beyond exceptional: Drew Brees. While Brees wasn’t nearly as sensational last year as he was in 2011 when he completed 71.2% of his passes, he still managed to throw for over 5,000 yards and 43 touchdowns. Without Brees as their fearless leader, the Saints would have been division bottom feeders and could have easily been one of the worst teams in the NFC. After the Saints went 0-4 in first quarter of the season it appeared that they were already doomed to a lackluster existence despite the fact that Brees was averaging 337.5 yards per game during that time. Eventually, the Saints halted their surprising regression by winning five of their next six games if only because Brees came to the realization that without his leadership and athletic talents the Saints would be completely irrelevant.
Even with Brees at the helm, the Saints were extremely hindered by an embarrassing defensive front that was coupled with an abysmal secondary. During the course of the regular season the Saints allowed 292.2 passing yards per game (31st in the league) and 147.6 rushing yards per game (Last in the league). As a result, the Saints rarely had a decisive victory leaving the onus on their quarterback and inconsistent running game to bail them out of these precarious situations. Fortunately, the Saints utilized their draft picks to acquire several defensive prospects that should help them recover from last year’s woes. In the first round of the NFL draft, the Saints selected safety Kenny Vaccaro from the University of Texas. Vaccaro is a tenacious and quick witted defensive mind who became known for his ability to blanket slot receivers and tight ends, making him a highly aggressive safety that can predict where the ball is going be while making a solid tackle to prevent extra yardage.
Although the Saints had a forgettable year when it came to rushing the football, they decided to forgo selecting a running back in the draft and chose to flesh out their paper-thin defense instead. Between Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram, the Saints have a decent running corps, which lacks a degree of consistency that has prevented them from establishing an intimidating rushing attack. While Ingram had a solid year after he rushed for 602 yards and five touchdowns, the same cannot be said for Sproles who only rushed for 244 yards and a single touchdown. Both running backs have proven to solid contributors throughout their careers, however they are rarely utilized when they are needed most. If the Saints ever find themselves in sticky situations, they will almost always bet the farm on Brees’ arm to give them another chance at victory. While this isn’t necessarily an ill-advised decision, it prevents the Saints running corps from establishing a dynamic offensive attack that makes their infrequent running game almost obsolete. If the Saints are willing to take more chances on their eager running backs, they might discover some unforeseen talent and hunger that they chose to stifle last season.
In the end, it’s hard to imagine the Saints as an under the radar team that is completely one dimensional and incapable of winning consistently. If the Saints want universal success that isn’t simply predicated on whether Drew Brees has a good or bad day throwing the ball, they’ll have to step outside of their comfort zone and forge a new team identity that can keep opposing teams guessing rather than just playing it safe.