The New Orleans Saints are currently mired in mediocrity and there may be no way out during the waning years of the prolific career of quarterback Drew Brees, a certain first ballot Hall of Famer.
The Saints haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, finishing the last three years with identical 7-9 records, the very definition of mediocre. The problem is that New Orleans has played lousy defense, has lacked a consistent running game and has to play from behind too many times.
The latter is great for Brees’s stats – he is currently third in all-time NFL passing yards with 66,111 and is good for around 5,000 per year. The Superdome with its fast track is the venue where the Saints score most of their points and there are shootouts aplenty every season.
That, however, is the problem. A bit more defense and ball control would do wonders and preserve their aging quarterback’s throwing arm. That’s probably easier said than done in the NFC South where the Saints have to play the following teams twice: Matt Ryan’s scoring machine Falcons, the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton and rising Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston.
In what amounts to a big roll of the dice, New Orleans took a chance on former Vikings star runner Adrian Peterson, a once dynamic back but he’s had injuries, a long suspension and is getting older. Can he return to even a semblance of his former self? That question could be one of the keys to the season. Mark Ingram will return to carry the load if A.P. can’t.
With receivers, it never seems to matter who is lining up when Brees is throwing the ball. This is probably a good thing since the Saints got fleeced by Bill Belichick and the crafty Patriots in a lopsided deal for speedster Brandin Cooks who is destined for stardom in New England.
Now that Cooks is gone, it will be imperative that Michael Thomas follows up on his outstanding rookie year when he caught 92 balls for 1,137 yards and 9 scores. Willie Snead is another receiver who has demonstrated that he has the ability to make the big play. New Orleans also signed Ted Ginn Jr. as a free agent. From what I have seen as a fan over the years, I’m not sure that it really matters who the receiver is as long as Brees is throwing the ball.
With their quarterback aging it is important to keep him healthy and the Saints addressed their offensive line by drafting Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk in the second round, this guy was rated by many to be the best tackle on the board and he fell into the Saints lap at #32.
It seems like the last time that the Saints actually had a defense was back in their Super Bowl championship season and the infamous “BountyGate” NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre took a beating unlike this author has ever seen in nearly 50 years of watching football. They are probably occasionally still picking pieces of him out of the turf at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
But that was an eternity ago in NFL time.
The Saints ranked 27th in overall defense last year and dead last against the pass.
They are hoping that the addition of first round draft pick Marshon Lattimore out of Ohio State and then snagged safety Marcus Williams of Utah. These two can’t help but shore up a horrendous secondary.
The Saints have talent on the defensive line but have yet to translate that into production on the field, they finished 27th in sacks in 2016 which is not a good number considering the level of quarterbacking talent in their division.
Head coach Sean Payton returns to call the shots, it will be season number ten for him in the Big Easy.
So, what does it all mean?
Barring any catastrophic quarterback injuries to the other teams in the NFC South, the Saints will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs. Once again, Brees will keep them alive solely through his head and arm but it’s hard to see anything other than mediocrity once again in 2017.
If the Saints manage to go 8-8 or 9-7 it would be a minor miracle.
But they will always have that magical Super Bowl season and nobody can take that away from them even if their quarterback’s spectacular career will only end with one ring.