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New Orlean Saints: The 2011 version of the New York Jets?

August 22, 2012

With the NFL season soon to be kicking off I thought I’d discuss my thoughts on the most controversial teams this past offseason. The New Orleans Saints were made an example of by Commissioner Roger Goodell and given numerous huge suspensions that has put them in a unique situation. There are two streams of thought about what is going to happen this season with the Saints which I think Mike Mayock of the NFL Network sums up pretty well, “When adversity hits one of two things happen, either you fragment as a team and you’re not going to be very good or it’s us against the world and you get after everybody.” Mayock believes they will rally and be fine and I believe these suspensions will hurt them more than people think. My argument centers around 2 things: A void in leadership on many levels of the team and a team that lacks depth and can easily be put in a tailspin by an injury to any number of players. The first issue is the leadership void which has been caused by the suspensions. When looking at where leadership comes from I would say the first place is the head coach, the second place is the quarterback, the third place is either the offensive or defensive playcaller (depending on the personality of the team), and the fourth place is vocal leader on the defense. When using that guide on the Saints it becomes abundantly clear that there is a serious issue as the #1 (coach-Sean Payton), #3 (offensive playcaller-Sean Payton), and #4 (vocal lead-Jonathan Vilma) leadership positions all have been wiped out by full year suspensions from Roger Goodell and leaves only Drew Brees as a long term leader. Brees is a good place to start but he can’t throw the ball, make pre-snap adjustments for the defense, draw up a game plan during the week before the game, and take on all of the other responsibilities the others had so there clearly will be a dropoff. Leadership is one of those intangible things that sometimes gets unnoticed due to it being impossible to track yet the Saints had a very poor history before Sean Payton became the coach and a very poor defense before Jonathan Vilma became the leader. To think that losing both of those men for an entire year won’t have an effect on the team’s performance on and off the field is very naive. The second reason I think the Saints will take a step back this season is because of their lack of depth. In numerous areas the Saints are 1 injury away from having a completely inexperienced player forced into a starting role and the injury history of some of these players makes it likely that this will indeed happen. On defense the team not only lost Jonathan Vilma but also the veteran CB Tracy Porter. Both were key veterans for the defense the past few years and will be missed yet the biggest issue I see with this defense is actually the pass rush as Will Smith had 7 or more sacks each of his first 4 seasons in the league yet had 7 or fewer sacks 4 of the past 5 seasons and looks to be a player in decline. The fact that he still is unequivocally the best pass rusher means it’s like the Cowboys were going into the season without DeMarcus Ware. Anthony Spencer is widely criticized in this city, for good reason, yet Spencer has 11 sacks the past 2 years and Smith has 12 sacks in that same time frame so it’s easy to argue that the Saints have one of the worst pass rushes in the entire league. They knew this and tried to address the problem via the draft by taking Cameron Jordan in the 1st round last year yet as a rookie he rarely generated any pressure and ended the year with a paltry 1 sack despite playing on a regular basis. If Smith continues to decline and Jordan doesn’t have a substantially better season the Saints will have almost no pass rush to speak of. That’s very worrisome as the Saints high scoring offense causes teams to pass regularly against them and because their secondary situation is already precarious. Roman Harper at SS and Jabari Greer at CB are two very capable starters yet Malcolm Jenkins at FS is coming off a season with 0 interceptions (only 3 in his 3 year career-think Alan Ball), and inconsistent cornerback Patrick Robinson is a player that is hard to trust per the coaching staff. If either of those get injured (Robinson missed 6 games the past two years) or a team spreads them out with additional wideouts they will be forced to lean on Jonathon Amaya and Johnny Patrick who combine for 0 career starts. To me it appears that the Saints are 1 injury away from disaster¬† in their secondary and even at full healthy they will struggle if not given a quality pass rush. It all adds up to a defense that lacks big play ability and will again be in the bottom quarter of defenses in points and yards allowed. The defense will require the Saints offense to carry them and score a ton of points next season yet that shouldn’t be a problem right? Correct, if they can stay healthy. Brees, Graham, Colston, and Henderson with a deep and versatile backfield will still put points up on the board but behind Brees is Chase Daniels, behind Graham is Daniel Thomas, and behind Colston is rookie wideout Nick Toon (Lance Moore as the #3 WR plays starter minutes so the #4 WR would replace Colston on the field). Brees is an iron man but at 33 years old he’s entering the age when iron men like Tom Brady (31) and Peyton Manning (35) missed entire seasons due to unforeseen injuries. Yet even assuming Brees stays upright for all 16 games there is still risk of an integral player like Graham or Colston being nicked up and in that case there is more likihood as Colston has only played a complete season once in the past 4 seasons.

The general consensus is that the Goodell administered suspensions will hurt the Saints but hardly cripple them as they still have Brees and he’ll score enough points to make any number of worries go away. Yet when I broke down their roster I saw so many holes that were already being plastered together inadequately on defense and so many potential holes on offense that would be apparent with a major injury to any number of key players that I’m more convinced than ever that the 2012 season will not be a good one for the Saints. Last year quite a few people considered the New York Jets a Super Bowl contending team yet after breaking down their roster I considered them a flawed team that was going to miss the playoffs in 2011. I was correct on that one and I’m doubling down as again I’m stating that a team most consider Super Bowl caliber will not make the playoffs in 2012. Due to a poor pass rush, an inexperienced secondary, and an offense that could be crippled by an injury to any of 3 players (Brees, Graham, Colston) I think the odds aren’t in the Saints favor this season and they’ll be sitting at home come January.

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