You have to admire the Saints’ consistency over the last decade. Same GM, same head coach, same QB, but a lack of change does not always produce enough wins on the field. We are used to depending on Drew Brees and the offense to carry them every year and we are used to seeing a poor defense hold them back every year no matter how hard they work to fix it.
They have some good young playmakers who need to step in fast to contribute, and as long as they have Brees, they will have a “punchers” chance to win. There should be a little sense of panic in New Orleans as they watch the rest of the NFL South get better, and they must start taking advantage of home field advantage instead of their disappointing 11-13 record in the Superdome over the last three seasons.
With one of the worst defenses in the NFL, New Orleans’ offense is forced to carry this team with Brees and hopefully a dramatically improved run game. Because the Saints have to score so much to make up for their defensive deficiencies, they have often abandoned the run game and gone to a one-dimensional passing game — and a bad run game means no play action, which they have been good at in the past.
In 2016, they didn’t seem to get into a consistent flow and identity. But when Brees and head coach Sean Payton are on the same page they are tough to stop. They also adjust to what the defense shows them as well as any offense in the NFL, and they expect a rebound year in 2017. Let’s look at one of Brees’ strengths.
Read the blitz
Brees is a magician at the LOS before the snap and he reads the defense as well as any QB in the NFL. He has two WRs and one TE right, one WR left and one RB. The defense has a three-man front but they bring a LB and DC off the edges on the blitz.
The Saints pick up the blitz well and Brees sees the extra rushers and knows that there is now a lot of room to work in the middle of the defense, especially as the RB runs a little outlet route to take the MLB out of the underneath middle hole. He also sees his TE in single man coverage vs. a DS who has no help over the top. The TE gets a free release and Brees goes “hot” to him for a nice 28-yard gain. This offense expects a lot out of the TE position, especially when it goes to sight adjustment.
This side of the ball seems to be making slow progress under coordinator Dennis Allen, but the Saints’ defense is not close to being respectable. New Orleans blames injuries to its young players and the inability to gel quickly as a reason for its lackluster play, but the Saints think 2017 will bring much better results. When they are at their best they are an aggressive 43 front with a variety of blitzes and a lot of zone coverages on the backend. With a talented offense, this side of the ball does not have to be great but they must bet better.
Avoid bad matchups
This play is an example of how they can get caught in so many negative personnel groupings. They are in the red zone and the offense shows two TEs left and two WRs right. The two TEs collide with their defenders at the LOS (two DS and one LB) and it looks like the defense wants to “jam” them to prevent their release. While they get that done, now those defenders are out of the play.
On the right, the offense shows an excellent play action fake right and it freezes the defense. The outside WR runs a vertical route and the DS comes over to help the DC (who doesn’t really seem to need help). Now we have the inside right WR with single coverage by a DC with no help over the top on a deep crossing route. This is the matchup that the QB is looking for, and it results in a big TD. This defense is getting a little better but they must give up less big plays on the backend.
5 additional summer film evaluations
- How does this run game shake out? — They seem to be committed to being more balanced on offense and now they have a fascinating 1-2 RB duo of Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. The Saints also hope that rookie draft pick Alvin Kamara will give them Reggie Bush-type explosive production, especially on third down in the passing game. Peterson and Ingram should dominate on early downs with inside runs, and that opens up potentially strong play action. They will work behind an excellent lead FB in John Kuhn. Brees will love this new offensive balance.
- Can they replace WR Brandin Cooks? — Their loss is New England’s gain, and as dynamic as Cooks was, these Saints coaches seem to feel good about who they have at WR. They replaced him with free agent Ted Ginn Jr., so they will have that speed element outside, and young Michael Thomas is a star in the making and he can run every route. Willie Snead is solid out of the slot, young Brandon Coleman gives them a nice No. 4 option and they expect a strong year from TE Coby Fleener. Cooks is an elite player, but Brees will make his new receiving corp better.
- Is this secondary as improved as they think? — Statistically they were the worst pass defense in the league in 2016, and yet they seem to feel that they are making progress. They are pretty solid in their three-safety packages, but they are a work in progress at DC, and if they are forced to blitz more to create pressure, the success of this unit will likely come down to how well the corners play vs. the deep ball in man coverage. SS Kenny Vaccaro is the star to build around in this group.
- How much does Brees have left? — Like Tom Brady, Brees shows no signs of slowing down. He still has impeccable accuracy, he reads defenses as well as anybody and now he has a run game that should prevent him from forcing the ball into coverage to create more big plays. He is durable and he doesn’t take a lot of hits, and he and Sean Payton have mastered this offense. Their play calling is as good as it gets. Look for a big year from Brees in 2017.
- What is the philosophy of this defense? — They have been terrible for a long time, but Dennis Allen’s crew started to slowly show signs of improvement in the second half of the 2016 season. They are optimistic about their run defense, their communication is better and even though they were last in pass defense a year ago, they see some improvement. But they must generate more explosive plays. We see a lot of three-safety looks and changing personnel packages, and Allen may turn them loose this season with more blitzes.
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