To get a better sense of the Saints and what they’re doing in 2018, I linked up with Chris Dunnells of Canal Street Chronicles, the SB Nation community for Saints fans.
Since 2006 when Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived, you guys have had one of the best offenses in the NFL. What makes the 2018 offense different from some of the others? And how much of it is just down to Drew Brees being Drew Brees...and how long can that last?
The New Orleans offense hasn’t looked exactly the same year after year. The problem is, during a recent run that included some of the worst defenses in NFL history, the offense relied on Drew Brees to pass for a bazillion yards just to keep the Saints competitive in ballgames. But in the Saints’ most effective years, the 2009 Super Bowl season as an example, the Saints offense relies heavily on a strong run game. With the return of Mark Ingram from his four-game suspension, the Saints are back to running the ball effectively, which takes pressure off Drew Brees and the passing attack.
I will say, though, that one thing that looks different this year than in years passed, is that Drew isn’t quite throwing the ball downfield as much as he used to. Ignore Drew’s season numbers and counting stats - most of what you’re seeing is actually YAC on screen passes and dump offs in the short and intermediate passing game. With the current personnel in New Orleans (Alvin Kamara lined up out of the backfield and Michael Thomas on quick slants, for instance), Drew has loved taking advantage of attacking opposing linebackers in coverage.
Defensively, things aren’t quite as stellar. How is the defense taking shape, and what are the major concerns heading into the second half of the season?
The biggest concern(s) would be the play in the secondary. The Saints signed Patrick Robinson in the offseason, and they lost him to injured reserve early on in the 2018 season. Ken Crawley, the Saints #2 cornerback, appeared to significantly regress after an impressive 2017 campaign, so much so that the Saints felt forced to trade for Eli Apple of the New York Giants. Even reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore hadn’t really played up to his rookie season consistently all season, but Lattimore looks to be getting better and better as the season goes on. Hopefully this new group of defensive back can grow and gel as a unit sooner rather than later.
Losing DE Marcus Davenport is obviously a huge blow, but how is the rookie class coming together? Any late-round or UDFA impacts?
For the record, that is still an off chance that Davenport plays this week. I’ve seen conflicting reports that while he has an injured toe, he actually played in the fourth quarter last week with the same injury and hopes to play this week. I’d say it’s not likely, but it’s definitely a possibility.
But regarding the rest of the Saints 2018 draft class, the only player that was really kept (and not released and picked up by a different team) is WR Tre’Quan Smith out of UCF. He’s really started to come into his own this year, especially in the absence of Ted Ginn Jr. The lack of Ginn has been another reason the Saints haven’t taken big shots down field, but as ‘Quan continues to show he’s ready, he’ll definitely see more opportunities.
An UDFA that has played well is DT Taylor Stallworth. After the Saints missed out on Ndamukong Suh (heard of him?) in the offseason, there were a few question marks in the middle of the Saints defensive line. Stallworth played well, earning a spot on the roster, and even a role in the starting lineup, but missed a couple of games recently due to injury. He was a full participant in practice heading into Week 9, though, so it appears he’s ready to go.
At this point, developments around the NFL begin to revolve around the playoffs. What do you need to see from the Saints over the next two months to feel good about your playoff run? What aspects of the team will determine whether or not you guys succeed in January? Given the state of this game and the caliber of our two teams whether or not you see those aspects materialize on Sunday, it obviously leads into the state of affairs in the postseason. So what maybe do you want to see on Sunday that you haven’t seen or haven’t seen enough of from the first seven games?
You’re killing me, man, with these long, multi-question questions :D
What do I need to see from the Saints to feel good about a potential playoff run? Improved play from the secondary. They don’t need to be a top 5 unit by any means, but as long as the can just be a middle-of-the-pack group, I like our chances with this offense.
What will determine if we succeed in January? Obviously the improved play in the secondary, but health will be the biggest issue. Patrick Robinson, Marcus Davenport, Ted Ginn and others all need to be healthy if the Saints want their best chance of making a deep run.
What do I want to see Sunday? The Saints actually have been one of the top defenses against the run so far this season. That’s partially due to the fact that they’ve played RBs like Peyton Barber, Carlos Hyde, Latavius Murray, and Javorius Allen (but they’ve also played the likes of Adrian Peterson and Saquon Barkley), and partially because opponents have just opted to pass the ball against the Saints. I’d be curious to see how the Saints run D looks against the best Back in the league in Todd Gurley. I’m also interested to see how PJ Williams, the Saints original #5 CB, now pressed into a starting role as the slot cornerback, fares this week after getting picked on two games in a row.
Drew Brees, who now holds the record for the most passing yards in the history of the NFL, turns 40 in January. Sean Payton is now in his 12th season as head coach of the Saints. How much more gas is left in the tank? I know Brees is under contract for next year and having a hell of a year, and Payton signed that five-year extension in 2016. But much like the New England Patriots with HC Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady, it certainly seems from the outside like Payton and Brees probably ride out together whenever that may come. When do you think that will be, and what will set the stage for it? Will it be a Super Bowl and a Peyton Manning-like exit on top, or do you think they’ll both push the pedal until there’s nothing left?
Again with the multi-question questions! How much gas is left in the tank? Well, it doesn’t appear Brees is slowing down quite yet. He’s still shown he’s a significantly above-average NFL quarterback right now, and is in the conversation (along with Gurley, Jared Goff, and Patrick Mahomes) for MVP at the end of the season. I’d say it really comes down to how the Saints finish this year. In an ideal scenario, the Saints are able to win it all this year, and Drew hangs up the cleats and rides off into the sunset. I honestly believe the same could’ve been true for last week, though. So if something happens this year where he feels like the team falls just short but is right on the cusp of a championship, I could see him sticking around another year to do it all over again.
When do I think Payton and Brees call it quits? Well for one, I disagree with the underlying premise. I think Brees retires in the next three years for sure, likely in the next two, but I don’t think that will end up having a thing to do with Sean Payton. I believe Sean stays in New Orleans for the foreseeable future, assuming the team doesn’t just mess the bed and embarrass themselves in the next couple of years. Whether the Saints win it all this year and Brees pulls a Peyton Manning/John Elway, or if it’s in three years after Brees has given all he’s got to give, I think Payton is right there to coach the next franchise QB in New Orleans.
Thanks to Chris for the time.