Thursday, August 30, 2012

32 in 32: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints
Read the introduction here
Read the Texans preview here
Green Bay Packers tomorrow

2011 Record: 13-3

Key Acquisitions: Brodrick Bunkley, Chris Chamberlain, Ben Grubbs, David Hawthorne, Nick Toon (son of Al Toon. Just needed to say that as a Jets fan. Love Al Toon even though I never saw him play.)
Key Departures: Aubrayo Franklin, Robert Meachem, Carl Nicks, Tracy Porter, Shaun Rogers
Key Suspensions: GM Mickey Loomis (8 Games), Head Coach Sean Payton (Full Season), Will Smith (4 Games), Jonathan Vilma (Full Season), Assistant Coach and Interim Coach Joe Vitt (6 Games)

Some teams lose the offseason by letting good players walk in free agency, or failing to address a major need in free agency or the draft. The Saints however, all hipster on everyone. They found a way to have the worst offseason in the history of ever while locking up one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL to a long term contract. The bounty scandal has been talked about enough, I'm not going to get into that. The problem for this team is that in the NFL, coaches mean much more than in any other sport. A team can go from a terrible coach to a good coach and make a huge jump without major personnel changes. Just look at what occured out in San Francisco last year. The addition of Harbaugh to that team elevated them into the NFC Championship game. I would have expected that this team takes a step back even in the absence of the tumult, based on their schedule alone. Losing Sean Payton is going to be a huge blow, and they won't even have the assistant coach for the first six games of the year. This can go one of two ways: the team rallies around each other and pulls of a good season, while still losing a few games solely because of the lack of their coach, or, they will fail miserably. I wanted to predict them above .500, but I couldn't find enough wins on their schedule. They can become the Chargers East, great talent, elite QB, terrible coach.

Drew Brees is great. In terms of yardage, not only did he have the greatest season ever in 2011, he nearly broke the record back in 2008. He now has #1 and #4 on the list. He knows how to put the ball in the perfect spot for his receivers, and he has the ability to make big names out of random receivers. He always spreads the ball around, and without Brees, Lance Moore would be on 0% of fantasy football teams in the world.

This team has four good running backs, something that no other NFL team can boast. Let's start with my favorite man of the group, Darren Sproles. He set the all-time record for all-purpose yards last season, and he was a major weapon out for Brees. He was a great running back, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt in his limited action as the speedy ball carrier out of the backfield. He had 87 receptions last year and he was an amazing offensive weapon. He can do it all. Chris Ivory barely played last season, spending the first 6 games on the PUP list. He'll play a lot more this year and, considering that he's the fourth running back, will be a factor. Pierre Thomas really took a backseat last year, and he's always been a good second running back. Mark Ingram needs to stay healthy this season, and I'm not sure if he can. He scared teams off in the draft because of knees, and his knees were the issue.

Marques Colston is an important target for Drew Brees. While Brees is very accurate, he doesn't have to be when it comes to throwing to Colston. The Hofstra kid knows how to go up and grab the ball. The aforementioned Lance Moore is a security blanket for Brees when needed, and he's alright. Devery Henderson wasn't very good last year, but that didn't matter.

The Tight End Renaissance hit New Orleans last year and Jimmy Graham pulled off one of the greatest year in the history of tight ends. Too bad that it happened in the same season as the Gronkowski season. Graham could even be more talented than Gronk, and was a great target last year. Jimmy is a large individual at 6'7, and has amazing hands, making him almost impossible to stop. He only played one year of college football before being drafted in 2010, so he could still be a little bit green in terms of football IQ, so he might even be better. I know, scary.

The ends of the offensive line aren't that good, but it doesn't matter because Drew Brees doesn't get sacked very often. Carl Nicks is gone, but Ben Grubbs can fill in very nicely. Obviously he's a downgrade, because Nicks was so great last year, but Grubbs will be good. Brian De La Puente was only a rookie last season, so he should be improving this year, which means that he could jump into the conversation of top tier centers. He was really good last year. Jahri Evans played hurt in 2011, leading to diminished success. He'll return in full force this time around.

Brodrick Bunkley will be very good in run defense, just as he was last year. Sedrick Ellis will have to improve upon his performance recently to add a pass rush to the interior of the offensive line. Will Smith wasn't great last year, especially towards the end of the year when he seemed to fade. Cameron Jordan didn't rush the passer very effectively. Junior Galette will most likely slide into the starter's role in the wake of Smith's suspension.

Curtis Lofton is a very good tackler who played for their division rival Falcons over the first four years of his career. He doesn't let many ball carriers slip past him. David Hawthorne is pretty good at everything, so he'll provide a boost to this defense. This team will dearly miss defensive leader and really good linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson are both good in coverage, so it won't be terribly easy for receivers to break big plays down the sidelines. Unless of course either of the corners expect help from the debacle that is Roman Harper. He gets burned a lot deep downfield. Malcolm Jenkins was better, but not very good.

Special Teams
Garrett  Hartley and John Kasay are embroiled in a kicker battle that will be decided on the final cut day tomorrow. I expect Kasay to lose and subsequently get cut. Thomas Morestead was really good last year. Darren Sproles is a really good kick returner, and in addition to his offensive talents, Saints fans forgot who Reggie Bush was.

7-9, T-2nd in NFC South

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