Now it's time to reflect on the season and look toward to 2011 (assuming there is one).
Drew Brees is the Saints' MVP and tried to keep the team from suffering from the Super Bowl hangover. He engineered five-game winning drives and threw for more than 4,000 yards for the fifth straight season.
But he didn't enjoy the season he had the season before and threw 22 interceptions, many of which were forced throws that should have been tossed out of bounds.
He had a high number of passes because he didn't have much of a running game. In the playoff loss to Seattle, he had to throw 60 times in a rather one-dimensional offense. If the Who Dats Saints had been able to get the ground game going at all, this game would have turned out differently.
The Saints have some running back problems to solve. Reggie Bush made $8.5 million this season and is scheduled to get $11.8 million in 2011. It's difficult seeing Bush staying here when he is due that much money. He can be cut or he could re-negotiate and come back for less money as long as a couple of seasons are tacked on.
"Common sense would tell you probably not," said Bush when asked if he could be back at his $11.8 number. "We'll see what happens. We'll see what we can do and how we can make this thing work." Bush wants to stay here.
Rookie free agent running back Chris Ivory ran for 716 yards and picked up a lot of slack left by Bush (broken fibula) and Pierre Thomas (ankle injury).
Ivory has suffered injuries even in his college days. He played in only 22 games in three seasons at Washington State, and only five in his senior season at Tiffin. He suffered from a pulled hamstring before suffering a broken foot during his rookie season with the Saints . He and Thomas ended their seasons on the injured reserve list.
Thomas is going to be an unrestricted free agent when the collective bargaining agreement expires on March 4. The Saints would not pay him last summer when he was a restricted free agent and he asked for a king-sized deal after leading the team in rushing in 2009..
The Saints have a decision to make, How much do they like Bush and Thomas, compared to Ivory, an every down back, who could be groomed in a new-look offense that throws less? Ivory plays for a minimum salary.
Guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are All-Pro- caliber guards, but Evans was charged with a league-high nine holds this season. He and Jonathan Stinchcomb, both Pro Bowl selections a year ago, combined for more than 20 penalties this year.
Jerom Bushrod is charged with protecting Brees' blind side, but too often he allowed defensive ends and linebackers to blind-side him. Too often, the offensive line has not adequately protected Brees against a three-man rush.
Second-year tackle Charles Brown could be ready to start.
Rookie Jimmy Graham was a star at tight end this season with 31 catches and five touchdowns. He's a future Pro Bowler. Jeremy Shockey has missed at least three games in a season every year since he arrived here. He has been injured every season since his rookie year with the Giants.
The Saints lack depth at tight end and need a blocking tight end. Allow David Thomas to explore free agency.
Marques Colston and Lance More combined for 15 touchdowns and almost 100 first downs. Both Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem seemed to regress this season. The Saints should allow Adrian Arrington to push Henderson and Meachem for playing time. Even though he can't play special teams, he caught seven passes for 79 yards in his first NFL game.
Middle linebacker Jon Vilma is the "Drew Brees" of the defense and is going to his second straight Pro Bowl. The Saints got very little from their outside linebackers. Scott Shanle didn't have a sack and all the outside linebackers combined for only one sack.
The Saints need fast, athletic linebackers with decent coverage skills. That should be the No., 1 priority for the Saints.
Sedrick Ellis had a very good season and the defensive tackle led the team with six sacks and forced two fumbles while facing double teams. He stayed healthy after missing nine games his first two seasons.
The Saints were a below average team stopping the run. They need to improve that and force more third-and-long situations and give the ball back to the offense.
The pass rush was terrible. Defensive end Will Smith was double-teamed because newly acquired defensive ends Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson couldn't rush the passer fast enough.
When you blitz as much as the Saints do, you need to record more than 33 sacks in a year.
The Saints must get a pass rusher with speed. There were 10 games last year in which the Saints didn't get a sack from a starting defensive end.
The Saints need a pass rusher who can take some attention off Smith.
The Saints' pass defense allowed the fourth fewest passing yards per game, while ranking first in passing touchdowns allowed and second in percentage of passes that resulted in first downs.
However, the Saints made just nine interceptions after Darren Sharper got that many in 2009. Malcolm Jenkins was a breakout payer this season at free safety. When cornerbacks Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay were injured, Jenkins briefly shifted back to cornerback, then later in the season, the Saints shifted him to nickelback in passing situations. It didn't matter where Jenkins lined up--he made big plays all season and twice was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Week.
It's time to move in a different direction at strong safety. Roman Harper is unrestricted as a free agent, but is restricted in his ability to cover a receiver or tight end. Harper was beaten for two touchdowns against Seattle. The 'Hawks targeted Harper all game. Every time you looked up, Harper was getting burned by a receiver. He's a good tackler, but will hurt you in pass coverage.
The only negative things you can say about the cornerbacks is that they miss too many games.
Now, we come to the not-so-special teams. Let's start with punter Thomas Morstead, who improved his gross and net-punting averages by more than two yards. Garrett Hartley made his last 10 field goals.
The return units were unable to give the Saints decent field position and the team ranked 15th in kickoff returns and 23rd in punt returns. Neither type of return produced a touchdown and the longest kickoff return was only 39 yards.
Hartley's missed 29-yard field goal in overtime against the Falcons in Week 3 completely re-shaped the season for the Saints.
If they had won that game, both the Falcons and Saints would have finished 12-4, the Saints would have won the NFC South and the No. 1 seed, and are perhaps on their way to host the Bears in the NFC championship game—that is, assuming everything else that occurred would occur.
But you have to stick with Hartley despite that heartbreak because he rebounded to miss just one field goal in his last 10 games.
The Saints need a game-breaker who won't fumble on the return teams so they can enjoy more short fields.
Now, we sit back and see if we'll have a season in 2011.
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