Other than the first team defense getting pistol-whipped early, most of the problems can be blamed on younger players, some of whom will be free agents by Labor Day. But still, I am troubled greatly at this team’s ability to bounce back into playoff contention in 2015. The defensive question marks that greeted the team when training camp opened have been compounded by other concerns that must be resolved if they are to win more than the seven games of 2014. (e.g., Where is Jairus Byrd? Who is Jairus Byrd?)
But never fear when Drew Brees is here! At least that seems to be the consoling message from one NFL observer who says the Saints’ belief in their offensive system over individual players might be their ticket to improvement. Andy Benoit wrote this week on SI.com that such conviction gave GM Mickey Loomis the confidence to make the moves in the off-season that were intended on shoring up weaknesses. Benoit wrote: “As long as (QB Drew) Brees is under center and (Head Coach Sean) Payton is running his system, the Saints can manufacture offensive production just fine. If, as the GM, you believe this to be true, then your focus shifts from bolstering strengths to eradicating weaknesses. Because after all, the system itself is the strength.”
Benoit agrees with a point that has appeared in this space, that the trade of Brees’ favorite target, TE Jimmy Graham, for former Pro Bowl Center Max Unger was intended to shore up a major weakness. “The Saints’ interior offensive line play has been spotty the past few years, particularly at center. That’s a problem because the man executing the system is only 6-feet and predicates his game on climbing the pocket.” With Graham gone, Benoit says, the Saints are betting they can create matchup problems through other means.
"With five eligible receivers on every snap, there usually is a matchup problem somewhere to exploit. More often than not, Brees can drop back and locate the mismatch naturally. Graham may have often been the Saints’ most obvious matchup problem, but that doesn’t mean he was the only one. This same thinking is what allowed the Saints to move on from Darren Sproles, another matchup problem, after 2013. And, to a lesser degree, it’s what made them comfortable trading deep threat Kenny Stills to Miami shortly after unloading Graham. None of these moves weaken the system, they just reconfigure the system’s cogs.”
I don’t disagree with Benoit’s points, but with the team’s defensive question marks, the question for me is: "Can Brees still maintain one of the NFL’s top offenses at a level high enough to offset a defense that does not provide a lot of confidence for improvement?" The Saints offense ranked ninth in scoring, at 25.1 points per game, last year although the defense ranked fifth worst, giving up 26.5 points. The combination of offensive prowess and defensive futility amounted to 51.6 points per game.
Unless we start seeing more out of the defense in the next three preseason games, all the fuzzy feeling in the world about the offense simply means that a betting man (or woman!) can make a lot of money taking the “over” this season.