5 Reasons for the New Orleans Saints' Success in 2011
With the NFL season at a close, I took a look at what made 2011 so successful in the Big Easy. There were many moments and decisions that defined this season for the Saints, but I have five in particular that really stood out. What made this year's team better than last year? It was a combination of a front office not afraid to spend, emerging young talents and, oh yea, having No. 9 on your side doesn't hurt! ( In Breesus we trust.) Maybe remembering these moments will ease the pain of the loss in San Fran.
I also take a look into my crystal ball, and see what Who Dat Nation can expect next season.
No. 1: Signing Darren Sproles
Of course this was going to be No. 1, what did you expect? This was a bigger curveball than when the Saints traded up to get Mark Ingram, but this move paid off a lot better than that. The reason it was a shock was because of the Ingram trade.
Saints GM Mickey Loomis gave up a second and a future first-round pick for the RB they thought were going to be the solution to their uncertain RB situation (injuries, Bush scenario). Little did they know, their answer came in the form of a 5' 6'' 190 lb. spark plug out of San Diego.
All Sproles did was set the single season all-purpose record for yardage, and added 87 receptions and 10 TDs. I'd say he was worth the four-year $14 million contract he signed before the season and then some.
No. 2: Laying an Egg in St. Louis
The Saints were 5-2 and coming into St. Louis losing only to Green Bay on opening night and what was a 4-2 Tampa Bay team. This game was supposed to be a breeze (no pun intended).
The Saints got knocked around so bad you would have thought they were the Texas State Armadillos. This was a gut-check game for New Orleans. It was the last regular-season game that the Saints lost, and it was also the last time that they even allowed a team to get near them on the scoreboard.
After this loss, the defense tightened up and the offense blew up. I guess making Chris Long actually look like Howie Long got everybody in that locker room ticked off!
No. 3: Dome-Field Advantage
Who Dat Nation came out in full force this year, like always, and were treated to something that had never happened inside that dome on Poydras, EVER... A perfect home record. Not only was it a perfect home record, but Drew Brees and co. annihilated any team that entered the Superdome. The Saints averaged 41.1 PPG inside their home stadium while only allowing 17.8 PPG. I'd say that all the loyal Who Dats were thanked for their support, and then some!
No. 4: The Emergence of Jimmy Graham
Just like Sproles, Jimmy Graham took a role that was occupied by an underperforming veteran who had a sense of entitlement and took off to heights that those vets could only dream of. Who was this basketball star turned tight end that was replacing Jeremy Shockey? And with no viable backup behind?
Panic mode was on stand-by. All Graham did was set records for TEs in his first year starting and only his third year playing football. He had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 TDs, adding another dimension to an already potent offense. If it wasn't for the Week 17 back and forth with Rob Gronkowski, the TE yardage record would be his. Sounds like a great start to a career.
No. 5: Record-Breaking Offense Brought to You by White-Out
This Saints team took down just about every offensive record in franchise and NFL history, and would not take the foot off the accelerator until they resided in New Orleans. There are too many records to mention individually, but one stands alone. When Brees threw a short dump off pass to Sproles that wound up as a nine-yard TD, the Dome erupted in elation like I hadn't seen since Garrett Hartley kicked the winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game.
There was some heat about how Sean Payton and his team went about doing it. The game was in hand, the fourth quarter was winding down and Brees was still throwing. Payton wanted to get the distraction of the record chase on the back burner, so when he saw it was in his sights he pounced.
If people want to complain and cry about running up the score, then I have two words for them. STOP IT! There are 11 guys on each side. Period. It was a great moment that was followed by the record-breaking performances of Graham, Sproles and the entire offense .
The Saints had plenty for Who Dat Nation to cheer for. In 2012, it's going to take a lot of financial maneuvering and great scouting, both in the draft and in free agency, to keep that momentum going.
Never in the Saints' horrible history have they gone to the playoffs three years in a row. Not only is this team getting to the playoffs, but they are doing damage there and making it really hard to oust them. With the impending re-signing of Drew Brees, I would say that New Orleans' window of opportunity is probably at three to five years.
This team also has very big decisions with numerous key free agents of their own. Marques Colston, Carl Nicks and Tracy Porter are unrestricted free agents, and not all of them will be back on the team. Now it's just a wait-and-see game with Brees being the first domino to fall.
I leave all of the Saints fans with a video of Lance Moore doing the "Wop." Enjoy!