The New Orleans Saints have been transformed in the last six years from a team that hoped to win, and still identified itself with the Ain'ts brand, to a team that expects to win games and championships.
Sean Payton has been the biggest catalyst in that development and transformation, alongside the team's record-setting quarterback Drew Brees. Luckily Brees is going to be leading the Saints' train down the path ending in a Super Bowl appearance on February 3.
Of course, the Saints are motivated due to the team's offseason issues stemming from "Bountygate" and the subsequent suspensions. From a more positive perspective, the team can look to the possibility of becoming the first team to host a Super Bowl as a great motivator.
Despite losing its head coach, and being forced to use an interim-interim head coach for the first six games of the year, the Saints are positioned better than most teams in the league to make the marathon run to this this year's Championship Game.
And the blueprint is actually quite simple.
Keep Drew Brees Healthy
The New Orleans Saints will not go to the Super Bowl if Drew Brees is not in the lineup. Everyone knows that. Thus it is imperative they do everything in their power to keep Brees upright at all costs.
With Aaron Kromer taking over as interim-interim head coach for the first six games of the season, the offensive line may not get the same kind of quality attention that it ordinarily would. It is crucial that Kromer figures out the proper balance for his time and attention.
Of course, as running game coordinator he may command more attention be given to running the football and racking up the carries. Certainly the team can handle running the ball 30-plus times per game, since it kept five running backs.
And the team brought in one of the best run-blocking offensive guards in the league when it signed Ben Grubbs in March. That should all point to an increase in the number of rushing attempts in 2012.
That will be an important factor in keeping Brees alive and well. And it should open up a multitude of possibilities in play-action and other forms of creative ways to get the ball down the field effectively.
The Saints have always been a better team when they get ahead early in the game. Saying that is nothing revolutionary, since most other teams are the same way.
But the Saints take playing ahead to another level. When in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a Saints lead is as good as death for the opposing team. Will Smith, Junior Galette and other Saints pass-rushers seem to smell blood.
With new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo bringing in a new, more conservative defensive approach, the defense should benefit from not giving up as many big plays in the passing game when holding a lead.
And because Spagnuolo has long been an expert on creating pressure with four rushers, the defense should be able to make opposing quarterbacks cry when they consider the pain they're about to have inflicted upon them.
Quarterbacks will hate the Saints' solidified pass rush and intelligent coverage schemes. Scoring on the Saints figures to be a lot more difficult than in previous seasons.
Create a Special Season
In the Saints' 2009 run to the Super Bowl, the special teams unit played an integral role to the success of the football team. Not only did Garrett Hartley transform into Adam Vinatieri with a bigger leg, but all throughout the season, special teams were special for the Saints.
Rarely did another team create a big play against the Saints from special teams. And the New Orleans was aided often by big returns and a plethora of other big plays on special teams. Everyone in the world, seemingly, remembers "Ambush," the surprise onside kick the Saints executed on the opening second-half kickoff in the Super Bowl against the Colts.
The 2012 version of the Saints are a great football team, but it still is necessary for the team to reprise that performance if it wants to stay home in February and host the Super Bowl. You might be able to say the team will not earn such a lofty distinction without special teams being special.
In the preseason that unit has been lackluster in coverage, and nothing to write home to mom about in the return game. The effort and execution must pick up for this team to fulfill its destiny as the first team to host a Super Bowl.
That is the goal. It is possible. It's going to take greatness in all three phases. The Saints have the players and the leadership to get it done.
It's a simple blueprint. The team just has to execute it.
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