Saints Players Who Will Play Crucial Roles Down the Season's Home Stretch
From 0-4 to 5-5, winning five of their last six games, the New Orleans Saints have a chance to do something special. They have a chance to be only the second team, since 2002, to rebound from an 0-4 start to get above .500 at any point in the season.
But, more importantly, they have a chance to be the first team since the San Diego Chargers in the 1992 season to make the playoffs after losing its first four games.
What's different now than at the beginning of the season?
Aside from playing more consistent football as a whole, the Saints' key players are also starting to play good ball, stepping up and helping their team win.
With a tough schedule remaining for this Saints team, if they have any chance of making it to the postseason their leaders have to step up. Let's take a look at some key players who will play crucial roles down the season's home stretch.
Of course, No. 9. This Saints offense lives and dies with the all-world quarterback. The Saints team wouldn't have experienced the success they've had without Drew Brees. He is the reason why the Saints offense is so prolific.
The record-breaking quarterback Brees is dangerous. He is accurate, he can throw the deep ball and make big plays. He has broken records and led his team last season to break records.
Brees wasn't his usual self at the beginning of this season. He was turning the ball over, and he wasn't accurate, but it seems he has fixed that. In 10 games, Brees has thrown for 3,066 yards, 28 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
The tight end position has evolved. They are the hybrid football player on offense. Tight ends like the Saints' Jimmy Graham have been creating mismatches and headaches for defensive coordinators the past two seasons.
At 6'7", 265 pounds, Graham is difficult for anyone to cover, and he is one of the main reasons why the Saints offense is so dangerous.
This season, Graham has dropped a few passes but is still lethal. In the nine games he's played so far, he has 51 receptions for 562 yards and eight touchdowns.
Just like Brees, if Graham keeps being productive, he and the Saints offense will be very difficult to stop.
The Saints' No.1 receiver was slowed down by some injuries during the beginning of the season, so Marques Colston struggled a bit.
But he has turned that around. He hasn't put up big numbers the past few games, but he didn't have to. And even then, Colston is having a nice season so far. He has 51 receptions for 721 yards and seven touchdowns.
Marques Colston is a big-time receiver who can make those big-time plays. He can hurt defenses with the ball and without. The offense needs their wide receiver. And as long as he lines up, the defense will be more concerned with him, and that leads to the other Saints players with opportunities to make plays.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is the defensive unit's playmaker, its leader, its heart. So with all the craziness that was going on with his suspension, then his appeals, then starting the first six games of the season on the PUP list, his absence may have contributed to the defense's bad start.
But ever since he's been back, the defense has been showing life, showing improvement.
Vilma started at weak-side linebacker last week against the Oakland Raiders and played the majority of the game. The defense had one of its best games against the Raiders.
Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
The intensity, the instincts and knowledge Vilma brings to the Saints defense is irreplaceable. With him in the lineup, the defense has shown improvement and will continue to improve.
The Saints defense ranks last in the league. They give up a lot of yardage, but as of recently they have made up for it with big-time plays.
Malcolm Jenkins is a reason for the Saints defensive resurgence. The free safety has made some big plays on the ball recently, starting to fit perfectly into Steve Spagnuolo's scheme.
Jenkins has all the physical skills to be a top free safety in the league. And if he can continue to cause turnovers, he increases the Saints' chance of winning the ballgame.
This season, he has 58 tackles, one interception (returned for a touchdown) and six passes defended.
Nine-year veteran, defensive end Will Smith is going to play a huge part in the Saints defense. If the Saints want to make the playoffs, the defense has to keep improving.
Main thing they need to improve on? The pass rush.
Will Smith is having a decent season, but he needs to step up and make some more plays and give opposing quarterback more pressure. It'll give the Saints linebackers and their secondary time to make plays or at least ease up on them.
So far, Will Smith has 41 tackles and five sacks. In the past, Smith has shown what he is capable of, showing flashed of a dominant pass-rusher. If he can make some plays for the remainder of the season, he will be helping the team by disrupting opposing quarterbacks, and he will be helping the defense out.