Last season's 7-9 debacle is officially a thing of the past for the New Orleans Saints. If it weren't for the uniform—among other things—you would think they are a totally different team. The ability to win in a myriad of ways has to be the most damning aspect in this young season. The Saints are officially back!
The destruction of the previously undefeated Miami Dolphins looked so easy for the Saints, that it had pundits questioning the validity of the Dolphins' previous record. Well I hate to break it to them, the Dolphins are a good team...the Saints are just that much better.
They say offense wins games, and defense wins championships. What happens when you're equally efficient at both? The Saints have the makeup to be a top-five team offensively and defensively.
They are currently ranked third in total offense and eighth in total defense. There's not a team in the NFL that the Saints can't hang with, home or away. But with that being said, there's a ton of room for improvement despite the strong showing. With a few tweaks here and there, the Saints could be considered favorites for the Super Bowl.
Things to Improve Upon
Championship teams can run the ball when necessary, as well as stop the next team from implementing its own run game. The Saints are poor in both areas. Luckily, they have one of the league's premier pass attacks that masks those deficiencies.
There comes a time when your fastball is ineffective, and then it comes down to the ability to switch your pitch that allows you to survive. There's only so long that you can continue to put on deodorant without taking a shower (believe me, as a kid I tried).
I've resided to the opinion the Saints offensive line is below average. But I refuse to believe the Saints can't stop the run with the personnel possessed.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's units finished seventh (2011) and 22nd (2012) against the run—his two years in Dallas at the same position. The Saints closely resemble the former rather than the latter.
The Saints defense is giving up 5.5 yards per carry—which is last in the NFL. With the amount of talent on the roster, it lends itself to be more of a schematic deficiency rather than a lack of talent.
Here is where I think the scheme works against the Saints. The Saints are lined up in a Wide 9 formation—which is an even-front alignment. To utilize the quickness of ends Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan, having them positioned wide gives them the proper amount of space to rush the passer.
This also takes them out of run plays while putting pressure on nose tackle John Jenkins, as well as inside linebackers David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton.
As you can see, the onus falls squarely on the linebackers as Jenkins is gobbled up. With the offensive linemen releasing to the second level, the back has clear space until one of the safeties can help. With safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins among the top three in tackles, you can see how this could be problematic.
With Wide 9 ends easily blocked due to their positioning, the front becomes overmatched. These speed-based alignments are great against the pass but are a detriment to inside runs. The Saints' next opponent—the Chicago Bears—is great at these types of runs. I expect to see tighter alignments against them.
Here's a better example of proper run fits.
The spacing is a lot tighter in this normal 4-3-based alignment. This allows for Lofton and Hawthorne to roam a lot more freely.
Lofton and Hawthorne aren't caught up in the trash and are able to use their vision and athleticism to the utmost.
This is what getting push up front gets you. Look at the carnage on the ground. I've resigned to the thought that the Saints might get gashed at times in the run game—due to their propensity to rush the passer.
I believe they'll adjust their scheme when they feel a team is a major threat in the run game. That could start this weekend...well it better!
The Saints have a nice lead, but it's not large enough. They need to keep the pedal to the metal and establish an insurmountable lead. The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers aren't going away anytime soon. Conversely, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
The Falcons are coming off of getting roughed up by the New England Patriots at home. The final score (30-23) was not indicative of the results. The Patriots whipped the Falcons in the trenches, while executing in the pass game extremely efficiently.
The Panthers are coming off of a bye. Before the bye, they looked to be rounding into shape with a convincing 38-0 win over the New York Giants. I thought the Panthers had a great chance at winning the division title before the season started, due to being able to run the ball and stop the run equally as well.
The Buccaneers have finally imploded. Quarterback Josh Freeman is being ostracized due to a deteriorating relationship with the coaching staff. Coach Greg Schiano is running a tight ship...directly into an iceberg.
Virtually everyone played whose status was in the air. Running back Mark Ingram didn't play, giving way to Khiry Robinson getting the majority of the carries. Robinson's 12-carry, 37-yard performance was promising. He just needs help from his line.
The injury to Roman Harper has allowed safeties Rafael Bush and Isa Abdul-Quddus a chance to shine. Bush in particular has shown himself to be a viable option in the multi-safety set. Rob Ryan's propensity for emptying out the roster during games is one of the more overlooked aspects around.
Teams like the Falcons are clear examples of lacking depth. They have some of the best players at their positions as starters but have a clear drop-off in talent with the players behind them. The Saints have a ton of players who could easily be starters who are considered backups. With as much playing time as everyone gets, it's hard to distinguish who's who on the depth chart...
One of the things I'm starting to see most—among fans of the Saints—is a feeling of complacency. The Saints are a great team as it stands. But sometimes being great is not good enough. You can always get better and should be striving for such.
Anyone remember the 15-1 Green Bay Packers team from 2011?
This squad ran through its schedule (which included a 13-3 Saints team) like a hot knife through butter! QB Aaron Rodgers led a passing attack that resembled what the Saints have now (and pretty much every year).
Rodgers threw 45 touchdowns, opposed to only six interceptions. The success of the pass game, coupled with the fantastic record, led a lot of fans to ignore the fact that the Packers couldn't run the ball well or protect the quarterback.
When you're playing as well as the Saints are, it gives you a chance to be proactive rather than reactive.
For anyone thinking the lack of a run game, along with faulty pass protection is something to gloss over, that individual must have long-term memory loss.
The minute that Packers team was faced with adversity in the pass game, it was sent packing (pun intended). The team relied on a one-dimensional formula not realizing that eventually things might not go its way.
The New York Giants stifled the Packers' air-raid attack, while putting pressure on Rodgers, all the way to an upset in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Packers failed to even win one game in the postseason.
The Packers simply didn't have another pitch to go to. They would generate rushing yards at the end of blowouts, which acted as a deodorant for not being able to run the ball at will. I see the same aspect in the Saints' approach.
Here's hoping the team—and the fans—act in a proactive manner...rather than the alternative.
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