In recent years I estimate the New Orleans Saints have run more than 40 percent of their plays from a three wide receiver, one tight end, one running back set (3WR/1TE/1RB).
This was a comfort zone for them for good reason. Either the team was playing catch up because of their undermanned defense, or they were sticking with their big play offense because they were so bad on short yardage third downs.
The Saints have essentially the same offensive personnel, but they need to, and will, adjust thier game plans this year.
The Saints have Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator this year, and the team has brought in some new talent and experience to bolster the struggling secondary of last year.
In order to become more balanced, which they must to make a Superbowl run, the Saints must improve their defense dramatically. A great catalyst to improving this defense will be for the offense to posses the ball longer during the games.
To posess the ball longer, coach Payton needs to adapt his game planning to the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent, and tone down, just a bit, the big play focus for a more steady approach.
With all the talent at the skill positions on offense, its going to be a challenge for Payton to both tone it down a bit, and to effectively utilize all his weapons. His instincts are going to have to be sharp, so he can go with the hot hand week to week, or even quarter to quarter.
So how do the Saints posses the ball longer? Well, they need to run the ball more effectively, get Shockey the ball and have him show up consistently, and develop the mentality and grit to consistently pick up first downs in short yardage situations by running the ball up the gut.
The Saints next favorite formation seems to be the 2WR/2TE/1RB set. This is where I believe they need to mix it up. Some how, the Saints need to have two and three running back sets.
In order to commit to and develop an effective, consistent running game, the Saints need to run more plays out of multi-back sets so they can disguise their running attack.
Pierre Thomas and Heath Evans in the backfield on first and second downs, with Shockey and two wide-outs, give the offense a lot of options. Evans would be essentially a blocking back in this scenario, but he is versatile enough to take some plays as a half-back to give some added flavor to the game plan.
From this personnel package, the Saints can establish an inside the tackles running attack, and mix it up with a short passing game consisting of some wide-receiver screens, quick slants, and Shockey exploiting linebackers on seam routes.
Shockey will have to step it up and block a lot more. But he has to step it up in the passing game as well. He really needs to be a big factor this year. He is due, and it will be fun to see him have a great year.
What about Reggie? I know everyone is squirming in their chairs reading this because I don't have Reggie in the game. Think Kevin Faulk. Reggie will be a third down back and run draws and catch short passes in space.
Also, when running in their more traditional 3WR/1TE/1RB set, that RB should be Reggie Bush. He should go in motion to the slot, and essentially make it a 4WR set.
This puts a ton of pressure on the five linemen, yet that pressure can be neutralized by a smart, accurate quarterback. That is what the Saints have in Brees. He can make the quick read and hit receivers in stride, exploiting the talents of Bush and the wide outs.
The 3RB sets I referred to above would include Reggie Bush and his role again should be to go in motion and essentially become a wide-out. This would be a variation to the two back set that I hope to see get a lot more play, and would allow Payton to satisfy his need to run creative, unconventional plays as well.
Again, as I stated in an article I wrote last week, the relatively anonymous role player, Heath Evans, I believe is a key component to transforming the Saints offense into a dynamic machine that can play wide open, or control the ball.
He can pick up first downs in short yardage situations, he can open holes for Pierre Thomas, he can pass block, and he has decent hands.
His presence will allow Payton to have a much more flexible game plan that will at times slow the streaking offense of the Saints, but at the same time, make them more balanced, more effective, and most importantly, more capable of making the plays to win games.