Brees and the Saints offense had another rough outing in Seattle.
By reaching the playoffs and winning their wild-card game at Philadelphia, the 2013 season was a moderately successful campaign for the Saints. They didn’t achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the Super Bowl, however, and they enter the offseason looking to shore up some deficiencies that proved too much to overcome.
In addition to some glaring holes in the personnel department, which New Orleans will attempt to address through the draft, the Saints didn’t get the best out of some of their key contributors in 2013.
Sure, they had numerous solid outings, but on the whole, there were several key players who didn’t enjoy their best seasons. While trades and releases are always possible in the offseason, these same Saints will likely be counted on when New Orleans takes the field again next season. Following are six Saints who must improve their play in 2014.
The Saints will again look to Brees for strong leadership in 2014.
It isn’t easy to call out a future Hall of Fame quarterback who just threw for over 5,100 yards and 39 touchdowns. That being said, Drew Brees needs to step it up a notch in 2014.
Brees was his usual brilliant self in numerous outings this year, most notably against Buffalo, Miami and Dallas. Against some tough defenses on the road, however, he didn’t perform the way the Saints needed him to.
Sure, New Orleans had issues with pass protection all season, and the Saint wide receivers struggled to get open in more than a few outings. But Brees is one of the all-time greats to play his position, and he made too many poor decisions in 2013. In addition to forcing the ball into coverage more often than he should have, he misread defenses on numerous occasions, which often resulted in costly interceptions.
If this critique of Brees seems harsh, it’s because much is expected of him. The Saints goal this year was to reach the Super Bowl, as it will be next year. If they’re going to reach that goal, then Drew Brees must perform at a higher level and take them there.
Colston had a below average season in 2013.
Not long too long ago, Marques Colston was Brees’ favorite target. While the emergence of star tight end Jimmy Graham has somewhat diminished his role, there were still plenty of opportunities in 2013 for Colston to solidify his status as one of the game’s best wide receivers.
Instead, he slipped into mediocrity this season, at least by his own high standards. Colston finished with 943 receiving yards but only had five touchdowns. It was the first time in the last five seasons that he didn’t eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
Granted, he battled an injury through the early portion of the season and made a better showing in the second half of the year. By and large, however, Colston wasn’t the same this year, and he’ll no doubt be looking to bounce back in 2014 with a strong showing.
Sproles can be electric in the open field.
Since his arrival in New Orleans in 2011, Darren Sproles has more than adequately replaced Reggie Bush as the Saints' explosive, big-play threat out of the backfield.
In 2013, however, Sproles’ numbers took a hit. After averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2011, and 5.1 in 2012, Sproles averaged a modest 4.2 yards per carry this season. In the receiving department, he racked up 75 catches for 604 yards, but both of these numbers were lower than his 2011 and 2012 season totals.
But perhaps the biggest dip in Sproles’ offensive numbers this season came in the scoring department. He reached the end zone a total of only four times this year, while scoring nine offensive touchdowns in 2011 and eight in 2012.
Part of the reason for Sproles’ reduced production can be attributed to poor offensive line play. With eight years in the league under his belt as a running back, however, the question must be posed as to whether or not Sproles has lost a step.
In 2014, he’ll be out to prove this isn’t the case, and with next season being the final year of his contract, Saints fans will likely be treated to a supreme effort from Darren Sproles.
Strief and his fellow Saint offensive linemen will look to make improvements in 2014.
Zach Strief is one of many 2013 Saints who could find themselves in another uniform next season. Being an unrestricted free agent, New Orleans may simply choose to not re-sign him, but don't bet on it.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Strief will be back, even if New Orleans does bring in another tackle through the draft. Rookie Terron Armstead locked down the left side at the end of the season, but the Saints aren’t likely to go with first- and second-year tackles protecting their $100 million quarterback next season. Some veteran experience will be needed at one of the tackle slots, and Strief will likely be brought back.
He was by no means terrible in 2013, but this season was Strief's worst in three years as a starter in New Orleans. If the Saints are to contend in 2014, he must have a solid campaign.
Moore's end zone dances have always delighted Saints fans, but his production dipped in 2013.
Like Colston, Moore is another reliable Saint receiver who didn’t perform up to his high standards in 2013.
On the season, he caught 37 passes for 457 yards and just two scores. Moore was, for the most part, nowhere to be found in the two losses at Seattle, as the larger, more physical Seahawk corners repeatedly denied him free releases off the line of scrimmage. If the Saints are to get the better of the young Seattle defenders in the future, they'll need receivers who can answer the bell from a physical standpoint.
Moore has been a significant contributor to the Saints high-powered offense for the last several seasons, and he has excellent chemistry with Brees. At age 30, however, he could be hitting the tail end of his career. The Saints may bring in a wide receiver in the early rounds of this year’s draft, but there will still be opportunities for Lance Moore to shine in 2014.
White struggled throughout the latter portion of the season.
Corey White took over for injured starting cornerback Jabari Greer and started the final six games. He got off to a strong start, but his play seemingly regressed as the season moved along. With Keenan Lewis locking down the other side, opposing quarterbacks began to pick on White, and they had success doing it.
Cornerback is a high position of need for New Orleans in the upcoming draft, but even if the Saints use an early-round pick to grab one, White could still play a key role in 2014 as a nickel or dime corner.
Contrary to popular opinion in New Orleans right now, White isn’t a bad player. He demonstrated flashes of potential this season, especially earlier in the year.
Playing defensive back in the NFL requires a great deal of confidence. Whether he starts on the corner or plays the nickelback role in 2014, Corey White must raise his confidence level and, in turn, his play.
The players mentioned above all have very different roles on the team, but they all were key contributors to the Saints’ success in 2013. If New Orleans is to take the next step up in 2014, however, then all of these Saints must improve and produce at an even greater clip.