New Orleans Saints 2009 Preview

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New Orleans Saints 2009 Preview
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
2008 Summary
For the past two seasons since a surprise run to the NFC Championship game, the New Orleans Saints have been the epitome of an inconsistent team. One week their offense, led by star quarterback Drew Brees, will look like a reincarnation of the 98' Vikings or the Mike Martz Rams teams and the next week, they will struggle to protect the ball and generally play down to their opposition.

In 2008 - the inconsistencies we saw from the Saints a year prior to that were ever present once again. The season started off well for New Orleans, as Drew Brees passed for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns in an opening day victory over division foe Tampa Bay.

The next week however, Brees would struggle to get into any kind of rhythm and turn the ball over twice, while the Saints defense would all but disappear in a loss to the Redskins on the road.

The yo-yo effect of exchanging wins and losses would basically become a running theme for the Saints the entire season. Throughout 2008, the Saints offense would post outstanding numbers en route to ranking first in the league in total yards per game, passing yards per game, and points per game.

However, their defense was a whole different story. Last season the Saints defense, an obvious achilles heel for the team, would be ranked 23rd overall and surrender over 24 points a game.

In other words, when the Saints would win, it would come via a shootout - but when their offense would struggle to get into any sort of flow, the game was all but over.

What this resulted in was another very average season. While Drew Brees came within 16 yards of breaking Dan Marino's single season record for passing yards in a season, the Saints quarterback also threw 17 interceptions, with only Brett Favre and Jay Cutler throwing more during the year.

And while it may seem unfair to nitpick about a season that saw over 5000 yards passing and 34 touchdowns, with as shaky a defense and place kicker as Brees was playing alongside, the big interception would often prove to be a deathblow.

As the 2008 season drew to a close, with the Saints finishing at 8-8, coach Sean Payton knew he had to get his franchise quarterback some stability on his other units so that the weight on Brees' shoulders would not be too much for him to handle.

2009 Free Agency Additions:
CB Jabari Greer (Buffalo)
FB Heath Evans (New England)
S Darren Sharper (Minnesota)
LB Anthony Waters (San Diego)
C Nick Leckey (St. Louis)
S Pierson Prioleau (Jacksonville)
DT Rod Coleman (Atlanta)
DE Paul Spicer (Jacksonville)
TE Dan Campbell (Detroit)
OT Anthony Davis (St. Louis)
TE Darnell Dinkins (Cleveland)
WR Paris Warren (Tampa Bay)

2009 Trade Acquisitions:
None

2009 Offseason Departures:
FB Mike Karney (St. Louis)
S Josh Bullocks (Chicago)
WR David Patten (Cleveland)
RB Deuce McAllister (Released)
CB Mike McKenzie (Unsigned)

2009 NFL Draft:
1-14. Malcolm Jenkins, FS, Ohio State
4-116. Chip Vaughn, SS, Wake Forest
4-118. Stanley Arnoux, ILB, Wake Forest
5-164. Thomas Morstead, P, SMU

2009 Outlook
New Orleans began to reconfigure their defense by removing Gary Gibbs as defensive coordinator and hiring Gregg Williams to become their new defensive coordinator.

Then between free agency and the draft, the Saints began to add much needed pieces on their depth chart. Veteran safety Darren Sharper was signed to play safety, and corner Jabari Greer came over from Buffalo to fill a spot vacated by the departure of Mike McKenzie.
The Saints also drafted Malcolm Jenkins out of Ohio State, who can play either corner or safety, with their first round pick in 2009.

On the defensive line, the Saints added a couple of veterans to their rotation in Paul Spicer and Rod Coleman, and they surely hope that each aging vet has some juice left in the tank. Bobby McCray and Will Smith will resume their spots as the teams defensive ends, but the Saints will need much more production out of each of these guys as combined they were only able to register 9 sacks in 2008.

Without any doubt though, the leader of the Saints defense is middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Vilma, who came over to the Saints a season ago after being acquired from the New York Jets, led the Saints in tackles with 132 in 2008.

Offensively, the Saints will basically return everyone from their #1 overall attack a season ago, the lone exception being Deuce McAllister. Drew Brees once again will be under center and he should have, for the time being anyway, a healthy Reggie Bush playing behind him.
Bush was on his way to posting career numbers across the board a season ago before injuries cut his season short. Pierre Thomas will be Reggie's main backup this year, and was the Saints leading rusher in 2008.

Brees will have plenty of weapons to get the ball to downfield, with his main targets being Marques Colston and 2008 breakout player Lance Moore. Also complementing these two targets are Devery Henderson and tight ends Billy Miller and Jeremy Shockey, who had a fairly disappointing inaugural season as a member of the Saints.

On special teams, the Saints are one of the best teams at returning punts and kicks, in large part due to No. 25.
However, a major problem a season ago for the Saints was their own kicking game. In hopes of repairing this, the Saints did the rare thing and moved up to draft punter Thomas Morestead in the 5th round.
Garrett Hartley will be the teams kicker to start 2009, after being the third such player brought on by New Orleans a year ago. In 2008, Hartley finally cured the Saints woes at place kicker by going a perfect 13 for 13, but it may have been too late on the grander scale as the Saints lost two crucial games early in the season due to last second field goal shanks.

2009 Schedule:
Sun 9/13 Detroit
Sun 9/20 at Philadelphia
Sun 9/27 at Buffalo
Sun 10/4 NY Jets
  bye
Sun 10/18 NY Giants
Sun 10/25 at Miami
Mon 11/2 Atlanta
Sun 11/8 Carolina
Sun 11/15 at St. Louis
Sun 11/22 at Tampa Bay
Mon 11/30 New England
Sun 12/6 at Washington
Sun 12/13 at Atlanta
Sat 12/19 Dallas
Sun 12/27 Tampa Bay
Sun 1/3 at Carolina

2009 Prediction:
Luck was not on the Saints side in 2009, as they played in the most competitive division in the NFC a season ago, and were unable to make the playoffs despite getting a 5000 passing effort from their quarterback and leading the league in points scored and total yardage.

The primary reason for the Saints disappointing 8-8 finish was in large part due to the Saints defense and special teams constantly letting down the Saints offense in the waning moments of the game, and as stated earlier, the games the Saints won came via a shootout and the games the Saints lost came when a pivotal mistake came at the wrong time.

In an effort to repair this, the Saints made an array of moves in the 2009 offseason, and a lot of them are very risky. Gregg Williams was extremely disappointing as defensive coordinator in Jacksonville a season ago, and Darren Sharper is not the same player he once was. The Saints first round selection of Malcolm Jenkins appears to be a good one, but many questions surround Jenkins ability to play corner, and whether or not he is really meant to be a safety at the next level.

However, for all the problems the Saints defense and special teams unit gave its own offense a year ago, the fixes may not have to be as great as they would have to normally be on another team for the simple reason its offense is one of the best in football.

And of course, finishing last in the NFC South seems to have its benefits the following season.

As I expect it will this year.

Predicted Finish: 10-6, 1st place NFC South
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Hassellbeck - VSN Writer
www.virtualsportsnetwork.com
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