The defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints shocked the football world yesterday with their 41-36 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks were the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a 7-9 record. The Saints were coming off a Super Bowl Championship the year before and looked to be hitting their stride at the right time of year.
But NFL fans across the country saw that the Saints were far from perfect this year, and the magic just wasn't there like it was the year before.
Let's take a look at 10 things that the Saints must do in order to make a deep run in next year's NFL postseason.
The Saints were pretty average when it came to stopping the run this season.
The defending Super Bowl champs allowed opposing teams to gain over 112 yards-per-game, which ranked 16th in the NFL this season. In their playoff loss to Seattle, the Saints allowed running back Marshawn Lynch to rush for 131 yards, including a 67-yard game winning run, in which he broke eight tackles on his way to the end zone.
Reggie Bush is a playmaker. That is what he does; he makes big plays.
While the guy doesn't need to carry the ball more than 10 times per game, the Saints have to find more ways to get him the ball in other situations. Whether it's lining him up as a receiver, using him in an option or wildcat formation, he needs the ball in his hands.
Despite being without their top two rushers from this season, Bush only had five carries in the Saints loss to the Seahawks. He did have five receptions, but was not used in punt or kickoff return situations.
The Saints have been looking to improve their defense throughout the draft over the past couple of years, specifically in their defensive backfield.
They need to continue to do so. This team has huge needs on defense and at running back. They need to keep bringing in young talent through the draft, and with their early round playoff exit, they will have a top-25 pick in this year's draft.
This unit played a huge role in New Orleans' Super Bowl run last year, but they just weren't the same this season.
The Saints leading return man this season was Courtney Roby, who averaged just 23 yards per return. The Saints did not have a single kickoff return over 39 yards this season.
Their punt returning statistics were not much better either. Lance Moore led the team with a 10.2 yards-per-return average, followed by Reggie Bush, who averaged just 6.6 per return.
As a unit, the Saints special teams did not have one single touchdown in the 2010 regular season.
The Saints finished the year with an 11-6 final record, but three of those loses were to teams with below .500 records. Two of those loses came against Arizona and Cleavland, who had a combined 10 wins between two of them.
Had they won those two games, maybe they could have challenged the Falcons in the NFC South and been able to establish home field advantage in the postseason.
If this team wants to get back, they need to win those easy games. It was only fitting that it was a team with a below .500 record that ended their season.
It's not like the Saints don't have talent in their secondary. Guys like Darren Sharper, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer are good players, but they weren't so good in their loss to the Seahawks.
To their defense, they were playing without Malcolm Jenkins. But to allow Matt Hasselbeck to pass for 272 yards and four touchdowns is just unacceptable for a secondary with those types of big names. Sharper is getting up there in age, and Harper was exposed throughout that game as well as a few times in the regular season.
The Saints have good youth at the corners, but need to build depth at the safety position.
The Saints are a great home football team. And while they had a better record than Seattle, the Seahawks were awarded home field because they won their division.
The Saints need to focus on not letting up against bad football teams (Arizona and Cleveland) and winning their division to secure home field. It always makes a huge difference come postseason play...always.
This is obviously something that the Saints could not have controlled, but if they are going to make another deep run next season, they need to be healthy, which they wern't heading into this year's postseason.
The Saints were without their top two running backs in Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory and one of their top defensive backs, Malcolm Jenkins. Those three injuries really showed to effect the Saints in their loss to Seattle.
The Saints had one of the worst rushing offenses in all of football this year. The unit ranked 28th in the NFL, averaging just 98 yards-per-game.
Drew Brees threw the ball an average of 42 times per game this season, while the Saints leading rusher, Chris Ivory, averaged less than 10 carries per game.
If they are going to be able to make a deep run in next year's playoffs, the Saints are going to have to find more balance on offense, and that starts with running the ball more effectively.
In a post-game interview, Jonathan Vilma admitted that the Saints figured they were going to win that game against Seattle.
Regardless of record, anything can happen in the postseason, which Seattle showed this year.The Saints, or any team for that matter, should never look ahead in a playoff game.
This team has the talent to get back to the NFL's biggest stage. Now, if they can get everything else together, they should be able to make a run back at the Super Bowl in the near future.