Since 1970, eight teams have appeared in a Super Bowl, failed to return the following season, and then bounced back with another Super Bowl run in year two. Most recently, of course, is last year’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who followed up a Super Bowl win over Arizona by barely missing the playoffs at 9-7, before winning the AFC again last year. What are New Orleans’ chances for a bounce back to the Super Bowl? Let’s review why they slipped a little in 2010.
On the surface, New Orleans didn’t appear to have that much of a drop off. However, the Saints drew a pretty easy schedule last year, and they managed to go 11-5 with several close victories (6-2 in one score games). New Orleans then suffered a bad defeat in the playoffs against Seattle, when the banged up secondary struggled.
The record covered up some of the problems that the Saints had in 2010. On defense, they pulled off a rare feat. The Saints managed to lead the league defensively in fewest touchdowns allowed, while also finishing dead last in passes intercepted. It was quite a change from the year before, when an opportunistic defense was 3rd in interceptions, and had 5 defensive scores in the regular season, plus the defining play of the Super Bowl–Tracy Porter’s clinching interception return for touchdown.
Part of that is teams chose to run on the Saints more frequently in an attempt to shorten the number of possessions. Most teams with 11 wins will have faced an above average number of pass attempts, as the opponent is playing from behind. The Saints, though, faced the 4th fewest pass attempts in the league, more than only Oakland, Buffalo, and Denver. Two of those were bad teams that had horrible rush defenses, so it makes sense. New Orleans run defense wasn’t horrible like Denver or Buffalo, but it wasn’t able to get off the field in many situations. The Saints also had a total of 33 sacks, and had to rely on a variety of players to achieve it, as no one had more than 6 (DT Sedrick Ellis). When a defensive tackle, middle linebacker, and strong safety are among the top 4 on the team in sacks, it speaks to a lack of pressure from the usual sources and a defense where defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had to scheme to create pressure.
Fast forward to this year, and the team drafted DE Cameron Jordan in the first round, and added both Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin at the defensive tackle positions, in an effort to shore up the middle so teams cannot pound them to control the clock and keep the offense at bay. The deeper rotation should also help create more pressure and free the ends, even without a dominant edge rusher.
On offense, the issues largely centered around the injuries at the running back position, which created consistency issues for the passing game. Drew Brees had a relative off year only by his own standards as the offensive efficiency dipped a little from the Super Bowl year, and his interceptions rose as he faced more pressure without a consistent run game.
To address that, the team traded back into the first round to pick 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram to be a pounding back, running behind one of the best interior lines in guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, plus newcomer Olin Kreutz at center. If Ingram lives up to the expectations and Pierre Thomas is healthier to provide a 1-2 combination, the offense should be more explosive, especially when coupled with a deep receiving group and an emerging Jimmy Graham at tight end.
Chase Stuart has New Orleans as his Super Bowl favorite. I’m still pondering my picks, but I have them neck and neck with Green Bay. Philadelphia got a lot of the headlines this offseason, but New Orleans methodically addressed key issues that caused them to slip from Super Bowl winner to merely a playoff team. On paper, and so far in the preseason, the returns suggest a team that could bounce back to elite status. We won’t have to wait long to find out how Green Bay and New Orleans match up, as the season opener looks to be about as good as you could hope.
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[photo via Getty]