So, what did you do during your summer break? Well, whatever it was, the Saints can top it. They are the cool kid who found trouble during their days off, and they have all the stories to prove it. Busted for bounties? Check. Coach on the bongos after being suspended? Check. The star quarterback engaged in a fight with management over a contract, that extended into July? You got it.
On the field, New Orleans has been one of the most stable franchises, finishing top 6 in yards gained (#1 four times) since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived hand in hand in Bourbon Street. Now, with Payton gone, the question is how much that stability will be affected. I think we can often make too much of these psychological factors with the offseason drama. What is more likely to be an issue is the absence of Payton and having to deal with one coach for six weeks (Aaron Kromer) until Joe Vitt also returns from suspension. The playbook may be the same, but the chef sometimes makes the ingredients come to life. Drew Brees will have to become a grand chef himself this season.
While any drop off in offense will lead to instant cries about Payton’s absence, let’s remember that two years ago, Drew Brees *only* averaged 7.0 yards per attempt. Darren Sproles in place of Reggie Bush made a difference, though to be fair, it was Darren Sproles for 16 games in place of an injured Reggie Bush who missed half the season. It wasn’t just Bush. The running back situation was an injury mess two years ago, and the team tried to address that with Mark Ingram. While Ingram disappointed as a rookie, Pierre Thomas was healthier and Darren Sproles was the perfect fit. Add in a breakout year for Jimmy Graham, who began to flash his potential at the end of the previous year, and we see how a team that was already pretty good offensively made the leap.
Guard Carl Nicks was gone, with the team instead retaining Marques Colston at wide receiver to offset the loss of Robert Meachem. I looked at the effect of losing receivers and interior linemen earlier this year, and the impact at receiver was bigger.
New Orleans has offset those changes to some extent. They had 6 different players have 500 yards receiving last year. I think they can survive if one is gone. The biggest issue, with head coach Sean Payton gone for a year in an unprecedented coaching suspension, is whether the team will be wasting away in Margaritaville, or partying on Bourbon Street in February. They have the talent to get there on offense. The defense has plenty of concerns, and loses Will Smith to suspension at the start of the year. Favorites generally don’t like uncertainty, though, and there is a lot of that as well.
[photo via US Presswire]
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