Everyone, including myself, has been up in arms about the play of the Saints defense in these last few games. Rightfully so, since they're beginning to look more like the defenses of recent years past. But there have also been a select few comments made by some readers who have also pointed out the recent struggles of the offense as well. From a statistical standpoint, they're correct; offensive production has dropped off. From an average of 425.9 yards per game during the first eleven games to only 396.6 in the last three. The effects have appeared on the scoreboard as well, with the Saints only averaging 25.3 points per game against their last three opponents compared with an impressive average of 37 points in the first eleven.
So I wanted to dig a little deeper and try to pinpoint the reason for this dramatic drop off. After thinking about it for a while and pouring over the stats, I feel I have discovered the answer is simple: The Saints need to get back to running the football. Once the number one rushing team in the entire league, the Saints have dropped down to the fifth spot.
Take a look at the how the Saints running attack these last three games compares with the success they were having during their more dominating days.
|Statistic||First 11 Games||Last 3 Games|
|Rush Attempts per Game||31.8||21|
|Rush Yards per Game||150.5||71.6|
|Average Yards per Carry||4.7||3.6|
|% of Total Plays||51%||32%|
That's quite a fall from grace. Not only are the Saints running the ball less effectively, they just straight up aren't doing it as much. But all this proves is that there is a problem, it doesn't provide an explanation.
Some answers are obvious. A banged up and tired offensive line. The absence of key players like Heath Evans and Jeremy Shockey. But probably the most important is the fact that the Saints just have not been able to gain an early lead on their opponents like they did so easily in September and October, allowing them to run a more balanced offense and be significantly less predictable. They have had to play from behind more and more often as the season carries on, forcing them to rely more heavily on the arm of Drew Brees in an effort to catch up.
In reality, the Saints' troubles with their quick striking offense has been a problem since their week seven matchup against the Dolphins, and not just these last three games. Check out how their first quarter scoring compares.
|Statistic||First 5 Games||Last 9 Games|
|Saints Average 1st Quarter Scoring||9.6||2.6|
|Opponents Average 1st Quarter Scoring||2.5||9.5|
If you'll notice, the tables have basically turned as the Saints have allowed teams to do to them, what they were doing to opponents earlier in the year.
Of course there are other important factors like turnovers and just plain luck included in the formula for on-field success but the Saints will certainly want to emphasize striking quickly as they close out the season and head into the playoffs. That will allow them once again to run a more balanced offense, making them that much more unpredictable and dangerous. With a comfortable lead the Saints offense has proven to be at their best and it's always equalled a death knell for opposing teams. Especially given the Saints outscore their opponents 139 - 34 in the fourth quarter.