Looking over the progress of the past season, it is apparent that our defense performed widely past our expectations, while the offense fizzled against the elite defenses of the league, including the Rams, Jets, Panthers, Seahawks, and 49ers. Many commentators have noted that our offense is too broad- we have four good running backs, several decent receivers, and a marquee tight end- to establish an identity or get into a rhythm on offense. Although we had some good recoveries in some games, we never seemed to be able to score on the opening drive, much less throughout the 1st quarter. Lets face it, our offense was pretty lethargic last year, although Brees still put up good numbers.
Given that the road to the Super Bowl appears like it will go through tough defensive teams like the Panthers, Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks for the foreseeable future, I think our top priority this season should be to revamp the offense. What follows is my own bold thoughts, which although they appear harsh, and call for the release of some major players, seems to be the only way we can get the players we will need to beat Seattle and Carolina next year and make it to the Super Bowl.
1. Lets return to the power run/play action game that won us the super bowl in 09. This means we need a couple of power backs that do not fumble. Solution: Lets part with Sproles, and Thomas for draft picks or free agents, and focus on developing Ingram and Robinson, giving them the touches they need to get into a rhythm and working on protecting the football, and also bring in Cadet as the 3rd back.
2. Lets hire a new OC that can implement this offense- Kevin Gilbride comes to mind, particularly his work in Pittsburgh and New York.
3. Our major area of concern this season should be the offensive line- particularly the tackles. Although we had pretty good success on inside run plays, outside running plays and sweeps were never effective. We also got killed in passing downs against teams with elite pass rushers. I would suggest trading up in the draft to get and least 1 elite tackle- this is going to be a major year for offensive tackles, and there are several prospects, but they will all be gone by our 27th pick. We also might be able to get another good one in the 2nd round if we can get more picks through trades. With some cap space created by the releases mentioned here, we can resign De la puente, Grubbs, and Evans. The interior line is fine, we just need to protect the edge during crucial pass downs, and to do that we need an elite tackle from this year's draft. My vote would be for Matthews, he is a tough kid and comes from a royal bloodline of linemen.
4. Our second area of concern should be the receivers. We should part with some of the receivers, and try to get one physical wide receiver that can get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage, and have at least a 50% chance to beat out an elite corner like Revis or Sherman by getting physical with them. We may need to look at free agency- probably an outside change to get Anquan Bolden, or the draft, but we will not be able to afford it or have enough high picks to get a good one unless we do some horse trading.
5. Jimmy Graham as either a TE or WR is not that guy. He was shut down in major games last year by physical defensive backs of the Jets, Seahawks, 49ers, Rams etcetera. He does great in mismatches with linebackers, and against teams without physical defensive backs, but if we aim higher than the wildcard round in the playoffs, we may need to trade him for better linemen, or a physical WR, or a tight end who can BLOCK.
6. Our defense is going to be fine. With the return of Butler and Robinson and others, we will not miss the loss of Smith, Harpur, and Vilma. We will need to find a safety in the draft or in free agency, and also another cornerback, but remember before last year all the commentators said that if our defense was merely middle of the road, we would be ok. Instead our defense was in the top 5 in many categories, but we still did not make the super bowl because our offense got shut down against Carolina and Seattle.
Let the discussion begin………...