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Is Pass Rushing the Saints Primary Need?

I think most of us agree that the primary off-season need for the Saints is a pass rushing presence off the edge. But is our ability to get to the quarterback as poor as we think it is?

Let's first look at how the Saints have done in the Sean Payton era collecting sacks:

Year Team Sacks NFL Rank
2010 33 18T
2009 35 13T
2008 28 22T
2007 32 19T
2006 38 12T


That means the Saints have averaged about 33 sacks per season in the Sean Payton era, while averaging 17th best per year in the NFL during that span. Last year was actually incredibly consistent with what we're used to seeing in the Sean Payton era in terms of sacks, and it wasn't really a down year as I would have expected. Instead, it was the norm. The norm is somewhere between middle of the road and mediocre, but not terrible. And the Saints have proven they can win averaging 33 sacks a season thanks to their strengths in other areas. By the way, for what it's worth, the average "sacks per regular season " from a team that made the Super Bowl over the last 5 year span is 41.1 sacks per season, or 8 more per season than the Saints have registered. The Steelers, who have been to two Super Bowls (granted they're built to win in a completely different way than the Saints) during that span, have averaged a whooping 44.2 sacks per season.

Digging deeper, the front four managed 20.5 of the 33 sacks for the team in 2010, accounting for 62% of the team's sacks. By comparison, the d-line accounted for 81.4% of sacks in 2009, 75% in 2008, 65.6% in 2007 and 73.7% in 2006. So if you felt like the Saints got less sacks in 2010 than ever before, the truth was that they got the same as they usually get, but they got a lot less from their front four. Because of this, that means the Saints relied on blitzes more than ever before in an effort to get to the quarterback. Blitzing leaves your back end exposed, and while that style of play is something the Saints can get away with thanks to solid man to man cover corners in general, it didn't work out well at all in the playoff game against the Seahawks.

There is no doubt that getting to the quarterback more would help the Saints. But it doesn't need to be drastically more. The two biggest output seasons sack wise for the Saints in the Sean Payton era were 2006 and 2009 (NFC Championship and Super Bowl seasons). No coincidence, those two years also represent Will Smith's best seasons, when he totaled 10.5 sacks and 13 sacks per season, respectively. The two lowest outputs were the two seasons the team missed the playoffs entirely. It may be a stretch to point to one stat, namely sacks, and find a direct correlation with success, but at the very least it has to raise an eyebrow. We're not talking about a huge difference, either, we're talking about 6 more sacks per average in the "successful season". My main gripe is the Saints' ability to get sacks has been completely dependent on Will Smith's health. I think we need younger guys that can fill in for him without a major drop off like it years past. Something is wrong when Will Smith with a serious hernia injury is still your pass rushing option.

So yeah, I think getting an explosive pass rushing specialist is a must. Especially when we just need him help boost our "team sacks" by about 5 in order to get back to posting numbers that were good enough to direct us to the NFC Championship. It's clear to me, looking at the numbers, that the best teams over the last 5 years have gotten to the quarterback a lot more than the Saints have. The Saints need someone who can change them from being consistently mediocre to average in this area, to slightly above average. That little nuance could make a huge difference.

Do you agree this is our primary need?