The New Orleans Saints (6-9) are out of the playoffs with one game left to play, in what might have been the most disappointing season for New Orleans under head coach Sean Payton. Was 2014 actually the worse Saints season under Payton? That remains to be seen. With a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday, the Saints at 6-10 could very well accomplish that with what would be their worst record since 2005.
So while everyone in New Orleans wants everyone on the Saints to be fired, restructured, released or put on minimum wages, two days after their crushing home loss to the Falcons, I'm trying to come up with a simple answer to a complex question: what happened to the 2014 Saints?
Like I said above, this is a complex question, so to make things a bit easier for all of us I decided to look at something we can all relate to as sports fans: rankings. After Sunday's debacle in the Superdome, I've heard everything from: "Drew Brees is old and cost us the season" to "fire Rob Ryan and the entire defense." Oh and let's not forget "Drew Brees should be replaced."
Well, what do the numbers say? As many of you know, I love those shiny new toys they call advanced statistics. But I also know that some of you old school "old schoolers" think they are just some wannabe pseudo-scientific baloney. These new metrics are actually the best tools we have today to truly gauge football teams' efficiency on either sides of the ball. But because I love you too old timers, and to make sure that no one is going to blame "pseudo-science" for the numbers I'm about to share, I will stay away from advanced stats just for the sake of this piece. By the way, in case you're wondering, in the case of the 2014 Saints, the advanced statistics interestingly show trends very similar to those of the numbers below.
I chose to focus on the two parts of the game that matter most: offense and defense. Let's start with the offense, since it's been the Saints calling card for the nine years Sean Payton has coached in New Orleans. Here are the NFL rankings for the 2014 Saints in some of the most important offensive categories after 15 games:
2014 Saints: Offensive "Yards" Rankings
- Total yards: 6244 (1st)
- Yards/Game: 416.3 (1st)
- Yards/Play: 6.1 (3rd)
- 1st Downs/Game: 25.0 (1st)
- 3rd Down Efficiency: 48.1% (T1st with Dallas)
- Passing Yards/Game: 299.7 (3rd)
- Passing Yards/Play: 6.9 (7th)
- Rushing Yards/Game: 116.5 (12th)
- Rushing Yards/Play: 4.6 (2nd with Kansas City and the NY Jets)
- Points/Game: 25.2 (9th)
- Time of Possession: 30:14 (15th)
- Passing Touchdowns: 32 (6th)
- Rushing Touchdowns: 14 (7th)
- Interceptions: 14 (19th)
Without further ado, let's take a look at the NFL rankings for the 2014 Saints in some of the most important defensive categories after 15 games:
2014 Saints: Defensive "Yards" Rankings
- Total Yards Allowed/Game: 390.9 (31st)
- Passing Yards Allowed/Game: 261.5 (29th)
- Passing Yards Allowed/Play: 7.50 (28th)
- Rushing Yards Allowed/Game: 129.5 (29th)
- Rushing Yards Allowed/Play: 4.81 (31st)
- 1st Downs Allowed/Game: 21.8 (29th)
- 3rd Downs Allowed: 45.5% (30th)
- Red Zone Scoring Allowed: 62.5% (27th)
- Points Allowed/Game: 26.9 (29th)
- Interceptions: 11 (21st)
- Sacks: 31 (25th)
I will not smother you with and endless analysis of these numbers, you can look at them and draw your own conclusions about what side of the ball didn't hold its end of the bargain up for the Saints in 2014. However I think it is fair to say that the demise of Drew Brees and the Saints offense and their responsibility in the Saints failings this year are all highly overstated.
Has the Saints offense been perfect this season? No, it certainly hasn't. However, it basically needed to play flawlessly for New Orleans to have any shot in close games this year. Even when the Saints had big leads, they either squeaked out narrow wins or lost because no lead was ever safe with the poor defensive play.
Drew Brees is a superstar, he has a 100 million dollars contract and he is the face of the New Orleans Saints franchise. It makes sense that when Brees throws 14 interceptions, many of which resulted in scores for Saints opponents, it overshadows all of the crucial shortcomings around him. Had they had a middle of the pack defense, one ranked anywhere between 15th and 20th for instance, the 2014 New Orleans Saints would probably be sitting at 9-6 or even 10-5 today. Instead, they'll be watching the playoffs on TV and we are now reduced to talking about the 2015 NFL draft and rooting against the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys.
Should the Saints pick an offensive lineman (as many project) or select a great defensive player in the first round of next year's draft? If you ask me, there are plenty of teams winning in the NFL with offenses that are worse than the Saints.' Yet many of these teams, like the Arizona Cardinals or the Cincinnati Bengals have good to great defenses.
In order to compete at a high level again in the NFL, New Orleans doesn't need a great defense, but it needs at least a good one. With Brees and Payton at the helm, the Saints will always have at the very least a top 10 offense. If I were Payton and Mickey Loomis, I'd lean defense, defense and more defense in the 2015 NFL draft!
What say you?