The New Orleans Saints have had one of the NFL's most prolific offenses since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived for the 2006 season. The team has won its last two games, evening their record at 2-2 as they sat during Week 5. What has been different about these 2 victories is that they haven’t had to score at least 28 points to secure the win, as they often have had to do in recent seasons to just have a chance.
New Orleans has endured injury issues along the offensive line (tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief), and a league suspension to one of its best offensive weapons (wide receiver Willie Snead). The Saints scored just 19 and 20 points, respectively, in losses to Minnesota and New England to open the season before breaking out for 34 against Carolina in Week 3, and 20 versus Miami in Week 4.
Today, we take a look at the Saints offense, and how they've fared in the first quarter of the 2017 season.
Grading the Saints Offense
Drew Brees has thrown for 1,135 yards with 8 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 69% completion percentage. Brees has played in the NFL for 17 years, and not once has he started the first 4 games without an interception. The Saints deep passing game has not yet hit its stride, and Brees is averaging just under 284 yards per game, a bit lower than his usual production but still good for 4th in the league. The 38-year-old Brees still spreads the ball around to stretch a defense and moves around in the pocket extremely well.
Quarterback Grade = A
It's time to end the Adrian Peterson experiment. The 11-year veteran has carried 27 times for only 81 yards. Take out his season long run of 11 yards, and the 32-year-old Peterson has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. Injuries along the offensive line have not helped New Orleans maintain a consistent rushing attack, the Saints rank just 22nd in the league, but the team has been far more productive when either Mark Ingram or rookie Alvin Kamara is in the game.
Ingram, coming off his first 1,000-yard rushing season, leads the team with 170 yards rushing on 42 attempts, and is also 3rd on the team with 15 receptions. Kamara is taking on a bigger role in this offense each week. He hasn't yet been a big difference maker in the running game, although he does lead the Saints backs in average per carry (5.5) and has their only rushing score. He has been a bigger threat as a receiver, with 20 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. If the last two games are any indication, Ingram will again assume the primary rushing role, with Kamara as the 3rd down back, but still seeing a large number of snaps due to his versatility and open field abilities.
Running Back Grade = B
Michael Thomas is turning into one of the best receivers in the NFL. The 2nd year wideout leads New Orleans with 25 catches for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns. His yardage total is a bit lower than some had projected so far, but without Snead in the lineup, defenses have keyed on Thomas.
The Saints other receivers have struggled a bit, despite often being left in single coverage. Ted Ginn Jr. was signed this offseason to provide a downfield threat, but is averaging just 13.3 yards per reception, although he did have a 40-yard touchdown catch against Carolina. Brandon Coleman has the trust of his quarterback, particularly near the goal line, but is most effective on short and intermediate routes. Tommylee Lewis has the team's longest reception (52 yards), but the Saints utilize him on wide receiver screens and shorter routes to take advantage of his quickness in the open field.
The return of Snead to the lineup will be a big boost to the Saints passing game. He is a trusted target of Brees, and is one of the better slot receivers in the NFL.
Wide Receiver Grade = C
Coby Fleener seems to have a much better grasp of the Saints offense than he did a year ago. He has been a threat in the red zone (2 touchdowns), and has given Brees a reliable target down the seam of the field, as well as a consistent safety valve. Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui are solid blockers, but have not been much of a threat in the passing game.
Fleener is emerging as a bigger part of the Saints offense than he was a year ago, and New Orleans will need him to make plays in the middle of the field as the season progresses.
Tight End Grade = C
The Saints have been missing left tackle Terron Armstead, out since mini-camp with a labrum injury. Then, right tackle Zach Strief went down with a knee injury in the 1st half of the loss in Week 1 at Minnesota and missed the next two games. Strief returned for the Miami game, only to re-injure his knee, which could cost him the remainder of the year. First round pick Ryan Ramczyk has shuffled between the tackle spots and has exhibited himself well. New Orleans coaches adjusted by going to a shorter passing attack, and the line has protected Brees well enough that he has only been sacked 4 times, but New Orleans has struggled with consistency in the run game.
Andrus Peat has again been plugged in at left tackle at times during the line shuffle, but is far more effective inside. Peat and free agent Larry Warford are developing into a team strength at the guard positions, while Max Unger is playing back at a high level after missing most of the preseason with injury. Senio Kelemete provides solid depth, and can be an effective spot starter, and Josh LeRibeus has played some quality snaps in jumbo packages. Armstead's expected return to the lineup in the next week or two can soldify a line that has played surprisingly well at times despite injury. Ramczyk looks like a solid pro at either tackle position, and line continuity should improve the effectiveness of the Saints running attack.
Offensive Line Grade = B
New Orleans is around the middle of the pack in points scored per game at 23.3. Their more lofty No. 7 ranking in total yards per game (370) was built somewhat by yardage late in losses to Minnesota and New England once the Saints were already well behind. The returns of Snead and Armstead to the offense, continued development by Thomas and Kamara, as well as consistency from Brees, Ingram and Fleener will very likely make this one of the more dangerous offenses in the league again as the 2017 season moves along.
Saints Offensive Grade = B-
How would you grade the Saints offensive performance over the 1st quarter of season?
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