They might be fuming over the inconsistent officiating, the no penalty helmet to helmet hit on Alvin Kamara, the decision to pass instead of run down the clock in the final minutes, Drew Brees’ decision to lock in on a triple covered Josh Hill with a wide open Mark Ingram, or Sean Payton’s personal foul penalty that effectively ended the game.
All of that sucked big time. No Saints fan ever has an easy time losing to the Dirty Birds, especially after losing so many key players (7) to injury throughout the game while still managing to keep it close and competitive until the final moments. It’s still too early in the week to know which injured players may be able to suit up after nine days rest against the Jets this Sunday.
So far, only bad news has come from the training room indicating that standout rookie defensive tackle Trey Hendrickson will miss the remaining three weeks of the season and linebacker A.J. Klein will likely miss extended time as well. Running back Alvin Kamara believes he will be available Sunday, but he’s got to pass the NFL concussion protocol first, and that’s not guaranteed by any measure.
With so much doom and gloom, I feel it’s really important to shift our focus towards the bountiful - get it? - positive trends for this Saints team. Over the past two days, I’ve been obsessing over the striking similarities between this gutsy football team and the Super Bowl winning 2009 Saints team.
First, let’s look at the commander in chief, Drew Brees. Through 13 games, Brees has thrown for 3,569 yards, 19 TDs, and only 6 INTs, while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt and 265.2 yards per game. He’s taken only 17 sacks, completed 71.7% of his passes, and has an average 104.2 QB rating.
In 2009, Brees threw for 4,388 yards, 34 TDs, and 11 INTs, while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt and 274.25 yards per game. He took 20 sacks, completed 70.6% of his passes, and earned a 109.6 QB rating.
Though Brees hasn’t thrown as many touchdowns this year, he’s taking better care of the ball and is on pace to complete more passes with greater efficiency, which says a lot since he previously broke the record for completion percentage in 2009. Besides the one ill advised pass over the middle to Josh Hill in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, Brees has played exceptionally well this season.
Second, let’s looks at the run game. In 2009, the Saints were well balanced and utilized a three headed monster by way of Reggie Bush, Mike Bell, and Pierre Thomas. This year, the Saints have only needed two bell cows, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, to put up almost identical numbers.
Through 13 games, Kamara and Ingram have churned out 1,762 yards, 19 TDs, and 91 first downs, while averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 135.5 yards per game. In 2009, the rushing trio put up 2,106 yards, 21 TDs, and 115 first downs, while averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 131.6 yards per game.
If Kamara and Ingram can lick their wounds (both from dirty shots in my opinion) and continue their current league-leading pace, they project to rush for slightly more total yards (2,167) and touchdowns (23) in even less attempts than the squad from 2009 (442 projected against 2009’s 468 attempts). Hallelujah, the Saints have a balanced offense again!
Third, let’s look at those receivers. Through 13 games, Saints receivers have racked up 317 receptions for 3,569 yards, 19 TDs, and 169 first downs, while averaging 11.3 yards per catch and 274.5 yards per game. In 2009, Saints receivers compiled 378 receptions for 4,490 yards, 34 TDs, and 215 first downs, while averaging 11.88 yards per catch and 280.6 yards per game.
While this year’s squad is projected to make more receptions (390) for slightly fewer yards (4,393), 11 less TDs (23), and seven less first downs (208), the numbers are still strikingly similar. The biggest difference seems to be that Brees is connecting on long passes less this year than in 2009. Still, the current receivers are putting up respectable numbers that have helped keep the offense balanced.
Fourth, let’s check out the defense. Through 13 games, Saints defenders have snagged 14 INTs, scoring twice, and have made 951 total tackles along with 34 sacks for 236 yards lost. In 2009, the Saints D caught 26 INTs, scored 5 TDs, and made 1,060 total tackles along with 35 sacks for 192 yards lost.
So, the 2009 squad had more INTs and defensive touchdowns - albeit with the help of a serial rapist who shall not be named - but this year, the Saints are crushing the sack category and project to finish with 7 more sacks for almost a hundred yards more lost to the opposition.
Fifth, how about special teams? While the kickoff return game is not worth mentioning, punt returns are slightly improved this year over 2009. In less attempts (24), the Saints returners have averaged 6.1 yards for 146 total punt return yards in 13 games. That’s a 1.5 yard improvement per return over the Super Bowl squad that included the always tantalizing, but sometimes frustrating, Reggie Bush.
Through 13 games, Will Lutz has made 38 of 41 points after touchdown and 26 of 31 field goals for 116 total points. He hit a long of 53 yards and holds an 83.9% field goal average. At this pace, he projects to make 47 PATs and 32 FGs for 143 points.
For reference, NFC conference playoff and Super Bowl hero Garrett Hartley made 60 of 63 PATs and 22 of 28 FGs for 126 points, while hitting a long of 46 and averaging 78.6% on field goal attempts. Hartley had to kick more extra points, but those were closer and easier than extra point attempts today. Lutz appears more accurate and with a stronger leg to boot, literally.
With the news of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out with a torn ACL, the already tight race in the NFC just got even tighter. The Saints’ own NFC South rivals (Panthers and Falcons) pose an immediate threat as do the ever improving Rams. What I find the most reminiscent of 2009, however, is the emergence of the Vikings as a true power house in the NFC.
If the Saints continue to dig deep, play angry, and take care of business the next three weeks, it’s not totally far-fetched to imagine seeing an NFC Championship rematch between the Saints and Vikings. Of course, many stars would need to align for that to happen, and the Saints haven't even clinched a playoff spot yet. But how crazy would it be if the Saints’ first two opponents of the season (Vikings then Patriots) were also their last two?
The Saints are a much different team today than the team fans were ready to give up on two games into the 2017 season. Their near win last week in the face of unimaginable adversity proves - and the numbers back it up - that this team is much more like the Super Bowl winning squad of 2009 than the 7-9 teams fans became used to the past four out of five years.
If the numbers aren’t enough to brighten your spirits, ponder this: The last time it snowed in New Orleans (2009), the Saints won the Super Bowl. A large portion of Louisiana, including Orleans Parish, got some snow last Friday. I’m just as superstitious as any other Saints fan and the positive signs are becoming just too strong to ignore.