Since 2006, the New Orleans Saints offense has been one of the biggest powerhouses in the NFL. Year after year, the Drew Brees-led offense has found themselves consistently ranked in the league’s Top 10. Their worst finish came in 2010, ranking sixth in total offense per game with 372.5 yards. Of course, as good as the Saints have been offensively, especially over the past half of the Payton era, the defense has been a major letdown.
The offense isn’t given a pass for having a hand in the team’s three straight 7-9 seasons, as it has crashed and burned in several games when the defense did their part. Over the past three losing seasons, we’re often left wondering about the countless ‘if only’ Saints scenarios. Still, it’s a new season and fresh start for all 32 teams, and Sean Payton’s squad is no different.
You can point out areas in which the Saints offense has been hindered. For instance, last year saw the team field their lowest kickoff return average (16.5) and yardage (462). Now, some of that can naturally be attributed to the league’s touchback rule change, but the Saints were ranked 31st in the league in both of those categories. Other special teams units, like the Bengals and Rams, both had over 1,000 kickoff return yards. You also can’t leave out the fact that the Saints had just 28 returns in 2016, which factors in to the bottom third of the league.
Another example would include 2014 and the inability to get off to good starts, managing just 55 1st Quarter points, a team low in the Payton era. It goes without saying, that season itself was a pretty big train wreck. You could also look at 2015 when Brees was under constant pressure, mainly from an underachieving Zach Strief at right tackle, leading to the second-highest sack total on Brees (32) in a Saints uniform. These are just some of the many breakdowns the offense has sustained, as I’m certain more come to mind.
Here’s a detailed look at the offensive performance in the six losing seasons for the Saints.
Saints Offense - Losing Seasons
|3rd Down Pct||46.26%||48.50%||43.96%||48.28%||47.71%||48.64%|
|4th Down Pct||44.00%||55.56%||57.14%||53.33%||62.50%||86.67%|
|Red Zone Pct||72.00%||61.29%||68.42%||60.00%||60.34%||66.18%|
|Goal to Go||29-35||24-32||23-32||28-33||23-28||33-41|
|Goal to Go Pct||82.86%||75.00%||71.88%||84.85%||82.14%||80.49%|
|Total Net Yards||5780||6571||6574||6582||6461||6816|
|Total Off. Plays||1060||1047||1067||1095||1096||1105|
|Avg. Gain Per Play||5.5||6.3||6.2||6||5.9||6.2|
|Net Yards Rushing||1466||1594||1577||1818||1491||1742|
|Total Rushing Plays||392||398||370||406||397||404|
|Avg. Gain Per Rush||3.7||4||4.3||4.5||3.8||4.3|
|Net Yards Passing||4314||4977||4997||4764||4970||5074|
|Gross Yards Passing||4423||5069||5187||4952||5205||5258|
|Avg. Gain Per Pass||6.5||7.7||7.2||6.9||7.1||7.2|
|Fumbles / Fum. Lost||25-12||18-8||13-5||22-13||17-8||17-9|
|Kickoff Return Yards||1513||1496||1266||543||605||462|
|Kickoff Return Avg.||21.3||24.1||24.8||25.9||21.6||16.5|
|Time of Possession||31:09:00||30:23:00||28:36:00||30:03:00||31:11:00||30:57:00|
On the flip side, you can see what the offense has been like when the Saints boasted winning records.
Saints Offense - Winning Seasons
|3rd Down Conv (M/A)||105-234||88-197||106-217||118-208||97-221|
|3rd Down Conv Pct||44.87%||44.67%||48.85%||56.73%||43.89%|
|4th Down Conv (M/A)||12-20||6-15||5-11||3-10||9-19|
|4th Down Conv Pct||60.00%||40.00%||45.45%||30.00%||47.37%|
|Red Zone Conv (M/A)||29-53||41-71||31-61||44-75||32-57|
|Red Zone Conv Pct||54.72%||57.75%||50.82%||58.67%||56.14%|
|Goal to Go Conv (M/A)||21-35||24-36||22-28||29-37||23-31|
|Goal to Go Conv Pct||60.00%||66.67%||78.57%||78.38%||74.19%|
|Total Net Yards||6264||6461||5960||7474||6391|
|Total Off. Plays||1075||1032||1067||1117||1079|
|Avg. Gain Per Play||5.8||6.3||5.6||6.7||5.9|
|Net Yards Rushing||1761||2106||1519||2127||1473|
|Total Rushing Plays||472||468||380||431||391|
|Avg. Gain Per Rush||3.7||4.5||4||4.9||3.8|
|Net Yards Passing||4503||4355||4441||5347||4918|
|Gross Yards Passing||4626||4490||4636||5505||5162|
|Avg. Gain Per Pass||7.5||7.7||6.5||7.8||7.1|
|Fumbles / Fum. Lost||23-10||25-16||23-9||6-5||12-7|
|Kickoff Return Yards||1377||1393||1181||1111||506|
|Kickoff Return Avg.||23||24.4||22.7||26.5||23|
|Time of Possession||31:53:00||31:10:00||31:39:00||31:46:00||32:41:00|
It’s not an exact science in the NFL that doing ‘x’ as opposed to doing ‘y’ more yields wins in today’s game. Case in point, the Saints ran the ball the most in 2006 (472 attempts). Their average yards per rush just came in at 3.7 en route to 1,761 rushing yards. On the flip side, the highest rushing performances in Payton’s tenure in 2009 and 2011 came to the tune of over 2,000 yards in each season. They averaged 4.5 (2009) and 4.9 (2011) yards per carry, but also replicated that in 2014 (4.5), which also ended up being their third-highest rushing effort (1,818 yards) since 2006.
Since recent happenings are a good litmus test, here’s a look at the Saints offensive performance in the just the past five seasons.
Saints Offense - Last 5 Years
|3rd Down Pct||43.96%||43.89%||48.28%||47.71%||48.64%|
|4th Down Pct||57.14%||47.37%||53.33%||62.50%||86.67%|
|Red Zone Conv||39-57||32-57||39-65||35-58||45-68|
|Red Zone Conv Pct||68.42%||56.14%||60.00%||60.34%||66.18%|
|Goal to Go||23-32||23-31||28-33||23-28||33-41|
|Goal to Go Pct||71.88%||74.19%||84.85%||82.14%||80.49%|
|Total Net Yards||6574||6391||6582||6461||6816|
|Total Off. Plays||1067||1079||1095||1096||1105|
|Avg. Gain Per Play||6.2||5.9||6||5.9||6.2|
|Net Yards Rushing||1577||1473||1818||1491||1742|
|Total Rushing Plays||370||391||406||397||404|
|Avg. Gain Per Rush||4.3||3.8||4.5||3.8||4.3|
|Net Yards Passing||4997||4918||4764||4970||5074|
|Gross Yards Passing||5187||5162||4952||5205||5258|
|Avg. Gain Per Pass||7.2||7.1||6.9||7.1||7.2|
|Fumbles / Fum. Lost||13-5||12-7||22-13||17-8||17-9|
|Kickoff Return Yards||1266||506||543||605||462|
|Kickoff Return Avg.||24.8||23||25.9||21.6||16.5|
|Time of Possession||28:36:00||32:41:00||30:03:00||31:11:00||30:57:00|
For the past few years, we’ve seen a growing narrative of wannabe fortune tellers predicting the demise and downfall of Drew Brees. Arguably, he’s been the most important piece to the team’s offensive successes and failures. Just look at the track history of receiving leaders for the Saints since 2006. Never in a million years would anyone project a 33-year-old David Patten would have the type of production he did in 2007, and a lot of that is thanks to Brees.
Saints Receiving Trios Under Payton
|Year||Top Trio||Catches||Yards||TDs||Individual Stats (Rec-Yards-TDs)|
|Year||Top Trio||Catches||Yards||TDs||Individual Stats (Rec-Yards-TDs)|
|2006||Colston-Henderson-Bush||190||2,525||15||Colston (70-1038-8), Henderson (32-745-5), Bush (88-742-2)|
|2007||Colston-Patten-Bush||225||2,411||16||Colston (98-1202-11), Patten (54-792-3), Bush (73-417-2)|
|2008||Moore-Henderson-Colston||158||2,481||18||Moore (79-928-10), Henderson (32-793-3), Colston (47-760-5)|
|2009||Colston-Henderson-Meachem||166||2,600||20||Colston (70-1074-9), Henderson (51-804-2), Meachem (45-722-9)|
|2010||Colston-Moore-Meachem||194||2,444||20||Colston (84-1023-7), Moore (66-783-8), Meachem (44-638-5)|
|2011||Graham-Colston-Sproles||265||3,163||26||Graham (99-1310-11), Colston (80-1143-8), Sproles (86-710-7)|
|2012||Colston-Moore-Graham||233||3,177||25||Colston (83-1154-10), Moore (65-1041-6), Graham (85-982-9)|
|2013||Graham-Colston-Stills||193||2,799||26||Graham (86-1215-16), Colston (75-943-5), Stills (32-641-5)|
|2014||Stills-Colston-Graham||207||2,722||18||Stills (63-931-3), Colston (59-902-5), Graham (85-889-10)|
|2015||Cooks-Snead-Watson||227||2,947||18||Cooks (84-1138-9), Snead (69-984-3), Watson (74-825-6)|
|2016||Cooks-Thomas-Snead||242||3,205||21||Cooks (78-1173-8), Thomas (92-1137-9), Snead (72-895-4)|
The Patten example from what feels like an eternity ago is one thing. However, no matter who Brees has been paired up with as receiving threats, the Saints offense has always found a way. And that’s general theme for Sean Payton’s bunch, finding a way. This year, the team has once again made what many would regard as drastic changes to the offense. No longer will Brandin Cooks be the team’s top receiving threat, and a promising three-headed Hydra is in the works with Mark Ingram , Adrian Peterson, and Alvin Kamara - something reminiscent to a past team. Offensive guard Larry Warford looks to pick up right where Jahri Evans left off, and then some.
Then there’s things we bank on. For starters, Coby Fleener has a New Orleans season under his belt, which in turn should give the Saints a better threat from the tight end spot. We also look at progression from someone like Andrus Peat, who should now be etched in as the team’s starting left guard after bouncing around the offensive line. Of course, health is a general area that could help the Saints in 2017, as Terron Armstead looks to be fully recovered after toughing it out last season. As of now, the biggest question mark is around center Max Unger and his availability. It’s only May, so we have time to let that play out.
Needless to say, the Saints offense - no matter who ends up calling the plays - should keep on churning in the brand new season. There’s only reason for optimism, and looking across the roster certainly generates a sense of security. The Saints have faced off against some of the best and worst defenses in the past, and have generally made the most of it.
The largest hope for the 2017 Saints is that they finally get the improved defense they’ve long been searching for. One of the reasons the 2009 Super Bowl team was so special was because of the turnovers they generated, which in turn gave Brees the ball back. 2011’s offense had all the pieces working for them at the highest level, and also had a defense that could support them.
As long as Drew Brees and Sean Payton continue to be the masterminds of the New Orleans offense, there’s little to no doubt they’ll keep up the stellar production.
Team Bests, Trends, Tidbits
- Most points: 547 (2011)
- Most 1st Quarter points: 121 (2015)
- Most 2nd Quarter points: 176 (2009)
- Most 3rd Quarter points: 126 (2011)
- Most 4th Quarter points: 157 (2016)
- Most Rushing TDs: 21 (2009)
- Most Passing TDs: 46 (2011)
- Most First Downs: 416 (2011)
- Best 3rd Down Percentage: 118-of-208, 56.73% (2011)
- Best Red Zone Conversion: 36-of-50, 72% (2007)
- Most Net Yards: 7,474 (2011)
- Most Net Yards Rushing: 2,127 (2011)
- Most Yards Passing: 5,505 (2011)
- In winning and playoff seasons since 2006, the Saints have had an average time of possession of over 31 minutes. Their average conversion rate on 3rd Down was 47.5 percent, and 47.2 percent in losing seasons. In the past five seasons, they’ve turned in an average conversion percentage of 46.5.
- The offense has generated an average of 430 points per season in their six seasons not making the playoffs, and averaged 454 points in their five winning seasons.
- Since 2012, the Saints have had done the most scoring in the 2nd Quarter. Some 657 points scored over the past five seasons, which averages out to 131 points per year.