The New Orleans Saints have been a mixed bag through their first 2 preseason games, and if we’re looking at it objectively there has been more bad than good. Especially when looking at it from the viewpoint of a fan. However, that is exactly why the Saints are going to benefit tremendously from this year’s preseason. In 2017 the Saints were plucky underdog that became the hottest team in the league and was a ridiculous fluke play away from advancing to the NFC Championship game. But, the reality is that in professional sports no one stays where they were at the year before, you either get better, or you get worse.
The Saints have spent the off-season further improving their depth, trying to shore up their weaknesses, and adjusting their mentality to go from the hunters to the hunted. There are a lot of things to be discouraged about so far, the backup QBs being the top of the list of course, but also a lot that we can take solace in as fans. Remember that the entire purpose of the preseason is evaluation and preparation. Wins and losses are meaningless.
The process that leads to those wins and losses and the evaluation that is able to occur during that journey is the point. You don’t gameplan in the preseason, you play, you observe, and you analyze. When you take a look under the hood there are some things that are VERY promising towards the Saints being just fine when the games actually matter, here are a few.
Games begin and end with the lines
Football is the ultimate team game and is a complex ever changing game of cat and mouse between the offense and the defense. Formations, calls, checks, counter checks, hundreds of possibilities calculated in seconds which determine victory or defeat. And yet, at the end of the day its not incorrect to make the statement that the outcomes are largely determined by the success (or failure) of the giant men up front. The offensive and defensive lines generally get the least publicity, the fewest commercials, and the most blame...and they also carry the most weight (pun intended).
The Saints offensive line has been outright dominant, at least the starters have, and with their best player healthy and looking like his old self they could potentially have the best offensive line in the league. When the games matter the Saints will be heavily dependent on their run game and the play action passing attack that it opens up. That begins and ends with the performance of the guys up front.
It doesn’t end there though, the Saints already have the best 4-3 DE in the NFL in Cam Jordan, and with Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata and the emerging 2nd year player Trey Hendrickson all showing significant ability to get pressure the Saints are likely going to be even better up front this year than last.
What really stands out though is the depth. There are no less than 4 players fighting for the opportunity to be a backup/rotational player along the defensive line and all of them have flashed in the Saints first 2 games. Depth matters everywhere, but especially along the defensive line where rotating fresh bodies can be a significant advantage. We haven’t even gotten a chance to see our 1st round pick Marcus Davenport yet, but while he is a raw player, his sheer physical ability makes it likely that he will be a ‘rising star’ for the 2nd half of the season provided he’s able to start working his way into the games going forwards.
Outside of the Saints potential for dominant fronts on both sides of the ball, they also have talent all the way across the board in every position group. The additions of Demario Davis and a returning Alex Anzalone add a much needed element of speed to the linebacking corp. The wide receivers group replaced Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman with Cameron Meredith and ‘Super Rookie’ Tre’Quan Smith which regardless of what you may think of either of them, its pretty much a guarantee you will get more production from this year’s unit than last. Oh, and Michael Thomas is still a monster who plays with a chip on his shoulder and his team on his back...best of luck DBs. You will need it.
The Secondary has a more seasoned and by his own declaration a ‘smarter’ Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams coming off of a phenomenal rookie campaign is on a mission to erase the memory of how last season ended, and Ken Crawley is likely to continue his upward trajectory (and even if he’s not better, if he’s just the same we’re in a great spot).
The only position where the team hasn’t added more talent to last year’s division winning roster are Tight End and Quaterback, and you can argue that 4,000 year old (yet ageless) veteran Benjamin Watson still improves the Tight End group. That would mean that the only position that didn’t get better is the position that didn’t need to. Drew Brees is still a BAD BAD man.
So chins up Saints fans. The preseason is there to work out the kinks, test your execution, identify your weaknesses, and allow you to work on them in a ‘live’ theater that doesn’t count or matter. The Saints have yet to suffer a major injury. So long as that is the case the preseason is a win, and the fact they are taking their lumps now is good for us, it means they are less likely to need to punt two games to figure things out (like NOT letting Devante Harris on the field) like they did last year.