Sean Payton has been calling plays for the Saints for a long time, so New Orleans fans are used to his style. It’s a West Coast Offense with a bit of a wrinkle, that involves heavily involving running backs in the screen game.
However, while that style used to be volume-based, Payton has moved away from pass-heavy offenses in recent years. While Drew Brees can still hit eight different receivers in any given way, Payton has had him under center and handing the ball off more often, rather than in the shotgun and swinging it out to a running back.
Mike Clay and the NFL Nation writers at ESPN+ looked into the regular season play-calling of every coach in the NFL since 2007, and what they found confirmed some preconceptions about the Payton offense and debunked others.
While the Saints offense is fairly conservative in the passing game, its receiving groups tend to perform extremely efficiently, with ESPN finding that the groups had not ranked below 10th in catch rate or yards per attempt.
While the presences of Michael Thomas and Marques Colston likely boosted those stats, it’s impressive all the same for the receiving groups to be so consistent — especially given the turnover that the Saints have had at the position. The common thread there, of course, is Brees.
Running backs, meanwhile, have been as successful as you would imagine. Payton’s running backs have the highest target share in the league since 2007, and given some of the players the Saints have had in that span, it’s hardly surprising.
This season, we will likely see the Saints continue to rework their offense a bit. A large part of Clay’s sample was a different era of the Saints, an era in which Brees was throwing for 5,000 yards a season. The Saints have been focused on balance the past few years, and with this season likely being Brees’ last ride, the Saints likely won’t to try to ride his back to the postseason again.
With that being said, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders might give the Saints the best 1-2 punch Brees has ever had at receiver. If Brees still has a deep ball in him, we’ll find out early and often this year, as Sanders and Jared Cook can stretch the field for Thomas as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
The best thing Saints fans can say about Payton is that he’s proven to be adaptable. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Latavius Murray get more carries up the middle, but this information also tells us to expect more out of Murray in the passing game. You don’t play in a Payton offense as a running back without developing some hands if necessary.
Ultimately, Payton has been one of the NFL’s premier play-callers for a long time. There’s no reason to think this season will be any different.