Today we continue our NFL preview series with two playoff teams from a year ago, The New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers.
The New Orleans Saints have had a rough off-season and have yet to sign Drew Brees to a long term contract. On top of that, player suspensions have yet to be announced. A draft choice was stripped away this year and next, so they won’t even be on the clock until the end of the 2nd day. Will this team take a big tumble in 2012?
Believe it or not, this team is MORE talented now, and could be poised to repeat in the South, IF all the coaching switches can be worked out. This NFL Preview will look back New Orleans from past, to the present time. Next we will post the San Francisco 49er preview.
NOTE: I will randomly add other team previews as the days go by, HOWEVER, if any reader of this blog wants to see a preview for a specific team, just LET ME KNOW and I will gladly make it available.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. As always, your comments, questions and/or disagreements are welcome!
Additional Note: This preview includes ratings used for the 2011 draft. A short explanation of these ratings is as follows:
Numerical: The rank of the player for that position. If there are TWO numbers, the first number is the rank for the general position (OL for example) and the 2nd number the rank for the specific position (OT).
* rating: A rating just below those at the position
NR: Not ranked, meaning I do not think that player is draft worthy.
NEW ORLEANS: 2011 RECORD 13-3 2010 RECORD 11-5 2009 RECORD 13-3 2008 RECORD 8-8
TEAM OVERVIEW: ’10 was a good year for the Saints, even though Atlanta beat them out in the Division. We expected a return to the Divisional crown last year and got just that. The Saints were the best team in the NFC by season’s end (sorry GB), riding an 8 game winning streak into the playoffs. They were the most complete team in the playoffs, with a pass D far better than GB’s. Unfortunately, SF had an even bigger season, pushing New Orleans into the 3rd playoff spot. With severely negative situational factors working against them when facing SF, the Saints gave it their all but came up just short in a 4th quarter which was spectacular for both teams! Many feel sorry for the Saints, who would have hosted (and beat) the NYG to get to the Super Bowl, but that’s old history now. Instead, thanks to a guy we NEVER liked, this organization is reeling from “Bounty-Gate”. We write this before any announced penalties but you better believe this organization should be hit hard! The Saints still have a roster full of talent, an elite QB and a new and improved DC, but the future is suddenly cloudy. What will happen next?
KEY STATS: The Saints are 37-11 the past 3 years and the offense has had plenty to do with that. They were the CLEAR #1 offense in the NFL in ’11. Brees set a record with 71.2% accuracy and 5476 passing yards with a 46-14 ratio. The 3rd down % was an astounding 56.7%! Was running forgotten? Hardly, as they ran 4.9-133 despite injuries with 4 RB’s contributing! ACE touted TE Graham caught 99, with 11 TD’s. The Saints did not have a magical turnover ratio, in fact ending -3 for the year! Still, the defense did contribute. The pass D was under 58%. The 3rd down D was better than average at 33%. The run D was soft at 5.0-109 and as usual, sacks were a bit below average at 32. The Saints only intercepted 9 passes. Spread-wise, New Orleans is 57-37 vs. the AFC (4-0 in ’11) and 11-6 off a bye. Some spread trends were broken, as the Saints were 8-0 as a HF after going 33-49 prior to ’11, including 3-0 as a Divisional HF of 6+ points after going 2-22 in this spot prior to that. They are just 9-19 in their final home game (won in ’11), so look for a letdown again in ’12 if the season does not go as planned. 3 OL to Pro Bowl LY
TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: The #1 area for New Orleans continues to be at QB, where Brees has excelled in his 6 years here. The negative continues to be the run D, which contains opposing teams at times but never really stops them, although the whole DL has some issues, as sacks need to rise.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Coming soon.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: We will say this RIGHT NOW! The Saints DID take a significant penalty for “bounty-gate” but there may be NO EFFECT felt on the field! Why, you ask? Because they were already without a #1 for ’12, have a BETTER DC right now, and stole Atlanta’s best LB, who will line up with or without the potentially suspended Vilma to make this team better! OG Grubbs replaces a very good OG (Nicks). WR Meachem is gone. Inside run stuffer Bunkley is a good DT addition, while Lofton (167 tackles), solid LB Hawthorne (3 years 100+ tackles) and Chamberlain add to the D, with only fill in starting LB Dunbar and CB’s Porter (starter) and Torrance (reserve) gone. The new DC is former NYG DC and STL HC Spagnualo, and he is one of the best! We never liked Gregg Williams because of his lack of understanding of down and distance. Bottom line: These Saints may be good to go for ’11. Of course an interim HC still needs to be determined.
2011 DRAFT REVIEW: New Orleans has drafted just 22 players the past 4 years and ’12 figures to be no different. The Saints wisely traded up to get Ingram last year, costing them this years’ #1. With “Bounty-Gate”, that pick was gone anyway. This draft was a good one, made even better with the free agent moves for Sproles. Sproles was everything Bush was not, with 603-6.9 on the ground, 86-8.3-7 receiving, 10.1 on punt returns and 27.2 on kick returns.
1-24 DE Jordan 4-2
31 tackles on 15 starts but we said he would not be a major sack threat (1)
1-28 RB Ingram 1
Battled injuries, playing 10 games going 474-3.9-5, with 11 receptions
3-72 LB M. Wilson 3
Rangy LB had 1 start but mostly played on special teams (10 tackles)
3-88 CB Patrick 15-10 Zone CB needs technique work (5 tackles)
7-226 DE Romeus *
DNP off college injuries but if he gets to 100% would carry some sack value
7-243 LB Bussey NR
Never played in the regular season but on roster during the playoffs
2010 DRAFT REVISITED: This was a typical draft with just 6 picks. CB Robinson was drafted 32nd and was (just) our 9th rated DB. He moved up to 47 tackles but does not yet start. He should start soon and hold up reasonably well. OT Brown has also had a tough time cracking a very good OL but should get his chance in ’12. TE Graham is a stud! *DT Woods was panned by us on draft day. He’s gone! OC Tennant is a back-up and QB Canfield carries a clipboard.
2012 DRAFT NEEDS: The needs are not many, and not critical. They could use a stud at OLB, a CB and another WR. Depth could be added along the OL, DL and at safety.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2012: Mickey Loomis is the main guy, but he will face a 6-month suspension AFTER the draft. The Saints are usually active on draft day, trading up and down as needed, but may be more restrained right now with no early picks.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 89. The Saints have only five draft picks, one each in rounds 3-7. Their 1st round pick was traded to New England for the right to draft RB Ingram. Their 2nd round pick (and a 2nd next year) was forfeited thanks to Bounty-Gate. The Saints also dropped 17 spots in round #5 to complete last year’s trade of Reggie Bush.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: No pick.
REST OF THE DRAFT: Good luck! Luckily for the Saints, free agency was a real success. Who might be around at #89? Perhaps OLB’s Lewis or Spence, CB’s Robinson or Norman, and plenty of rated WR’s.