The Past, the Present, and the Future: How the Saints Have Positioned Themselves for Free Agency

Free agency is set to begin when the new league year officially starts at 3:00 PM central this afternoon. Agents have been able to speak with teams since Saturday, but players can officially negotiate and agree on new contracts starting in a few hours. While most teams are prepared to begin adding multiple players at this time of the year, there are always a few that have to do the opposite first. This year, the New Orleans Saints are one of them.

After finishing the season with a Divisional Round loss to the eventual Superbowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, the Saints headed in to the off-season nearly $13 million over the cap. No team ever likes to be in that situation, especially when you have a player like Jimmy Graham set to become a free agent. Graham is just one part of why the Saints have had to start making tough decisions, although many fans have immediately tagged him as the culprit of what’s happened so far. With that being said, let’s look at what the Saints have done.

The Past

Back on February 12, New Orleans officially started their off-season and they did so in a big way. The Saints cut ties with four of the most notable names on the defensive side of the ball in recent years. Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, and Jabari Greer all had their contracts terminated after long stints in New Orleans. These moves saved about $16.9 million in cap space, which was the first step in being able to give a long-term deal to a player such as Jimmy Graham.  Continue reading

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Divisional Round Preview: Saints Defense vs. Seahawks Offense

Stopping Marshawn Lynch could be the key in pulling off the upset for the Saints.

The match up on the defensive side of the ball for the New Orleans Saints very well could be where they win or lose when they take on the Seattle Seahawks later today. For the most part, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect on the other side. Both the Saints offense and Seahawks defense are the units that traditionally win each respective team the majority of their games, but when you have a match up on one side of the ball featuring each team’s bread and butter, it’s sometimes better to look on the other side for the difference maker. You can’t take the first meeting between these two teams as an example, considering Seattle dominated on both sides of the ball. Since the New Orleans offense and Seattle defense play well more times than not, it’s tough to predict which side will budge. In many cases, it’s neither side that wins outright. In that situation, it’s the “other” unit that usually makes the play(s) that will make the difference. That may just be the case in the battle between the Saints and the Seahawks, with the right to move on to the NFC Championship Game on the line.

New Orleans Saints – Total Defense: 4th (305.7 yards per game), Scoring: 4th (19.0 points per game)

Seattle Seahawks – Total Offense: 17th (339.0 yards per game), Scoring: T-8th (26.1 points per game)

Pass Defense

As they did all season, the Saints pass defense stepped up and played a crucial role in last week’s big victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles went in to the game having finished the season as a  top-5 passing offense and had been playing even hotter than that through the second half of the year. Playing their second full game without rookie standout Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints defense held Nick Foles and the vertical passing attack of the Eagles to 195 yards through the air. Actually, if it wouldn’t have been for Keenan Lewis getting injured in the third quarter, it likely would’ve been much less than that. Once Lewis went out, Foles instantly began attacking Corey White, who had to step in to the role of covering speedster DeSean Jackson, who had been held without a catch up until Lewis’s exit. Thankfully, Lewis is listed as probable to play today. The Saints didn’t generate as much pass rush as usual, but they did get to Foles twice. Cameron Jordan picked up right where he left off in the regular season, recording 1.5 of the 2 sacks.  Continue reading

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Divisional Round Preview: Saints Offense vs. Seahawks Defense

The Saints offense will be hoping for a much better day than the first time these teams played this season.

The New Orleans Saints said they wanted a rematch and they got one. After a last minute victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs, the Saints return to Seattle for a rematch with the Seahawks. The Saints were dominated by the Seahawks by the score of 34-7 back in Week 13 on Monday Night Football. Heading in to that game, the Saints were arguably playing their best football of the year. They were 9-2 and sitting at #2 in both the standings and the power rankings, but the loss was the start of a 2-3 stumble in to the playoffs. During that skid, not only did New Orleans lose the #2 seed and the chance at a home game in the Divisional Round, but they also lost the division, which many thought they had wrapped up just five or six weeks in to the season. Fortunately, they were able to bounce back just in time to notch their first ever road playoff win and now…here we stand.

Not only are the Saints looking for revenge for the embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago, but New Orleans would love to pay back Seattle for the 2010 playoffs. If you don’t know what happened in that game, you either live under a rock or you don’t watch ESPN. After winning the NFC West with the record of 7-9, the Seahawks hosted the 11-5, and current defending Super Bowl Champions, New Orleans Saints in a game that no one, including the Saints, gave Seattle a chance in. New Orleans learned the hard way not to take any one lightly, especially in the playoffs. The ever-haunting legend of “Beast Mode” was created when Marshawn Lynch absolutely embarrassed the entire Saints defense on his way for an unbelievable game-clinching touchdown run. There are 31 teams in the NFL that can watch that highlight and truly appreciate what happened, but unfortunately, the Saints were the victims. Well, this may be the best chance New Orleans will ever get to return the favor, with not many giving the Saints a chance. Honestly, their performance in the Week 13 game really doesn’t warrant the right to have anyone show enough respect to give them much of a chance. Regardless, the roles are reversed and the Saints are going in as big underdogs with zero to little respect. Here’s your chance, New Orleans.

Seattle comes in to this week’s game after a dominant 13-3 season. Even when they played bad, they were still very good. They’re as confident of a team that you can find in the NFL and they won’t hesitate to let you know. Second year starter Russell Wilson had been 14-0 in his young career at home, until the Arizona Cardinals finally broke that streak in Week 16 this season. We all know how tough it is for opposing teams to come in to the Superdome, so we can relate to how hard they make it at Century Link Field in Seattle. Their fans are loud and they cause a lot of issues for opposing offenses. They refer to themselves as “the 12th man” and they add another challenge on the hike up the monstrous challenge of beating the Seahawks in Seattle.  Continue reading

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Grading the Saints and Sinners; Wild Card vs. Philadelphia

Although it was mostly a team effort, Mark Ingram did his best to carry the Saints on his back when needed.

Offense

Pass Offense: B-

It’s unusual to look at the stat sheet and see Drew Brees complete just 20 passes and still finish with a 67% completion percentage. It’s also weird to see just one player have more than 3 receptions. Well, those things are unusual to see in a Saints victory, at least. That was the case from Saturday night, though. Thankfully, the passing game didn’t have to be at it’s peak performance and it’s probably a good thing they didn’t have to, because, well…they weren’t. Brees looked awful in the first half, throwing two costly interceptions. Only one turned in to points for Philadelphia, the Riley Cooper touchdown catch, but they both very likely cost the Saints points on their side of the scoreboard. Both interceptions came with the ball around mid-field. Brees found his groove in the 3rd quarter, but finally had some weight taken off of his shoulders by the running game. As for the pass protection, they were pretty good. Brees was sacked twice, but only for -1 total. He was likely trying to begin to scramble on each of them, getting out of a big loss. All-in-all, the pass offense did what they had to do to help, but they weren’t the stars for once.

Rush Offense: A+

It’s not very often that the Saints’ rushing attack is graded out higher than their passing game after winning a game. Actually, I can’t think of the last time I graded it that way off of the top of my head. It couldn’t have come at a better time, though. Heading in to the game, just about everyone in the country believed said that the Saints had no chance in the playoffs if they didn’t find their running game. I mentioned in the offensive preview that I believed they needed to get the ground attack going, but I honestly didn’t believe they would. I didn’t think that they’d necessarily not be able to, I just didn’t think they’d try that hard. Whether it was the game plan going in or Payton took notice of it’s early success, coupled with two first half interceptions from Drew Brees, but it showed up. It showed up big time. I don’t mean to go overboard with a perfect grade, but I can’t help but believe that things could have been played any better. When you average 5.1 yards per carry as a team, including four quarterback sneaks, you had a pretty good day. The high rushing average is surely great and all, but it could end up meaning nothing if you can’t close out a game by picking up a couple first downs on the ground. Hell, the only reason why the Saints were playing in the Wild Card round is because they failed to do just that in two games this season. They didn’t fail on Saturday, using nine runs as part of their ten play drive to set up the game-winning field goal. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson were huge on the final drive. Ingram easily had his best, most complete game of his young career, carrying the load with 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. His 5.4 yards per carry average was actually the lowest among the running backs. Robinson added in 8 carries for 45 yards and a 5.6 yards per carry average. Darren Sproles didn’t run it much, but his 4 carries for 29 yards certainly helped. Watching the Saints win a ball game with the rushing attack was refreshing, to say the least. If they have any chance of beating Seattle this weekend and advancing any further, this performance will absolutely have to become a trend in these playoffs.  Continue reading

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Graham Lifts Saints to First Road Playoff Win in 26-24 Victory

Shayne Graham became an instant hero in New Orleans after kicking the game-winning field goal to clinch the first ever road playoff win for the Saints.

There are now two beloved Grahams residing in the city of New Orleans. Shayne Graham won over the hearts of Who Dat Nation with is game-winning 32 yard field goal to give the New Orleans Saints their first ever road playoff win in franchise history. Graham proved exactly why his presence is warranted in New Orleans, even after his signing was considered questionable by many.

Just a few weeks ago, Coach Sean Payton made a move that was not necessarily surprising, but somewhat surreal. Following a horrendous outing in the Week 15 loss loss to the St. Louis Rams, former Saints kicker Garrett Hartley was released by Coach Payton and the New Orleans Saints franchise. Whether it be emotional ties to the kicker who booted the NFC Championship clinching field goal in 2009 or level-headed beliefs that a change at the position that late in the season is strange, there were many fans in New Orleans who criticized Payton and the organization for making the move. If there was anything Graham proved on Saturday night, it’s that NFL coaches and general managers like Payton and Mickey Loomis have their jobs for a reason.

Saturday’s victory was somewhat of a combination of the team’s Week 11 game against San Francisco and their Week 16 game against Carolina. In the first half, the Saints dominated the stats column. Even watching the game, it felt like New Orleans should have been ahead by two scores. Instead, late in the half, Drew Brees through an interception that led to the Panthers taking over in Saints territory and breaking in to the end zone shortly after. The Carolina touchdown gave them the lead going in to halftime, leaving New Orleans feeling the effects of settling for field goals and giving the ball away. Saturday night was almost the spitting image of those circumstances. The Saints could not cash in to the end zone on their first visit to the red-zone, settling for a 36 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Late in the first half, New Orleans had possession of the ball and was nearing mid-field with the opportunity to extend their lead before half time. Instead, Brees threw an interception right to linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who returned it inside of Saints territory. A couple plays later, Nick Foles found Riley Cooper for a 10 yard touchdown pass and Philadelphia would eventually take the lead and momentum in to half time, despite being out-performed.  Continue reading

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Wild Card Preview: Saints Defense vs. Eagles Offense

Slowing down Nick Foles and company will very much rely on Cam Jordan and Junior Galette’s performances.

The match-up between the New Orleans Saints defense and the Philadelphia Eagles offense is easily the most intriguing of any in tonight’s game. We pretty much know what to expect on the other side of the ball. The New Orleans offense is one of the best in the league and the Philadelphia defense is one of the worst. That’s not so much the case when the Eagles have the ball.

The New Orleans Saints surprised everyone when they came out playing great defense early on this season. Most summed it up to a hot start and assumed that they would revert back to their old ways or at the very least slow down. That didn’t happen. The Saints finished the season with the 4th ranked defense in the NFL, allowing just 305.7 yards per game. They also finished 4th in the league in scoring defense, holding opponents to 19.0 points per game. Pairing that up with the offense’s numbers, you’d think the Saints would’ve done no worse than 13-3 like in 2009, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. There aren’t many reasons to point fingers when you’re 11-5 and in the playoffs, but considering how well this team played through the better half of the season, it’s hard not to. Frankly, the defense did it’s part. The numbers may not show it, but the offense put the defense in bad positions throughout the year. The defense was relied on to keep the team in the game multiple times and they didn’t disappoint. Take the game against the Rams, for example. Even when playing probably their worse game of the season, the defense did all they could to help the stagnant Saints offense. Looking at a game in which New Orleans won, the defense single-handily kept them in the game against San Francisco. Whether it was interceptions, a muffed punt, or a turnover on downs, the defense fought all day and held the 49ers to under 200 yards of total offense. Thankfully at the end, Drew Brees and his unit did their part. The point is that the defense has come through on multiple occasions. Rob Ryan has worked wonders with this record-breakingly bad unit from a year ago. There aren’t awards for top coordinators, but if there was, he’d deserve it.  Continue reading

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Wild Card Preview: Saints Offense vs. Eagles Defense

Coach Payton and Drew Brees look to add a road playoff win to their careers.

For many, the most wonderful time of the year ended a week ago. For twelve NFL teams, it’s just beginning. The hometown New Orleans Saints proved they could bounce back from a very down year in which they finished with a 7-9 record without their head coach and recovering from Bounty Gate. Coach Sean Payton returned to the sideline for 2013 and led his Saints to an 11-5 record, sneaking in to the playoffs as the #6 seed. New Orleans barely missed out on winning the NFC South, but that crown goes to the Carolina Panthers, who thanks to a last minute comeback drive from Cam Newton to defeat our beloved Saints, sit at home this weekend and await their future opponent in the divisional round as the NFC’s #2 seed. The Saints have no one to blame, but themselves for having to go on the road for the playoffs. New Orleans lost three of their last five games to close out the year. They got flat out beat by the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks, but the other three losses were very tough to swallow. The last minute loss to the Panthers was actually the second loss of that fashion. Back in Week 7, the Saints allowed New England to score a touchdown with :06 left on the clock to beat them in another game they had seemingly had one. Despite those two heart breakers, the one that may haunt them the most is the 27-16 loss to the very underwhelming St. Louis Rams. Nonetheless, the cards have been dealt, the chips are in the pot, and it’s now time to see if the Saints can pull off the near miracle royal flush when no one sees it coming.

The Saints offense finished the season with the 4th best offense, gaining 399.4 yards per game. Despite the high yardage numbers, they did have trouble late in the year converting those yards in to points. New Orleans finished 10th in the NFL in points per game, averaging 25.9. After spending twelve weeks of the season protecting the ball very well, Drew Brees and the offense started turning the ball over. It took an interception against Tampa Bay in their Week 17 blowout victory over the Buccaneers to finish the season dead even in the turnover margin. We can look at the numbers all we want, but the big question that remains is can the offense show up on the road. In their five losses, all on the road, New Orleans scored just 16.6 points per game. Sure, the defense was unbelievable, but that’s a lot to ask of your defense, especially on the road. New Orleans has never won a road playoff game and that includes an 0-3 record away from home under Sean Payton and Drew Brees. With the way they played outside of the Superdome during the regular season, saying they have a monkey on their back is an understatement. It’s more like a gorilla. That’s the challenge the Saints have, facing three outdoor stadiums to get to the Super Bowl.  Continue reading

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Saints Lay an Egg; Fall to Rams 27-16

This picture sums up how Sunday’s game went.

It was quite a depressing day for those rooting for the black and gold. The New Orleans Saints were dominated in the first half of today’s game and couldn’t recover, eventually losing to the St. Louis Rams by the score of 27-16. Honestly, it was not as close as that score even looks. Two early interceptions, offensive inefficiency, and poor effort were just a few of the problems leading to the bad loss. The hits kept coming even after the clock hit 00:00, when Sean Payton insinuated towards a locker room searching for leadership. That’s certainly not something you’d like to hear heading in to a Week 16 match-up for the division title and the #2 seed in the NFC.

For the first four minutes of the game, things were going how the Saints wanted them to. After kicking off to start the game, they forced a Rams punt to set up their first possession. On the first offensive play from scrimmage, Drew Brees threw an interception to T.J. McDonald, setting up St. Louis at the New Orleans 31 yard line. It only took one play after that for the Rams to find the end zone, when Kellen Clemons hit third string tight-end Cory Harkey on a short out pass. Harkey then turned up the sideline, breaking three pitiful attempts to take him down or push him out of bounds, racing all the way in to the end-zone. Malcolm Jenkins, Corey White, and Keenan Lewis all had great opportunities to knock him out of bounds, but failed.

Obviously, that was the worst possible way the game could have started for the Saints, but I do not believe it’s where the game was already over. On the ensuing Saints possession, Brees led New Orleans right down the field with relative ease. He marched his offense 70 yards in just seven plays. On a 2nd and goal, Brees rolled to his right and threw a very weak, floating pass in to double coverage for Jimmy Graham. The pass hung in the air so long, that Trumaine Johnson had time to leave his coverage around the 4 yard line and make the interception near the goal-line. The Rams then drove 93 yards with the help of 30 yards on personal fouls, taking a 14-0 lead and essentially sealing the Saints’ fate in the first quarter.  Continue reading

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Week 13 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Seahawks Offense

Although most of the unit is different, the Saints defense will be determined to scratch this image out of everyone’s heads.

Gameday is finally here and the two best teams in the NFC, possibly the NFL, are set to square off for 1st place. The match-up of these two units provides us with both teams’ “other” side of the ball. The New Orleans Saints offense and the Seattle Seahawks defense both get the most buzz and have created each team’s identity, but it’s the other side of the ball for both organizations that have stepped up big this year. Everyone knows that Drew Brees and company can put up points and carry the Saints, but last year proved that he could use a bit of help at times. That help has arrived this season. As for Seattle, everyone knows that their defense can single handily dominate a football game, but they need support in those rare games that they allow 20 or so points. Enter, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the rest of the Seahawk attack. While each team can win many games with their bread and butter, it’s the Saints defense and Seahawks offense that give each squad a great chance to win it all this season.

It’s no longer a secret that the New Orleans Saints defense is playing fantastic this year. It seemed like early in the season, we were all tentative to fully buy in to whether or not what we were seeing was legit. Well, after a 9-2 start and boasting the 5th best defense in the NFL, it’s legit, folks. It is indeed legit. New Orleans sits at 5th in the league in both yards and points allowed per game. They’re giving up an average of 309.9 yards per contest, while holding opponents to an average of only 17.8 points on a weekly basis. If you would’ve told just about anyone before the season that the Saints could average 20 points a game on offense and win multiple ball games, they’d have called you crazy. Of course, the offense is averaging 27.7 points per game, which in combination with the gaudy defensive numbers is the reason they sit at 9-2. Rob Ryan has worked wonders since arriving in New Orleans. So much so, that Mrs. Mae’s may rename their bar “Mr. Ryan’s”. I’m kidding, of course, but the city and most importantly the team have bought in to his ways, giving the Saints a great shot to get to New York in February. That opportunity could gain even more traction with a big win on the road tonight.  Continue reading

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Week 13 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Seahawks Defense

Coach Sean Payton looks to avenge his team’s loss to Pete Carroll’s Seahawks in the 2010 playoffs.

It’s finally here, folks. The battle that many circled on their calenders when the schedule came out is a day away and is packing just as much punch as anticipated. The 9-2 New Orleans Saints travel to play the 10-1 Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football this week in what very well could determine the #1 seed in the NFC. Both teams are a perfect 7-0 in the conference, but Monday night is just the first tough match-up for each team heading down the stretch.

The last time these two teams squared off, joy and agony were the two emotions that were brought to an extreme level for each team. Unfortunately for the Saints, they were on the wrong side of the spectrum. After winning the NFC West with a 9-7 record in 2010, the Seahawks hosted the 11-5 Saints in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. Seattle gave New Orleans everything they could handle and more, with the dagger coming with about four minutes left in the game. Up by four, Seattle had the ball at the New Orleans 33 yard line, looking to run down the clock. What happened next is something Saints fans wish could be erased from their memory. Marshawn Lynch broke eight tackles on his way to one of the greatest runs in NFL history, sealing New Orleans’ fate in the process. Although that run can never be scratched from history, the Saints have a golden opportunity to get payback on Monday night. Be prepared, though, because I can assure you that the play will be shown multiple times between the pre-game show and the game itself.

New Orleans comes in to this week with the 2nd ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 415 yards per game. They find themselves 3rd in the league, putting up 27.7 points per game. Despite the high numbers, not many believe that the Saints can provide that potential in Seattle. They are 3-2 on the road this season and have been said by many to “struggle outside of the dome”. Well, of course they don’t perform quite as well outside of the Superdome as they do during home games, but isn’t that the case for most? The secret that many fail to realize is that New Orleans has the 2nd best road record since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived in 2006. Since 2009, they have the best record away from home. If anything, this team is more prepared to win on the road this season. Why, you ask? Well, as the numbers suggest, the offense is just as good as years past. The difference is the defense. We’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s preview, though.  Continue reading

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