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WHO DAT? The Saints Are Marching To A Different Tune This Season

Jonathan Bachman - Getty Images

Can the Saints go marching all the way into the playoffs?

This NFL Season has been full of surprises. Currently, all four NFC division leaders didn’t make the playoffs last season. Emerging second-year quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jared Goff have led the Eagles and Rams. The Vikings have been incredibly strong on both sides despite injuries to their young star running back and starting quarterback.

Despite the situations of the aforementioned three teams, the current NFC division leader that’s been the most interesting this season has been the Saints. Since he brought his talents to the Big Easy over a decade ago, it’s been the Drew Brees Show in New Orleans. In each of the last nine seasons, Brees has thrown for at least 4,300 yards and 32 touchdowns. 

While he has still been incredibly efficient, Brees isn’t putting up the video game-like numbers we’re used to seeing from him. And the Saints haven’t needed him to. He’s averaging under 300 passing yards per game for the first time since 2010 and is on pace to throw for 26 touchdowns, his lowest total since 2006.

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Stats from Pro Football Reference

This past offseason, the Saints brought in Adrian Peterson. While the Saints and their pass-heavy offense seemed to be a strange fit for AP, it seemed that the signing would lead to the Saints committing to a more balanced offense. 

After the Saints lost their first two games of the season while averaging only about 70 yards per game on the ground, it seemed clear that Peterson wouldn’t last long in New Orleans. Two weeks later, the divorce was final when Peterson was shipped to Arizona after only 27 carries and 81 yards for the Saints.

via: SI.com

After trading Peterson, many thought that the Brees Show would be the main act in town again. However, following their bye and trade, the Saints have shown the commitment to the running game that we all thought we’d see when they brought in AP this offseason. They’ve run for over 100 yards in each of the last four games (all wins) and have run the ball on about 52% of their plays. These last four weeks have raised their rush percentage up to almost 45%. Over the last three seasons, the Saints have run the ball on about 37% of their offensive plays and have gone 7-9 each season.

via: Fan Rag Sports

The Saints have clearly realized the importance of having a more balanced offense and their two main running backs have reaped the benefits. Mark Ingram is on pace for a career season and rookie Alvin Kamara has become one of the league’s biggest spark plugs. Average Saints possessions are longer this season (second longest in the league) than they have been over the last three seasons and the defense is showing their appreciation for the additional rest they’re receiving. 

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Stats from Pro Football Reference

Speaking of that unit, this isn’t the defense we’re used to seeing in New Orleans either. the Saints defense has been a Swiss Cheese unit for quite some time, ranking near the bottom of many major defensive statistics over the last three seasons. This season, the Saints defense has filled many of their holes and have been a surprisingly good unit.

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Rankings from Pro Football Reference and Football Outsiders

The biggest change with this Saints defense has been rookie Marshon Lattimore and a much-improved secondary. The former Buckeye is not only one of the best rookies in the league but he’s also already established himself as one of the league’s best corners. He’s currently rated as PFF’s number-one overall rookie and number-one corner. He’s been blanketing receivers all season, giving up a passer rating of 37.4 on passes in his direction and picking off two passes.

As a unit, the Saints are only giving up a passer rating of 79.2 (seventh best in the league) and Lattimore’s dominance has been the biggest cause of that. The last three seasons, the Saints have been one of the most generous defenses to face for opposing quarterbacks.

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Stats from Pro Football Reference

The secondary has been the main catalyst for the improvement of the Saints defense. Improved coverage on the backend has allowed for more time for their pass rushers to get home against opposing quarterbacks. Cameron Jordan is anchoring the pass rush with seven sacks and is PFF’s fifth-rated edge rusher. As a unit, the Saints are tied for eighth in the league in sacks per game.

via: AZ Central

All in all, this Saints team is much different than the teams we’ve seen in recent years and it’s showing in the win column. A more balanced offense and improved defense mixed with Drew Brees still playing incredibly efficiently is a tune that the Saints will be marching to, all the way to the playoffs.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Bobby Murray.

SQuiz
Which college did Alvin Kamara attend?
Created 11/12/17
  1. Tennessee
  2. Vanderbilt
  3. South Carolina
  4. Mississippi State

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