Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No F'ing Way: New Orleans Saints

This is the final member of our low-down, no chance in a blue moon, give it up prior to the season, hope you have some bright spots group of our Power Groupings. Based on how many awful teams there were last season, one could easily criticize us for only having three teams this low. Well, we're not named the Crushed Optimists for nothing, and we're not HUGE fans of the NFL for nothing. Teams can and do turn it around quickly in this league with a legitimate plan. The teams in this low section really have no clue still.

At least this final group has some light at the end of the tunnel.

New Orleans Saints
2005 Record: 3-13

Key Losses: LeCharles Bentley, Aaron Brooks (just kidding)
Key Additions: Jeff Faine, Reggie Bush

I'm going to say this from the outset... one of the main reasons we have the Saints pegged this low is because of their division and schedule, which do them absolutely no favors in helping them climb out of the crapheap of the NFC. When you are playing Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta twice, and then also playing New York, Philly, Washington, and Dallas, there are 10 difficult games already on the schedule. The Saints were only 1-5 in the NFC South last season and will be hard pressed to improve that against better competition. By the way... the Saints also play at Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and host Baltimore and Cincinnatti. Sheesh. We'll touch on this whole scheduling thing later, but if there's one real reason why the Hawks are getting a first round bye, it's because their main competition has a schedule like this.

In fact, for a team that only managed a paltry 235 points (only Cleveland was worse in the NFL), facing 8 of the top 15 scoring defenses (2 twice) in 2006 probably isn't a good recipe for sustained success.

Remember, Colin and I are ranking teams by their chance of getting to the playoffs, not necessarily by which team is better than another...

What's really odd about the overall offensive ineptitude is that the personnel is actually pretty darn good. If there is any improvement in the team for 2006 it will come from this unit.

Where can they get better? This is where it gets interesting. Check out these numbers...

Time of Possession: 30:32
3rd Down Percentage: 38.9%
Offensive Plays: 1017

All of those numbers are consistent with Seattle, universally considered an offensive powerhouse. What's off?

Penalties: 135 for 1130 yards
Turnovers: 43 (24 INT, 19 FUM) for a whopping -24 differential

Ouch. That means in a 16 game season you are averaging 8 penalties for 71 yards, while giving up the ball almost three times. That'll put a stop to a lot of drives. Is it luck or just bad coaching/execution? Probably a little bit of both. My memory might be a little fuzzy, but I think the Saints were the "beneficiaries" of a pair of game-changing ref calls too. I'm too lazy to go check, but I'm 90% sure on that count.

So with Aaron Brooks, one of the absolute worst quarterbacks in the league, this offense managed to be above average in most statistical settings, but the team shot itself in the foot with poor decision-making. This can change.

Will it change with Drew Brees at QB?

Well, if you're trying to cut down on random turnovers, Brees might not be the greatest help for you. His 15 INTs last season were worst in the AFC. In fact, if you want one reason why "The Best Team in the NFL To Miss the Playoffs" did miss the playoffs (regardless of the fact that Kansas City was playing better the final month of the season) you might point directly at Brees' disfigured face. While he can put up terrific yardage numbers behind a good offensive line, he is prone to poor decision making (heard that before, Saints fans?), his questionable stature might not allow him to see the field as well as he should. Now, Brees is far more accurate than Brooks. In the past two years he is right around a 65% completion percentage, and with the weapons New Orleans offers shouldn't slide down too far. He also gets the ball into the end zone (24 TDs last season). So if you can put up with the INTs, Brees will move the offense and is an effective leader. He is easily an upgrade over Brooks.

Running Back:
Deuce McAlister, Reggie Bush

Here's the light at the end of the tunnel, Saints fans. Reggie Bush is the real deal. Us Pac-1o fans have had to live with his talent the past couple of years. Only morons and East Coast jerks don't think his talent will translate to the NFL. Give him a year to learn with Deuce sharing the load and he will turn into a premier back in the league. In the meantime, the Saints have two franchise backs. How awful. However, Deuce's health is questionable, having missed significant time the past couple of seasons. Running behind the quality offensive line the Saints bring will help both of them put up decent yards. They might not be great fantasy picks (sharing the load) but Saints fans will be excited for the future.

Wide Receiver/Tight End:
Joe Horn, Donte Stallworth, Loads o' Crap

Luckily, when you have Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth you can afford a lack of depth (although if either go down you have some serious problems). The lack of a TE anywhere near the quality of Antonio Gates is an underreported question mark in Drew Brees' transition. He could always see his tall target, and was a reliable safety valve. Will Horn and Stallworth prove as trustworthy? Stallworth finally had a huge year, establishing himself as a top receiver with 945 yards. Saints fans need both him and Horn to hit the 1000 yard, 10 touchdown mark against the level of defenses noted above.

Offensive Line:

This is a darn good offensive line, even with the departure of LeCharles Bentley. Jeff Faine isn't great but isn't awful either, and youngster Jammal Brown has the makings of an upper tier tackle. There's a reason for the above average offensive statistics from a year ago with an idiot like Aaron Brooks quarterbacking, and it's right here on the line. They helped hold the line of attack against Tampa and Carolina (no small feat) and will be called upon for more of the same this year. If Football Outsiders wasn't freaking down I would display their high DVOA.

Look, this is not a bad offense. In fact, it's probably an above-average offense. Another 50-70 additional points might be expected out of them, which would translate into 2-3 wins. I think they have the new coaching staff led by Sean Payton to cut down on the penalties and keep them in ballgames. However...

Defense: Against the Run

Yuck. Another awful team who did nothing to upgrade this unit. What exactly is it about the defense that leads bad teams to ignore it in the offseason? Only the 49ers gave up more points in the NFC than the Saints, and the Saints weren't exactly going up against premier offenses week in-out. Against the run, they were abysmal. Teams ran on them an absurd 31.4 plays a game and still averaged 4.3 ypc. Charles Grant and Will Smith can rush the passer (see next preview part), but are horrendous at getting pushed off the line or getting caught upfield. When you are counting on Cedric Woodard to be one of your defensive tackle rotation you have serious issues. Not only do the Saints allow the original yards, they also are undisciplined in their lanes and allow the big plays, 19 20+ yard runs in all. That is nutty. As with the penalties, this is an execution. Mediocre talent can close lanes. You might give up 5 yards a carry, but you can stop it from becoming a 50 yard gain, unless you're Etric Pruitt (yes, I'm still bitter, thanks for asking). With no real talent coming in to help this, don't expect a huge improvement.

Against the Pass

The aforementioned bookend rushers do a good job of breaking down the pocket, but it only resulted in 25 sacks. Why is that? One reason is that the other team was too busy running the football down the Saints' gullet. This is why you should NEVER look at yards allowed as the only qualifier for a team's quality. The Saints only averaged 178 yards allowed through the air. Yep. Pretty easy to look good when you're down by twenty and the second string running back is still averaging four yards against your front line.

Let's look at this another way. Teams only passed against the Saints 418 times. Compare that to the Chicago Bears, who averaged 179 yards/game. Teams passed against the far superior Bears 550 times. That, my friends, is defense (and I'll probably repeat myself during that preview).

The Saints (and also the Packers) would be doing themselves a huge disfavor by believing they had a top passing defense. Honestly, they have no idea how good the pass defense is because it was never really tested. Until it is, this defense is the huge weakness of the team. It rivals the Rams for the sheer awfulness it contains and will confound the improvements of the offense in keeping the Saints out of the postseason.

The Saints will see some improvement. I like Sean Payton, think he was a good hire. But until more is done to improve the personnel besides the drafting of Bush, the Saints will continue to get crushed in the talented NFC South.

posted by Gavin @ 1:28 PM  0 comments

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