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Who Dat Nation, Please Be Patient!

By Jeremy R. Johnson

 

It has been a long and eventful offseason for the National Football League. Some eight months after the AFC Championship game, Deflategate has yet to be settled between Roger Goodell and the golden boy Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. There was a blockbuster trade that sent arguably the league’s best tight end, Jimmy Graham, to the already dangerous Seattle Seahawks. Joint practices during training camps have produced a handful of testosterone-fueled brawls, andfans have suffered through boring preseason games. Some teams’ hopes of championship glory have taken huge hits by a bevy of injuries to key pieces, but none of these things matter because football is back!

Yes, football is back. Which means another season of Saints football is upon us, and most of Who Dat Nation has been waiting for what seems like forever to get the sour taste out of their mouths, brought on by an abysmal 7-9 campaign. Saying last year’s team did not play up to their expectations would be putting it mildly. After the addition of All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd, the Saints were everyone’s trendy pick to win the Super Bowl, especially considering how well the defense had played under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in 2013. Fast forward to the end of the season and the 4th ranked defense of a year ago finished 31st and their prized free agent Byrd had missed the remaining 12 games of the season due to injury, after not playing particularly well for the first 4 games. In addition to the poor play of the defense, the offense did not fare much better. The normally dependable and precise Drew Brees was throwing untimely interceptions, and the offense was not nearly as explosive as it had been in previous years. Brees did not have a terrible year statistically, having tied for the league lead in yardage and posting the league’s 2nd highest completion percentage, but those 20 turnovers could not be ignored. The emergence of Mark Ingram on the ground was a pleasant surprise. He led the team in rushing yards and was only 32 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards, after missing four games due to injury.

The team’s play was up and down for much of the season. There were great victories against Green Bay and Pittsburgh. There were also head-scratching losses to the likes of the Cleveland Browns, a perennial cellar dweller. The most disheartening aspect of last year’s squad was losses at home. The Saints have had one of the more
intimidating home field advantages in the league in recent years, and were almost immune to losing there. Last year the squad lost five of their eight home games, and as of now have not won a home game of any kind since October 26th against Green Bay.

This year’s squad comes in with many more questions than answers. The team put a strong emphasis on drafting young defensive players, and appear to be ready to become a more balanced team on offense.
Dynamic runner/return man C.J. Spiller was signed to a four year deal, along with the Saints resigning Mark
Ingram to his own four year deal. Second-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks has looked sensational this
preseason and looks primed to have a phenomenal year after he led all rookie receivers in catches, prior to being placed in injured reserve with a hand injury. Marques Colston is back for his tenth season, and should provide the Saints’ offense with reliable play. The offense under Sean Payton and Drew Brees has never been an issue, having never been ranked lower than 6th in total offense since 2006.

Where many of the questions have yet to be answered is on the defensive side of the ball. Brandon Browner was signed this offseason to solidify the other starting corner spot, opposite Keenan Lewis. Browner has been injured since the first preseason game against Baltimore, and Keenan Lewis will be out for at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his hip. Add this to the fact that starting safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny
Vaccaro have both been injured during camp, with Byrd not having participated in any team activity since OTA’s, and what was once a team strength has become a weakness. The team has only had one sack in the preseason to date, and has yet to demonstrate any consistency in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their 3rd round pick at cornerback, P.J. Williams, has been placed on injured reserve. Second-year backup safety/special teams Vinnie Sunseri was waived due to injury and now our secondary appears to be extremely vulnerable. Our projected starters in the secondary appear to be Browner and camp standout Delvin Breaux from New Orleans’ own McDonough 35 high school. Breaux, a former CFL star, has never played a meaningful snap in the NFL, and will be promoted to the other outside corner spot, which means 5th round draft pick Damian Swann will be thrust into the 3rd corner spot. Also, keep in mind that there will potentially be another rookie starting at middle linebacker in Stephon Anthony, and this could be another long year defensively for the Who Dat nation.

Is this year’s version of the New Orleans Saints better or worse than last year’s team? Only time will tell. If you use the preseason performances as an indication, then the answer would be about the same. The team has struggled to maintain leads, and has had a penchant for accruing penalties to help opposing offenses maintain drives. We’ve been told not to put much emphasis on the preseason, but if what we have seen through three preseason games is any indication of future success or failure, all Saints fans can do is be patient because they may be in for another frustrating year down on the bayou.

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