Over the next several days we will be taking a quick look at our divisional foes for the year. While being good in your division guarantees you nothing, all good teams were competitive in their division. Divisional games make up 38% of our schedule. In Part 1 of 3 we will examine the defending Super Bowl Champs, the New Orleans Saints. At this point, I refuse to explain advanced statistics. I take the majority of it from FootballOutsiders, who is widely thought to be the leader in advanced football stats. If you don't get it, start studying. You will continue to be behind the pack at Buc 'Em if you are opposed or don't get these. No offense, but we have explained them extensively.
Week 6 - 10/17 - @ Raymond James
Week 17 - 01/02 - @ Superdome
Key Acquisitions - Alex Brown (DE), Jimmy Wilkerson (DE), Clint Ingram (LB), PJ Hill (RB)
Key Losses - Scott Fujita (LB) - Veteran Leader of the defense, Mike Bell (RB), Charles Grant (Distraction), Mark Simoneau (ILB), Jamar Nesbit (G).
Draft Picks to Watch - Patrick Robinson. Robinson will automatically take the Nickel position and compete for a starting role against Randall Gay and Tracey Porter. Charles Brown. Brown will start this season. Rookie tackles tend to make me nervous as the learning curve is tremendous at this position. He does have a future, but opposing teams will take advantage of him.
Strengths - It is no secret that this offense can demoralize any defense. They can strike quickly and are able to balance it better than any team in the league with the run game to keep you guessing. Drew Brees is an absolute star. I like their prospect to rush the pass this year. The Saints needed an upgrade and got one with Alex Brown and have Wilkerson as a depth guy. With a good pass rush, I like their secondary. Many (wrongly) perceive this to be a weakness on their team, but the Saints were ranked 9th against the pass and were pulled down heavily by the lack of run-support.
The Saints were an incredibly efficient run-team last year and ranked 6th in pass-offense efficiency combining for the 2nd most efficient offense. The Saints also improved their defensive line and secondary, adding to a team that was 14th in Defensive Efficiency. However, they took a step back (which we will briefly discuss later) at LB.
Weaknesses - Run Defense. Sedrick Ellis is good. Remi Ayodele is underrated. Moving them isn't easy, but I will take my chances every time than running at Will Smith or Alex Brown, both very good lateral moving Ends. Clint Ingram is a huge downgrade for them. If you can get Faine or Joesph on Vilma, holes will open up. Depth. The Saints have very little depth at some key positions. Name any position on defense, and they have little depth. God Forbid Drew Brees goes down. I like Mark Brunell a lot as a human being and as a player in his prime, but he is just not a legitimate option anymore. There is also talk that they will be shipping him to the Jets for Patrick Ramsey. Still not a viable option. Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield would be an utter disaster. Not to mention their Special Teams, which ranked 28th in the league last season.
How the Bucs Can Win - Run, Run, Run. Even if I were to believe in Olsen's pass-attack, which I don't, I would still say this is the one team we need to pound the ball against. The reason is two-fold. A) The Saints biggest weakness is up the middle. Obviously, Vilma is an excellent MLB. Running right at him probably isn't the best option, but using blocking schemes to get bodies on him, I feel comfortable against running at the OLB's. If the Bucs can improve on the interior of the line (and I believe they will if Faine remains healthy) than we have ample options to pound inside holes with Ward and Graham. B) While there is a lot of misconceptions about time managements effect on the game by running the ball, it is no secret that the more possessions the Saints have, the more likely they are to beat the Bucs. Limiting their possessions by SUCCESSFULLY moving the ball greatly increases our chances. Not to be a pessimist, but at this point in Freemans career, the Bucs strength in talent (not necessarily production) clearly lies in the run game.
When their defense is on the field two things are of most importance. 1 - Take away the middle of the field. Peyton loves to get Moore (who is having a terrific offseason) and Shockey behind linebackers. Moore will make the last guy miss and Shockey will do everything he can to run through them. It is imperative that Ruud gets deep and Hayes/Black are able to take away the underneath stuff. 2 - Safeties must play smart football. I gues this is always the case, but especially when playing a team who has a deadly accurate quarterback, fast WR and an elite-talent TE. The pressure is on them to have a good awareness and to be quick in response to Brees. Lastly, GET. A. PASS. RUSH. Can McCoy, Price, Miller and White pressure Brees into throwing quicker than he would like? Can we limit the deep stuff by limiting time in the pocket? Can we force turnovers?
There has been some change-over at some key positions (DT, RB). A lot of players are missing mini-camps due to nagging injuries however, none of that compares to the Viocidin scandal plaguing New Orleans. Geoffery Santini, a former Saints staff member and former FBI agent, has accused the organization of covering up the theft and abuse by "two senior staff members" of Vicodin. While official reports do not name any individual, most have come to believe that the two staff members are Sean Payton and LB Coach Joe Vitt. Santini has some credibility with his former law-enforcement experience and was vital in 'taking down' the former Governor of Louisiana. The Saints have said this is only an attempt to shake down the team. As of now this is only a civil suit. However, what has Saints fans nervous and has the organization mum on the topic is that the DEA is lending a hand in the investigation. The DEA has stated that there is no criminal investigation on-going. If the Saints are found culpable, a criminal investigation isn't out of the question. To have any questions about this answered, or just for more information head over to Canal Street Chronicles where they have laid out the case pretty clearly.
More Saints Links:
Doing their part in Oil-Spill cleanup. I will withhold all opinions on this poorly written article.