New Orleans Saints 2011 NFL Predictions
After last postseason’s opening round loss, the New Orleans Saints would like to surpass their 2011 NFL predictions. The Saints were an 11-5 wild-card team last year, forcing them to play their first game of the playoffs at Qwest Field in Seattle. Seattle shocked New Orleans by pulling off the upset and by the looks of it; the Saints got caught looking past the 7-9 Seahawks. With the Falcons making moves to make sure that they get back to the playoffs, New Orleans will have to fight to avoid landing in a wild-card spot again.
Offense: The reason Sean Payton can design off the wall plays out of unorthodox formations is because he has a master under center in Drew Brees. Extreme accuracy and amazing pocket mobility are the two factors that make Brees a star. The Saints even have an adequate backup in Chase Daniel and although they won’t make the playoffs if Brees gets injured, the Saints should be comfortable with Daniel next in line.
The Saints traded a 2012 first-round pick and a 2011 second-rounder to move up and draft Alabama running back Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick. This was a move that seemed to make little sense. The Saints already had three good runners in Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Reggie Bush, so there was a bit of confusion when Ingram’s name was called. Eventually, the Saints traded Reggie Bush to the Miami Dolphins and signed free agent Darren Sproles, leaving them with a truly powerful running game.
Because of Brees’ brilliance, all five of New Orleans’s eligible receivers are legitimate weapons on any given play and that is the difference between an elite offense and an ordinary one. Another difference worth noting is New Orleans’s clever use of route combinations. Most of the route combinations center on some form of deep seam pattern, which is a tactic that creates confusion in double teams and makes life miserable on opposing safeties.
Devery Henderson, Robert Meacham and Marques Colston make up the heart of this receiving corps, but the Saints will also be glad that they were able to sign Lance Moore. There is a lot of excitement about second-year tight end Jimmy Graham, a former basketball player at Miami who is learning the ins and outs of professional football quickly enough for the team to have released veteran Jeremy Shockey. A dynamic tight end is a toy that Sean Payton has not been able to play with in New Orleans, but that is going to change in 2011.
Left guard, Carl Nicks and right guard, Jahri Evans, will provide some great blocking up front for the Saints, but the problems on the line are centered on the tackles. Because Brees is too efficient to sack, there’s a widespread misconception that Jermon Bushrod is a rising young left tackle. Bushrod has decent mobility in the ground game but is a poor pass-blocker. Recognition of blitzes has also been a problem at times, but if he can make steady improvements throughout the season, there is no telling how great this offense can be.
Defense: With the arrival of first-round defensive end Cameron Jordan and the return of tireless veteran Will Smith, defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams should theoretically be able to rely on natural pressure off both edges. A third defensive end, Alex Brown, will also bring additional quickness to the rotation. Shaun Rogers stays healthy and motivated; Williams will have one of the pre-eminent interior pass-rushers in all the land. At his best, Rogers is arguably the best. Even if Rogers tanks, there’s still Aubrayo Franklin eating up blocks, which spells one-on-one matchups for underwhelming but respectable former first-round pick Sedrick Ellis.
The Saints rely on hefty defensive tackles even more than most teams, as undersized middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is a prolific hunter when kept clean from blockers. This is vital because the Saints can’t bank on big plays from their smart but limited outside linebackers, Scott Shanle and Danny Clark. Their limitations are one reason why you can expect Williams to keep being aggressive schematically. Another reason is that the Saints have too much talent in their 3-3-5 nickel personnel sets, to start settling for predictable four-man rushes at this point.
Strong safety Roman Harper is the secret ingredient in many of New Orleans’s blitz packages. His versatility in the box allows him to align all over the field, and his explosive physicality after the snap disrupts the timing of pass plays. Cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer are both sound on-ball defenders, and free safety Malcolm Jenkins is as rangy as they come in coverage. Jenkins can also defend the slot, which provides Williams even more options in pre-snap disguises.
Special Teams: If he can stay on the field, Courtney Roby can be one of the more consistent kick return threats in the league. Expect Roby to get a chance at replacing Bush on punt returns as well, but if it doesn’t work out, the Saints can always fall back on the reliable Lance Moore.
Kicking: Garrett Hartley has seen both extremes over the past few seasons, experiencing the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Overall, the Saints like him enough to have signed him to a five-year contract in March. Thomas Morstead is the punter for this team and as prolific as this offense is going to be, we won’t be seeing much of him.
Coaching: Payton received his first head coaching job in 2006 with the New Orleans Saints. The team had previously
finished the 2005 season with a 3–13 record, ranking as the second worst team in the league. However, Payton turned the struggling team around, and, with newly acquired Drew Brees as quarterback, led them to their first playoff appearance in six years. In 2009, Payton aggressively coached the Saints to their most successful season ever, with a 13-3 regular season and a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. This was the Saints’ first Super Bowl victory and if all goes well; their second title could come this year.
Prediction: 12-4, First Place NFC South
Regular Season Win Total: Over 10 Games (-115), Under 10 Games (-115)
To Win NFC South: +120 (Tied One of Four)
To Win 2012 NFC Championship: +700 (8 to 1)
To Win Super Bowl XLVI: +1600 (16 to 1)