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Know Your Enemy: New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints are the next team up in Know Your Enemy. The New Orleans Saints were 7-9 for the third season in a row in 2016. Drew Brees is a top 5 QB and leads a top 5 offense every year. The Saints defense was terrible though which led to the under 500 record.

Stats
The Saints scored 29.3 PPG which was 2nd in the league behind only Atlanta under Sean Payton’s offense. The Saints were 16th in rushing yards at 4.3 YPC with 17 rushing TDs. Mark Ingram had a good year before his late season injury (1,043 yards at 5.1 YPC with 6 TDs).

Drew Brees had another elite year with 101.7 QB rating, 5,208 yards with 37 TDs and 15 interceptions. Brees is playing in a contract year again and should have another great season with the Saints.

New Orleans allowed 28.4 PPG which was 31st in the league in 2016. The Saints gave up 1,626 yards rushing (16th) at 4.1 YPC allowed. Finally the Saints allowed a 98.1 QB rating for 29th in the league. New Orleans forced 21 turnovers but gave the ball away 24 times. Their defense was atrocious and DC Dennis Allen must try to fix it.

Strengths

QB
Drew Brees is a beast. He’s a great passer and gets rid of the ball quickly. The man has great command of Sean Payton’s offense and will be a top 5 QB again in 2017.

Weapons
The Saints have a plethora of weapons for Brees despite trading Brandin Cooks for a first round pick. Michael Thomas had a monster rookie year with 1,137 yards and 9 TDs on 122 targets. Willie Snead is the possession guy with 895 yard and 4 TDs on 104 targets. Cooks had 1,173 yards and 8 TDs which will be tough to replace. Coby Fleener had 631 yards and 3 TDs and will be expected to do more with Cooks gone. Brandon Coleman will get a shot to step up after 281 yards and 3 TDs on 38 targets in 2016. Tedd Ginn joins the team to be the deep threat after two solid seasons with Carolina in 2015 and 2016.

Offensive Line
The Saints took a hit on the offensive line with torn labrum of Terron Armstead. However, the rest of the line is still very strong. Zach Strief is a good right tackle and Larry Warford was added in free agency on a 9 million per year deal. Warford is a powerful run blocking guard who can be solid in pass protection. He was a good player for Detroit and should upgrade over Jahir Evans (Packers FA signing). Max Unger is a good center and Andrus Peat and Senio Kelemete will battle for left guard. The Saints used the 1st round pick for Cooks on tackle Ryan Ramcyzk. Ramczyk or veteran Khalif Barnes will replace Armstead until he returns in the second half of the season from his shoulder injury. The Saints will protect Brees and can run block for Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara.

Run Game
The Saints can run the ball well. Mark Ingram had 5.1 YPC and they added Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara in Round 3 of the draft. The Saints are deep at running block and if Peterson returns to 2014/2015 form could be a monster number 2 back.

Weaknesses

Defensive Line
The Saints had trouble generating a pass rush. Cameron Jordan is a top 10 DE however and notched 7.5 sacks in 2016. Jordan brings a consistent rush. Sheldon Richardson was injured for half of 2016 but was a solid rookie DT. The Saints hope Richardson takes a big step forward in year 2 of his career.

Alex Okafor, Hau’oli Kikaha, Daryl Tapp and rookie 3rd round pick Trey Hendrickson leave a lot to be desire at the other defensive end spot. Kikaha may only be a rush LB after his injury in 2016 as well.

Tony McDaniel is a veteran DT that is now the starter. Nick Fairley had a good season in 2016 for the Saints and earned a long term deal this offseason. However, Fairley has a heart condition and won’t play football this year or maybe ever again. Sad to see the former Lions DT go out like that. The Saints will miss Fairley who notched 6.5 sacks with consistent pressure in 2016. 2015 Fourth round pick, David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison must step up at DT for the Saints in 2017 behind McDaniel. The Saints have defensive line issues for 2017.

Linebacker
The Saints have a lot of bodies but little results at LB. Stephone Anthony has struggled as a first round pick from 2015. Anthony moves to SAM to try to fix his career. Craig Robertson, AJ Klein and Manti Te’o were all added in free agency to battle for the ILB spot. Roberston and Klein could be solid players but may struggle with DT problems in front of them. Daniel Ellerbe is a solid veteran Will LB and Alex Anzalone was drafted in Round 3 of the 2017 draft. The Saints have bodies but need results at LB.

Secondary
The Saints gave up a 98 QB rating and should lack pass rush again in 2017. This will hurt the secondary but the Saints did add talent this offseason. Marshon Lattimore was drafted in Round 1 of the draft to help at corner out of Ohio State. Safety Marcus Williams was drafted in Round 2 to bolster the Saints coverage too behind Bell and Vaccaro.

Vonn Bell hopes to grow in year 2 as a former second round pick from 2016 for the Saints at free safety. Jarius Byrd was cut after a big contract and disappointment with Saints.

Kenny Vaccaro hopes to get back to his early career form as a first round pick from 2013. Also, veteran Rafael Bush rejoins the Saints after a solid year with Detroit in 2016. Bush can be a decent free safety and is a great 4th safety to have on the team.
Delvin Breaux was a good CB in 2015 and can be again if he stays healthy in 2016. Breaux will benefit if he can be the number 2 CB, only if Lattimore fills the number 1 role. Breaux had a terrible year in 2016 though. PJ Williams and Damian Swann will battle for the nickel job. Taveze Calhoun and Sterling Moore provide the depth at corner.

The Saints have some young talent but probably won’t succeed in 2017 without a pass rush. The Saints only had 9 interceptions in 2016 and must improve that number. Lattimore, Bell, Vaccaro, Williams and Breaux could have a bright future for the Saints though.

Summary
The Saints were 7-9 in 2016 with a 4-4 home mark and 3-5 record away from the Super Dome. The Saints travel to Minnesota in Week 1 on Monday Night football. The Saints also visit Green Bay in Week 7. New Orleans hosts Detroit in Week 6 after a bye and host the Bears in Week 8.

Again like Tampa and Carolina, the Saints could give problems to any North team due to their offense. However, two or three North teams should beat the Saints this season. Detroit has beaten New Orleans three years in a row and look to make it four in Week 6. The Packers and Saints game should be a great shootout to watch. We’ll see if the Vikings can stop their old teammate Peterson and the Saints offense in Week 1 with some good defense. Can the Saints break out of their 7-9 three year slump? Time will tell if their defensive and run game additions will be enough for 2017 success.