Saints Had Many Ups And Downs In Roller Coaster 2013 Season
By Greg Barber
2013 was a tale of two seasons for the 11-5 New Orleans Saints. The Saints started off with a five game win streak to kick off the year, including a victory against the Atlanta Falcons to open the season. The last 11 games of the season were a bit more like a roller coaster as New Orleans was either up or down every week. Failure to win on the road consistently was a glaring weakness for the Saints this season. Close, heartbreaking losses to the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots as well as some downright embarrassing losses to the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and St. Louis Rams (all on the road) cost the Saints home field advantage throughout the playoffs that could have increased their chances of going to the Super Bowl.
Grades QB: A-
Pts: 25.9 (10th)
Yds: 399.4 (4th)
Pass Yds: 307.4 (2nd)
Rush Yds: 92.1 (25th)
No team I have ever watched had as many "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" types of performances between home and the road than the Saints offense. In the Superdome, they played like the best offense in the NFL and achieved a perfect 8-0 record. The offense had a lot more chemistry and was much more explosive in front of the home crowd.
On the road, you had to send out an all-points bulletin to find the offense. They were pretty pedestrian when not in the Superdome, to say the least. Even QB Drew Brees did not play up to the level he was accustomed to, and coupled with a struggling offensive line and running game, it became one of the most talked about issues league wide.
Since the Saints are faced with C Brian de la Puente and OT Zach Strief going to free agency, New Orleans will need to decide if they are worth keeping or would it be better to move on. In addition, Saints wide receivers had a hard time getting open all season, which could mean the team may have to go younger and faster at that position.
Grades DL: B+
Pts: 19.0 (4th)
Yds: 305.7 (4th)
Pass Yds: 194.1 (2nd)
Rush Yds: 111.6 (19th)
The Saints defense was a pleasant surprise this season when compared to that of last season. Finishing with the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL far exceeded what any Saints fan could have hoped for. Despite injuries to key players like LBs Victor Butler and Jonathan Vilma as well as plenty of other players, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did a yeoman's job in keeping the defense playing well throughout the whole season.
DE Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks) and LB Junior Galette (12 sacks) are fast becoming one of the top pass rushing duos in the NFL. Curtis Lofton (125 tackles) and David Hawthorne (91 tackles) both had solid seasons at linebacker while rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro gained the trust of Ryan.
Heading into next season, the defense will need to get better at defending against the run where the Saints ranked 19th in the league.
3-4 linebacker is not the team's top priority but still needs to be addressed as soon as possible for several reasons. A couple of big defensive backs (corner or safety) are needed to continue to upgrade the secondary.
Grades Overall: C
New Orleans seems to have taken a step back when it comes to the play of the special teams unit this year. Thomas Morstead did not punt the ball as well as he has in the past, even though his numbers are fairly close to those he posted last season. He particularly did not do as well in the playoffs, but the special teams as a whole did not play well. RB Darren Sproles is not the threat he used to be at returning punts and kickoffs - it is time to give that role to someone else. Other than the kickoff return and penalty against the Philadelphia Eagles, he lacks that explosiveness he once had in the return game.
The Saints need a more dynamic kickoff and punt returner, and I personally think that he is on the practice squad as we speak. New Orleans could also use a new kicker, preferably someone young with a strong leg and greater consistency.
Grades Overall: A
The Saints coaching overall was good. Head coach Sean Payton did a pretty good job for the most part, with just a couple of glitches along the way. He is not always going to make perfect decisions but overall this season, he did a good job both on and off the field with the players. Ryan was a complete magician turning this defense around this year and proved that there was more talent in New Orleans than people thought. If his players can come back healthy and the team adds a few more pieces of talent to the group, Ryan could have a top defense on his hands.
The Saints need to keep the commitment to the run that they showed during the playoffs to have more balance on offense. The team also needs to do whatever it takes to get the offensive line back to the high level it once was at. Finally, no huddle offense needs to be implemented.
MVP: Drew Brees
There is not much doubt that the Saints would not be a contender without Brees, and how can you argue with a fourth 5,000-yard season along with the other records he acquired?
OPOY: Jimmy Graham
86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns puts Graham up there with the other top TEs where he belongs. Without Graham, the Saints may not have made the playoffs this season, plain and simple. It is not clear whether that is a credit to Graham or an indictment on the rest of the receivers.
DPOY: Cameron Jordan
Galette was a close second, but Jordan won in the end. As long as these two can stay healthy, the Saints defense is in good hands.
ROY: Kenny Vaccarro
There was not much debate about this one. From the moment Vaccaro came into camp, he proved he was worth a first-round pick and he will become much more of a leader next season.
Be sure to stay tuned for more information and opinions regarding free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason in the coming weeks!