Their stats from last season remain impressive, the record-breaking offense returning intact. Controversy surrounding Bountygate still thick in the air, the sidelines scramble to fill significant losses. Looking back at everything leading up to this Sunday’s regular season opener, it’s enough to make any team fold under the pressure of continuing its 2011 momentum, or to give enough excuses as to why they can’t succeed under the circumstances… but not this team, not the New Orleans Saints.
Using the preseason exhibitions to get loose and settle into adjustments on the sidelines with the coaching staff, the Saints are now laser focused on the regular season. That focus finds its strength from the unity of the team, stemming from its offensive leader and quarterback, Drew Brees. Brees remains a cornerstone on which the offense and franchise can still lean upon even in the heavily felt absence of Head Coach Sean Payton. His leadership is not all he brought back to the team, as he comes strong and healthy off a season in which he set the single season completion percentage record at 71.2% and racked up nearly 5500 passing yards. There are several key skill players who were integral in those statistics as well and guess what… they’re back, too.
With a strong supporting cast including tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Darren Sproles, and wide receiver Marques Colston, among others, Brees has several familiar targets to keep the Saints offense a formidable force for the opposing Washington Redskins defense on Sunday. The Redskins command an explosive defense that knows how to rush the passer and put significant pressure on the pocket, so a key focus for the Saints and their offensive line is to protect their quarterback, their leader. To that purpose the linemen might just not be enough, so look to see more help coming from the running backs, such as Mark Ingram, in the form of blocks and screens. If the Saints are able to effectively protect Brees in the pocket, his receiving corps will likely be easily maneuverable against the Skins’ lackluster secondary to rack up the points.
Much like Brees, the Redskins’ new quarterback’s first instinct is going to the pass, but the Saints are looking to have a strong secondary, including two deep safeties in most cases, and that’s not just in comparison to that of their Week 1 opponents. Bottom line: long passes are not going to be readily available to the rookie QB looking downfield. The goal is to force Robert Griffin III, to rely on the run, and to lead his zone offense right into the waiting tackles of the Saints’ defense. Backing off just a touch from the blitzes of previous seasons will open up the defenders to offer more coverage on Griffin’s possible targets, again forcing the young quarterback outside of his comfort zone: the pocket. While this is very much a transitional period for the New Orleans defense, adjusting to this season’s system under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, as said before: this will not be used as an excuse by any player. It’s not an excuse, it’s fuel for the fire… The Saints defense has a lot to prove and what better place or time to prove themselves than at their home opener against the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner?
One positive perspective on the coming match up (for the Saints, at least) can be summed up simply in a comparison of quarterbacks: Brees, a seasoned veteran confident at home with his tried and true squad against spotty coverage, versus Griffin, a rookie scrambling to gain control of a field of newer faces floating in a sea of Saints. Add in a defense with a vendetta and a solid special teams, and Saints fans should eagerly look to Sunday’s match as an exhibition of their team’s strength and conviction even through adversity – remaining always true to the character of the city that loves them. Even without such bias, the outlook looks good for the New Orleans Saints to start off their campaign for the Super Bowl with a commanding win at home. It’s show time!
About the Author
Written by Heather Ireland
Having worked in Div. I operations for both football and men's basketball, my love of sports is not isolated to that of NCAA competition. An avid sports fan and competitor, I follow the NFL and NCAA basketball closely, and embrace the opportunity to combine my loves of sports and writing into one.